When Valeriya Gogunskaya was 13, her parents gave her what “were probably and still are by far (her) most expensive shoes!”, a pair of roller blades. Some years later, after watching the seminal longboarding movie Endless Roads, she swapped the blades for a board, and peter-panned her way to the forefront of a rapidly emerging sport.
Longboard dancing is as unique as it sounds. Combining steps from surfing and freestyle, riders aim to generate fluid motion while they skate. As a passionate longboarder, Valeriya is here to help with that. Her very own Longboard Camp in Santa Cruz, Portugal consistently attracts some of the world’s best instructors. In 2019, a homemade video clocked up an astonishing 3 million views putting the camp firmly on the map. Modest, funny and easy to talk to, Valeriya spoke to us ahead of our new collaboration.
So what first took you to Santa Cruz, what drew you to this little town?
That was actually just a holiday. I was in Spain taking a summer course, in La Coruña, where I tried surfing for the first time and liked it so much that I wanted to continue and decided to check nearby Portugal. At that moment, my knowledge about the country was limited to - yeah - Cristiano Ronaldo... and I heard that they were famous for surfing too and a friend of mine, a guy who I met, who couldn’t even boil a tea. Somehow Santa Cruz was the first location to appear on my google search. So I always say I don’t know if it was destiny or just very well working google ads but I ended up here. Then I stayed surfing and next year I came back to the same camp as a volunteer and then one month later I met my boyfriend and the rest is history, you know.
Is Santa Cruz the ideal place to skate?
When I just arrived, it wasn’t really because there was basically no community – nothing was happening. That was the reason why, with local association Sealand, we decided to start organising longboard meet-ups.
It was 2017 and we set up the first longboard meet-up which we called ‘Longboard dancing sunsets’ and I thought it was gonna be just me, my boyfriend and (co-organiser) Joana participating in this. It’s such a small place. And then about 30 people showed up, families, kids and teenagers. So that was very crazy and people talked about it. And since then basically we’ve been running monthly meet-ups and it’s started to change and now that you come to ‘the spot’, the sunset spot then you always see somebody on a longboard and other kind of rolling things, so over time I feel like we have built a community and now it’s a little bit annoying because it gets too crowded sometimes! But I mean the place itself is beautiful. Then we start to have that feeling of community, familiar faces. It’s not like people came for a session then stopped. Some very good, pro-longboarders are moving here.
Now I feel like that’s the place where longboard dancing and freestyle has taken off in Portugal, because of these events – I wouldn’t call it a Mecca of longboarding but it’s like an iconic place now, for longboard dancing and freestyle in Portugal. Because many communities that popped up after, kind of had our meet-ups as a reference point. So the whole thing that happened in Santa Cruz, was like a spark for this scene.
What do you feel when you’re longboard dancing?
It’s a lot of things, everything from frustration to euphoria. I do feel way more confident on a board and with a board in hand than I feel like without it. And it’s a way to express and to move. I really feel more free and more confident. It shouldn’t be so probably, but it is like this!
Simply, fun, joy, freedom, and challenge – sometimes flow when you can catch it.
And how does it all happen – how do you choreograph the moves that you create?
Uh, I don’t create moves. Longboard dancing is a very young sport, it comes from surfing, longboard surfing and freestyle skating, so it’s the marriage of the two and then there are some particular moves that are specific to longboard dancing. Everybody’s kind of free to develop them. And now that I have been skating already for 6 years, I sometimes accidentally come up with some combo or a little twist with that move. Often as with all the great ideas, those already exist and you just think you came up with them!
The dancing, at least in my case, is more metaphorical. Because (...) it’s not usually choreographed to music, you know it has combos. But then you have riders who actually try to bring choreography in, but they are very few still.
"I feel that skating, especially for women, has been like a childhood dream or taboo that is now finally possible."
Tell me all about the longboard camp please!
Well it started in 2018 (...) I was really craving to learn from someone who actually skated well and at that moment travelling somewhere was not really an option because of our financial situation and, we were thinking okay it’s not possible to travel, to meet those amazing riders, then we can bring them here. And yeah we invited some of the best Russian riders and instructors for the first camp.
I thought there would be more people from 18-25 years old (who already skated and would like to progress) but in the end our age range is more like 25-35, and we get a lot of people in their late 30s, 40s. The oldest participant we got was 60, Andreas from Germany. Yeah, and I had one woman in her 50s participating.
I feel that skating, especially for women, has been like a childhood dream or taboo that is now finally possible. Because you can see that even in our generation, skating and surfing and many other sports remain rather masculine activities. So if you think of the generation that is 10 years older than me, I’m from ’92, and further on - for them skating was really only for boys. But today, with the third wave of feminism, increasing exposure of women in sports, more women realise “yeah f**k I can still do it!”
So it kind of turned into something that I was not really expecting. In terms of diversity, of age (gender and) the geography we got people coming from over 25 countries, even from as far as Japan, Malaysia, Australia and USA.
“For dancing, what do we want? We want a big dance floor. So we want as much space – maybe a little bit of flex, because you are constantly rotating and stepping.”
Do longboard skaters have a particular style, fashion-wise?
We were actually discussing this with my fellow teammate, who happens to be an amazing longboarder, Guilia Alfeo (when I was speaking about this kind of very dance choreography kind of style, Guilia has it) and we were speaking about style.
If you think of skateboard culture, there are several types but there are like images popping up in your head. With longboard dancing, because it’s just over ten years old, it kind of still doesn’t have its own line of style. I think as well, skateboarding is more homogenous. But because longboarding has so many different people participating in it, to start to have that line is more difficult. Of course there is this surf inspired kind of look, you know very casual, comfortable clothes. But to point to something specific, not really.
How long do you need to practice routines, or a step or trick – does it take a lot of time and patience to get to that level or does it happen naturally?
So from my experience for example, to get into riding, I mean of course you have people who are learning way faster and people who are taking more time. But I would say within an hour you are already off riding. And if you have a guide. 2-3 hours you can probably already do some basic moves. That’s why coming back to the camps, within a week many people are mind blown by themselves because they picture that it’s gonna be something only few can do.
Longboarding is like English: it’s very easy to pick up but once you go into grammar you realise it’s f****d! It’s the same – easy to get the basics, but to have your style and to have your flow, that’s where it takes a lot of work and courage and a bunch of bruises.
Am I convincing you?
More and more! On the other hand it also seems to me that a longboard is very big, so how would it be easy to manoeuvre?
When we speak about dancing boards and freestyle, we usually speak about a board which is maybe over 110cm long and they go up to 150cm. Of course if you are somebody who is more interested in freestyle you would go for a shorter and lighter board. You would probably go for smaller wheels, and smaller trucks. For dancing, what do we want? We want a big dance floor. So we want as much space – maybe a little bit of flex, we want a symmetrical board because you are constantly rotating and stepping, so you don’t want to be thinking: Am I landing on the right side of the board or not? and with freestyle you want something that copes better, has a better 'pop', that is lighter, that rotates easier.
You’ve mentioned that longboard dancing is a fairly young sport. I wondered what direction you feel it’s going in?
Umm, I’m a rather young member of the community, I haven’t been at the roots of it. But since longboard dancing is probably 10-12 years old, you actually have a bunch of riders who know how it really started but from what I can see right now definitely there are much more women joining. The narrative has been changing around women and sport. The way women are portrayed is changing that affects all the sports and longboarding is not an exception.
The scene is growing, and there are more competitions. I’m still wondering if it’s gonna go as big as surfing or if it has this potential. For it actually sounds much more accessible than surfing because that heavily depends on the ocean while unless you have an insufficient amount of sun, you can skate pretty much everywhere. And cost wise it’s also much more accessible. But it had its booms, and it had a downturn too, and now it’s again a boom. Just like the sourdough bread, people are baking sourdough bread and longboarding.
At the same time?! That’s an interesting fusion.
Haha yeah, longboard bread baking! No, but I mean Covid was very benevolent for longboarding, I must say. So many people entered because you know, you want to remain active and to do something. There were many countries where you were allowed to do sports, so many people were searching for ways to remain safe and active and longboarding, roller-skating… bread making (!) they really were booming.
And also, social media, once you have content that goes viral, simply more people see it, and more people want to be a part of it. I feel like longboarding now with social media, Instagram and Tik Tok that it’s pretty trendy. So it just simply has more chances of reaching more people.
The Longboard Camp: https://www.thelongboardcamp.com/
All Clothes: TWOTHIRDS