Longboarding is now the lens by which the Conner family of Anchorage, Alaska, views the world. They eat, drink, breathe and dream longboarding. Their oldest son, Casey, a sophomore in high school, is a youth entrepreneur and owner of 907Boards skate shop. The mom, Lisa, is the creative force and glue of the operation. The father, Dan, stays busy as the fix-it guy and helps with events. Fifth-grader Aaron is enjoying the show and fourth-grade sister Allyson is carving her own lines in longboarding.
The dad and kids are lifelong Alaskans, and Lisa has called the 49th state home for most of her life. This family embodies the true Alaskan spirit of independence, courage, passion and resilience. Alaska is the land of extremes; challenges and unique opportunities well matched for thrill seekers. It’s a magical and mystical place for brave souls willing to endure and embrace the dark, cold winters and bright, intense summers. Alaskans are hardy people. The state fascinates many with its size and remoteness.
What started as an after-school project when Casey was in eighth grade became a full-service longboard shop in a state where the general public has limited knowledge of brands, technology and riding styles that 907Boards offers. At the age of 14, Casey started building longboards in the family garage and selling them to his friends. He enjoyed cruising around Anchorage, sometimes up to 20 miles a day, then realized he craved the adrenaline rush of downhill and enjoyed the creative side of freeride.
He met a small group of skaters and learned to slide, and his “need for speed” intensified. Casey honed his longboard skills as he experimented with board design and production. He wanted to grow his business, and when local skate shops rejected him, he moved in a different direction. With guidance and support from his mom, Casey opened
907Boards last summer at the age of 15.
Mom and son work closely together every day. Casey is the “research and development” guy, and Lisa thrives in the background, planning, organizing and marketing. Their collective goals are simple: provide first-class products and service, in a family-friendly environment, and grow the local longboard community.
Personally, Casey wants to learn from seasoned riders in the Lower 48 and bring the knowledge home to share with others. Mom dreams of getting Casey to a downhill race, like Maryhill, so he can evolve as a rider and make more business connections.
Casey bombs hills, rides any surface and terrain and finds humor in mom freaking out in the follow car. Lisa finds pleasure in watching Casey give public talks and handling customers. They challenge each other in ways they never dreamed possible.
The longboarding business, with its unique challenges and triumphs, is truly an adventure for the Conners. The struggles have been intense and incredibly rewarding for Casey and his mom. The effort to build 907Boards has resulted in tremendous growth for every member of the family as they embrace new experiences. The financial and emotional strains of starting a new business, especially in an unfamiliar industry, are real. “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” comes to mind. Vandalism, harassing phone calls, social media attacks, police visits, theft, competition and other obstacles exist. Confronting the daily challenges of owning an independent skate shop solidifies the foundation of 907Boards. They continue to learn and grow with the skate world in their unique Alaskan way.
When he walks around with his board, Casey admits he deals with negative stereotypes of longboarding and skaters in general. This treatment came as a surprise. That’s partly what’s behind the Longboard4Change branding efforts to remake the image of longboarders in Alaska and around the globe. As Lisa witnessed Casey’s natural ability to connect with kids and quickly engage them in a message, she saw an opportunity to use longboarding as a vehicle for change.
LB4C = Longboard4Change. The mission: help the world CHANGE in positive ways by sharing the stoke for longboarding and literacy. Longboard4Change shines a spotlight on longboarding and raises awareness of important literacy issues. The Conners want you to consider a new world in which every person learns to read.
Longboard4Change is a labor of love and a deeply personal mission for the Conner family. Raising awareness of important literacy issues and improving the reputation of longboarding are the goals. Longboards and literacy are a unique pairing, but a brilliant way to promote the sport and gain positive attention. 907Boards is a school business partner that gives the initiative access to young kids and a new generation of riders. Casey connects with kids on their level and assumes a mentor role versus an adult lecturing about reading or safety gear.
The Longboard & Literacy Art Contest kicked off in May in Alaska and has now gone global. Concrete Wave magazine and Aluminati Skateboards are collaborators on this project. Lucky winners will have their art emblazoned on cruisers and other merchandise to spread the stoke for longboarding and literacy throughout the world.
Local skaters in Alaska agree that it is the land of extremes, and though the longboard scene is limited in numbers, it’s flush with opportunity. Trey Milner, a lifelong Alaskan and dedicated skater, shared his opinion. “What irritates me is how we have amazing places to skate just around the corner and just out of town, really crazy areas,” he says, “[but] there are not a lot of people skating because the scene is so small here. It would be cool to see more people interested even though we have a short season – but it makes the summer even stronger. We just need more people that can push themselves out of their comfort zone, such as those with a love for adrenaline rushes.”
Trey enjoys downhill and freeride, but the majority of longboarders in Alaska are cruisers such as Brad Carter, a high school math teacher and advisor of a longboard club. He moved to Alaska two years ago from South Carolina. Brad enjoys “cruising and the aspects of the sport that are peaceful and relaxing versus traditional skateboarding.” He thinks longboarding in Alaska is “really just beginning, and it’s mostly people using boards for transportation,” butknows the potential for growth in the state is huge.
Thane Barta, a high school junior and lifelong Alaskan, wants people outside Alaska to know that “You need to be more adventurous in Alaska. The weather is extremely unpredictable and creates challenges and requires patience.” He jokes, “There really are people up here riding. It’s not just a bunch of miners and igloo dwellers; we actually longboard here.”
When Trey Milner meets riders from the Lower 48, he speaks frankly about the challenges of Alaskan riding and living: “We have some crazy mountain runs,” he says. “The roads are rough due to the winters. It’s sketchy here. [But] gnarly roads in Alaska make you want to ride more. All of our hills are really gnarly and snaky and not for beginners. The pavement is rough. If you can skate here, it’s something to be proud of, and the conditions prepare you for any place.”
But Trey also doesn’t hide the rewards Alaska offers. He believes it’s a great place for a certain kind of person: someone who “enjoys the little things like the sunrise and summers full of sun, plenty of nature and very little traffic. Anyone could love Alaska if they can appreciate the simpler things.”
Casey Conner believes the sport is just beginning in Alaska. That’s why he takes time each day to spread the stoke with customers, friends, kids he meets in schools, parents and even the general public.
If your travels take you to Anchorage, you can contact the Conners and inquire about Longboard Expeditions, their guided tours of local hills and hot spots.
Thanks to Michael Brooke and Concrete Wave Magazine!