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The Allure of Distance Skateboarding (and why you should skate China)

In the words of another distance skateboarder, Adam Colton, traveling by skateboard “is a pretty stupid idea.” It really is. It is less efficient than cycling, you are at the mercy of the road surface and traffic is infinitely less forgiving towards you than other forms of human powered transport. And yet there is an inexplicable allure to it. The following is a snapshot of that allure, from the China leg of Rob Thomson’s 12,159km skate across Europe, the US, and China; China being the highlight for many different reasons.

Life is really simple

Sleep spot near Shiheizi City, Xinjiang Province, China

Pushing through endless desert near Turpan, Xinjiang Province, China

The rig on a plateau near Santai, Xinjiang Province, China

Cooling off on the way to Hami on National Highway G312 in Xinjiang, China

Joy that transcends borders

Enthusiastic Kazakh family in Gotsugu, Xinjiang Province, China

Enthusiastic local on the board near Santai, Xinjiang Province, China

Kazakh kids play with Rig near Jinghe, Xinjiang, China

Tibetan family near Erbou, Qinghai Province, China

Drying rice on roadside near Huangchuang, Henan Province, China

Breaks the ice – leads to real encounters

Butchering a sheep Tibetan style near Erbou, Qinghai Province, China

The monks of the Arou Buddhist Temple in Arou, Qinghai Province, China

Freedom from timetables – the road is yours

Skating the GZ45 expressway east of Guazhou, Gansu Province, China

Smooth fast skating in Xi'an, Shaanxi Province, China

Hilly scenery east of Xian, Shaanxi Province, China

5km long tunnel on G70 expressway east of Xian, Shaanxi Province, China

Brand new expressway not open to traffic near Changwu, Gansu Province, China

Endless (National Highway 312 between Lotojue and Xinxinxia, Xinjiang Province, China)

Strong legs, super-human lungs, glorious appetite

A mountain of noodles for lunch in Huangchuang, Henan Province, China

Pushing on towards Tongbai, Henan Province, China


Prayer wheels in Arou Buddhist Temple in Arou, Qinghai Province, China

Progress in Hong Kong

Tunnels on new expressway not open to traffic (but open to skateboards) approaching Yongshou, Shaanxi Province, China

And static solitude

Hiking in the sand dunes near Shanshan, Xinjiang Province, China

Hiking in the sand dunes near Shanshan, Xinjiang Province, China

Early morning in Luoshan, Henan Province, China

Rob currently holds the Guinness World Record for the longest journey by skateboard (12,159km, certified in 2009). His website about the adventure is at He actually cycled 12,000km across the Eurasian continent before spending 1.5 years skating across Europe, the US, and China, crossing the Atlantic on a yacht in the process. He now lives in Hokkaido, Japan, and is doing post-graduate studies in media and communication at Hokkaido University. He still loves simple, back-to-basics adventure by human power. Check him out on Facebook and Twitter.

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  1. Clever pictures. Crazy adventure!!!

    • I agree – totally mad!

    • rick luu Posted

      You need to replace your wheels with on thinner larger diameter. You can order some kick scooter wheels. They’re faster and rolls longer and smoother. I got them on my long drop board. They fly down the street quietly.

  2. Tobias Posted

    Wow – I never heard of a journey by skate board before.
    I thought Alastair was crazy (joke) on his bike! How can you carry all the stuff? How do you go uphill? How do you go down big hills? Do you have brakes? Is it legal?
    Sorry – soooo many questions bounce into my head!

    Absolutley madness. I love it though Rob.

  3. Philippa Posted

    The best Photo Friday story so far. I love them every week though.
    What camera do you use?

  4. Hi and thank you for the lovely comments. I’m stoked you all love the pictures.

    @ Philippa (and Alastair) – the camera I used was a Canon G9, with a cheap fish-eye conversion lens attached (like this: I liked the fisheye lens adapter, because it served a dual function; 1) just put it on at the G9’s widest zoom setting, and you get the crazy fisheye effect with black border and 2) zoom in a little bit, and you get rid of the black border, but still have a nice wide lens. As you can probably notice, the quality of the lens is pretty low, with quite a bit of blurring the further you go out towards the sides of the photo. It meant though, that I was not concerned about strapping it to the trailer using bungy cords for shots like the second photo under ‘Strong legs, super-human lungs, glorious appetite’.


    How can you carry all the stuff? When I was skating across the US, my pack (including some food and water for about a day) weighed around 14kg (here is the gear list: My trailer was a similar weight. Being forced to really go ultra-lightweight was one of the challenges of traveling unsupported by skateboard which I really enjoyed.

    How do you go uphill? On a skateboard, you essentially have 2 gears. When you are on a nice smooth, flat surface, you can really take large strides, pushing in very powerful long pushes. That is gear 1. Gear 2 is when you’re going uphill. Like on a bike, you downshift and increase your ‘revs’. That is, push frequently and lightly. This saves energy. Some people I have seen, tend to power up the hills, pushing really hard. But I found that the hill would always fin if I did this. Slow and steady was the key.

    How do you go down big hills? Really steep hills were quite tiring. Foot braking was the main form of braking when air-braking (standing up tall with arms out) would not keep my speed under 30km/h. With traffic (and a trailer), it was impossible to carve to drop the speed. I learned to foot brake with alternating feet, reducing wear on only one shoe. I went through only three pairs of shoes in the 12,000km.

    Do you have brakes? There are longboard-specific brakes on the market, but in my opinion, they are just another thing to break, and it is safer to learn to foot-brake.

    Is it legal? This depends on country to country. In Europe, I was on cycle paths for the whole time, so skating on roads was not an issue. In the US, the law states that any vehicle with wheels smaller than 16 inch and/or freewheeling wheels (no brakes) are not allowed on public roads. Most police officers, however, when I was pulled up (about four or five times across the US), I was usually allowed to carry on…I always tried to keep to back-roads. In China, who knows…there are so many different modes of human-powered (and powered) transport there, that I never had any issues.

  5. By the way Tom, I love your most recent adventure to Lapland ( Great stuff.

  6. Oh, this whole post is excellent, but the photo of the noodles made me laugh out loud (in delight and recognition). Amazing.

  7. Great photos! I wish you’d added descriptions and a little background info on each one though…I’m really curious now! : )

  8. HA HA man, I went 7.5 miles on my skateboard yesterday and I thought that was a pretty long distance. I couldn’t imagine what 7,555 miles would feel like. He must’ve skateboarded for a longtime. It must’ve taken him weeks. That’s crazy LOL!!!!!!!!!!!!



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