Keeper of the Plans

You’ve seen them on downtown streets. Meet the skateboarders turning heads in Wichita

Next time you’re driving in downtown Wichita, don’t be alarmed if you see a skateboarder in the street.

It’s likely he or she can go the speed limit just the same as you.

A growing group of motorized-skateboard riders in Wichita are out to prove that local roads can accommodate more than just cars.

The group, which also welcomes motorized bikes, scooters, and unicycles, is called eSkate Wichita — the first local club for what has become a national (and international) trend.

And it’s likely to gain traction in Wichita in the coming months, as rentable motorized scooters are said to be coming to Wichita streets.

However, police say riding motorized skateboards on Wichita streets is illegal — despite there not being a clear definition of that in city code currently.

Local ordinances will have to be updated before the city-approved motorized scooters arrive, and Wichita’s e-skaters are hoping the city will consider them when that change is drafted.

What are motorized skateboards?

Electric skateboards can either be bought whole or created by attaching a motor to a regular board.

Creating your own motorized skateboard could be done for around $350, but buying a manufactured electric board will likely start at over $500 and can be as expensive as $4,000, said Casey Boultinghouse, founder of the eSkate Wichita club and electric-skateboard rider.

“They are an investment piece,” he said. “Not everybody’s going to look at it as something that’s going to be a piece of their pie.”

They are all battery-powered and must charge for a couple hours before being used.

Riders accelerate, decelerate and reverse using a thumbwheel on a handheld remote, which also tells the rider how fast he or she is traveling and how much battery remains.

How fast and how far an electric skateboard can travel varies based on the battery installed — some of the lower-end boards top out around 10 mph.

“It’s just like car mileage, miles per gallon, it’s the same thing here,” Boultinghouse said. “Some boards will get a worse range, 4-7 miles on a single charge, and we’ve got boards that are going to go 50 miles on a charge.”

On many motorized skateboards, mileage statistics are recorded via phone apps.

Boultinghouse said he’s traveled over 2,500 miles on his Boosted skateboard and ridden it in three countries.

Helmets are a requirement when riding the boards, because eating the pavement while traveling 20+ miles per hour is going to leave a mark.

Pham said whenever he’s fallen off the board, “it’s because of a car” that will pass in front of him in the lane.

“They don’t think you’re going that fast,” he said. “When you brake, all that motion has to go somewhere, so you’re going forward once that board stops.”

Legality of eSkate

Motorized skateboards exist in a bit of a gray area in Wichita city ordinance.

Traditional skateboards can’t be used in the streets — but city ordinance currently defines a skateboard as a piece of wood “propelled by human power.” These devices are motorized, which would exempt them from that definition.

The city does have definitions for “motorized bicycles” and “motor-driven cycles,” which are legal to ride on streets if the rider has a valid driver’s license. The ordinance also states motorized bicycles must “display lighted head and tail lights at all times that such vehicles are operated on any street or highway.”

So where does this leave motorized skateboards or unicycles?

Wichita police Officer Paul Cruz said in an email that electric skateboards are “novelty in nature,” adding that they cannot be used in the street.

Whether the person would be fined, he said, “would be up to a judge to determine if the device met the requirements for the violation of the cited ordinance.”

Cruz said the city is currently drafting an ordinance that clearly defines “electric-assisted scooters” and where they can be legally operated — to pave the way for the rentable scooters to come to town.

Those scooters “are different than skateboards or other toys that will be defined differently,” Cruz wrote. “The electric-assisted scooter portion of the ordinance amendment will cover rental electric scooters that are currently utilized in other cities.”

Does that mean you’ll get a citation for riding a motorized skateboard in the street?

It’s tough to say.

Boultinghouse said he’s been pulled over multiple times by Wichita police officers while riding his motorized skateboard but has never been cited for a violation.

He said he’s heard conflicting information from various Wichita police officials — four weeks ago, he talked to a sergeant at Patrol South who told him his motorized skateboard can’t really be called a “skateboard,” as it’s defined in city code.

“I want to do things the right way — that’s why I talk to the police,” Boultinghouse said. “I want to do things by the books and safely.”

Ideally, he said, this new ordinance would not be scooter-specific, but would provide guidance for all electric vehicles (that aren’t cars) on city streets.

“I don’t know exactly what other cities have or haven’t done, but I would assume there’s some sort of electric-vehicle clause,” he said, adding that Wichita already has an ordinance specifically for e-bikes.

The same issue has come up in other U.S. cities — the state of California is the first (and so far only) state to adopt a law specifically legalizing and regulating e-skateboards.

Cruz said more clarity should come in the next few weeks, as the proposed ordinance is expected to make its way to the City Council.

Boultinghouse, who lives at The Lux apartments downtown, said his e-skateboard is a perfectly viable method of transportation when he has to travel downtown.

“It’s definitely a green way to go,” he said. “As the downtown community grows with more apartments being built, we’re going to see a lot more of these people wanting to commute in different ways and this is a great way to do it.”

Matt Riedl covers arts and entertainment news for the Wichita Eagle and has done so since 2015. He maintains the Keeper of the Plans blog on Facebook, dedicated to keeping Wichitans abreast of all things fun.