Linebackers Darreon Herring and Zach Cunningham didn’t even have to think about why they bought their “hoverboards.”
“Swag,” they said, laughing in unison.
The boards are designed like a modified segway that balances without a handle and goes based on the user’s weight. But Herring and Cunningham didn’t seem focused on the technology.
“First it was the looks,” Herring said. ”It would kind of turn heads and different things like that, but now it kind of helps you out in terms of getting around.”
The prominence of these boards exploded over this past summer, due in part to a wide variety of celebrities such as Kendall Jenner and Justin Bieber riding them on Instagram and television.
Vanderbilt has been no exception to this growing trend, as seen by the increasing number of boards popping up around campus this semester.
From the field to around campus
When Herring listed the football players with boards, it sounded more like the depth chart than an exclusive group. The number has skyrocketed since the start of the season.
Defensive lineman Jay Woods most recently purchased one and clearly has made everyone well-aware of it.
“He just got his, so I know he’s happy,” Herring joked about Woods. “He’s been bragging about it.”
Woods was sure to preach the benefits of the board.
“Being athletes, we’re on the go all the time, and we’ve got to get to meetings and get to places, and we’re out here practicing everyday of the week, so getting off of our feet is a plus,” he said.
Not only have the football players influenced one another, but they have also helped spread the culture across campus. Non-athletes have also been rolling around campus on their boards recently.
“I’ve seen a bunch of students starting to get them recently,” Cunningham observed. “Most people that I know that have them…saw the football team with this.”
The football players have been very actively promoting the boards around campus, and students know to come to them with questions and advice about purchasing one.
“If you want a monorover, hit up Jay Woods, Zach Cunningham, Darreon Herring, and we’ll try to see what we can do to get you one,” Herring said, as Woods and Cunningham chimed in.
Not everyone took inspiration from the football team, though. Freshman Robby Matthews actually first witnessed the board being ridden by rapper Juicy J at a gas station in his hometown of Memphis.
“It was the first time I had ever seen one, and I asked him where he got it,” Matthews said.
Though social media and celebrities first introduced the boards to many, senior Cassie Ho actually first caught eye of it while in Helsinki, Finland after the school year. Intrigued by a peer riding one, she became transfixed by the gizmo.
“They all hopped up on board these scooter things, and I was like ‘oh my god, what is that?” Ho said. When Ho saw it multiple times on social media within a week, and attended a Nicki Minaj concert where the dancers rolled around on boards, she realized it was something that was trending and available outside of Finland.
“I couldn’t escape them,” Ho said. “It was just everywhere.”
But Ho didn’t want to own one by herself. When she and her suitemates bumped into a group of football players riding them on campus, they decided to pull the trigger on a group purchase themselves.
“I don’t know if I would have gotten one if my friends didn’t just because I never ride it alone,” Ho reiterated. “I’m not that bold.”
But why board?
While athletes around campus have relied on bikes and traditional scooters as transportation in the past, the board sticks out as beyond just a ride.
“They [bikes and scooters] don’t look as cool,” Herring said. “I know a lot of people haven’t seen them before, so I know when we got ours…it turns heads. You just see someone literally floating, and it’s something a lot of people hadn’t seen yet. So it just looked cool to be honest.”
Those selling the products clearly recognize why the board has been so successful thus far, especially the reasons why Herring and Cunningham initially bought theirs.
“It’s perfect for someone looking for attention,” said Bevan Verma, founder of the Twizzle Hoverboard brand of board, of the gadget’s target demographic of 13 to 24 year olds.
In addition, Woods said the board helps him get around campus and reduces his reliance on cars, which helps avoid hefty expenses in gas and parking tickets.
“A lot of students are rushing on their way to class,” Woods said. “Some of you have got class on Commons to Wilson, I know it takes a good 15 minutes walking. I’m telling you, they are a big investment. First of all you can’t drive on campus with your car, but with the Monorover, you can get to point A to point B in just a matter of seconds.”
Others use the board to spice up mundane tasks. While students lament taking out their garbage or dread the long walk to Munchie Mart, Ho greets these chores with excitement nowadays. Instead of walking, Ho hovers her way through her room and the hallways of Towers — the floor surface that she likes best. Typical tasks for her have helped legitimize the use of her board.
“No one really takes out recycling, but it’s fun if you’re on a scooter. It’s an excuse to go scooting,” Ho said.
Though many of the football player boarders don’t have to worry about their height, Ho quickly recognized the usefulness of these boards beyond their intended use for transportation. As a shorter than normal person, reaching the top drawers in her kitchen can be a struggle. However, she now will often cook atop the board, which adds several inches, making those once-unreachable cupboards easily accessible.
“The height is a major draw,” Ho explained, something she didn’t realize until she actually got on the board a few times.
While junior Phil Hawkins sees more of a use for it in his immediate area of residence, junior Ellen Bley seems to be more focused on utilizing for travel to and from class.
“Getting from Highland to main campus is kind of annoying,” she said. “But once you’re on main campus, it’s really convenient, like just going from Featheringill to Rand on it.”
Not only does the board service the rider in terms of transportation, but it has a unique emotional effect on students.
“It’s surprisingly mood-elevating,” Ho stated. ”Sometimes now when we’re down, we’re like ‘let’s just take a scoot’.”
Learning to board
Riders can quickly learn how to use the board because its movement mimics walking. People move by leaning in a specific direction which applying pressure to sensors along the top of the board, powered by an electric motor.
Some football players noted that they felt comfortable atop the board immediately. But for others, the initial moments upon the board are rather difficult because of the strange feeling of balancing on just two horizontally aligned wheels, but learning to master the board takes little time.
Both Ho and Matthews said they felt comfortable with about an hour of practice.
“It’s like that five minutes, we call it the wiggle period,” Bley observed. “Where they’re [new riders] just like sitting on it, wiggling back and forth…Once you get it, it’s pretty easy to move around.”
“We still can’t figure out which way is backwards and forwards,” Bley said. “In the instruction manual, which was very clearly written in Chinese then put into Google Translate, it’s like ‘do not ride backwards for extended periods of time’, but it never tells us which way is front and which way is back.”
Although the price tag may deter individual students from buying the board, Hawkins and Bley decided to jointly purchase one. Both of them had talked about getting one for months over the summer, but neither could justify buying one on their own. That’s when they realized just one could effectively serve them both.
“Phil and I kinda played this game of chicken with it,” Bley said. “‘Are we going to buy it or are we not,’ and we just convinced each other, look at how cool this looks, look at how cool we could be, this could be us’, and eventually that’s what worked out.”
As excited as they may be, having just recently received the board, divvying up time to share it hasn’t yet been decided.
Hawkins explained, “We’ve been sort of trying to figure out who gets it at what time because neither of us know yet.”
According to Verma, the founder of Twizzle Hoverboard, the discrepancies between brands and cost exist because of the lack of copyright laws in China on the product.
“Essentially, each ‘company’ you see selling these hoverboards are all selling the same products,” he said, although he added that differences may exist in the batteries’ capabilities and the logo thrown onto the board. Verma warned though that some of the batteries perform much better than others, so that should be something to look for when choosing between brands.
While the price of the board ranges in cost from just under $200 on eBay to upwards of $1,799 for the IO Hawk models, most Vanderbilt students have swayed towards the lower to middle range products.
Though some students were not fully aware of the differences between brands, Herring and Cunningham spent significant time researching the different boards, understanding how much of an investment it was. Yet, they knew how similar many of the brands were, which lead them to look for a more affordable one.
“It was one of those that we bought on Amazon,” Herring explained, “but I read a lot of reviews about them…and they’re pretty much all the same boards from the same manufacturer. People just put them in different boxes and stuck a sticker on them. They’re all the same board.”
Cunningham echoed this sentiment. “It was more of the best board for the best price. When we first got them, we were pretty much just thinking they were a lot cheaper than the ones that all the celebrities got, so that it would be a good deal to have one [at this price],” he said.
None of the students interviewed knew which brand of board they had purchased. Instead of buying from a specific website, each student shopped on Amazon and eBay, where prices were lower and brand name was irrelevant.
So what’s it called?
While every hoverboarder can agree on how fun it is to ride, it seems nobody can come to an agreement on what to actually call it. Hawkins hasn’t yet decided what to name his new board and said the name ‘smart balance scooter’ stated in the packaging isn’t sexy enough.
Nonetheless, he enjoys the popularly applied name of a hoverboard.
“That’s kind of a fun name,” Hawkins explained. “It makes me feel futuristic.”
Some take opposition to the name hover board because the product depicted in Back to the Future Part II literally hovers and doesn’t have wheels. However, the term is both recognizable and focuses more on the ride as opposed to the stereotypically thought of look.
“People call it a hoverboard because it makes them feel like they are hovering over the ground,” Verma said.
Yet, some of the football players seem to have agreed on a name “Monorover” amid all the debate. This term also happens to be the name of one of many brands of the board.
Meanwhile, Woods bypasses the technical name debate and instead aptly names it based on what it’s done for him.
“I call it my new vehicle,” Woods put it simply. “My school-wide vehicle.”
As the popularity of the board continues to increase all over campus, this may only be the beginning of the growing trend. The football players have clearly been showcasing them around campus, and students have become more intrigued as they see more non-athletes aboard them.
“It looks pretty cool. I would have a lot of fun with one,” said junior Becca Weires, though she claimed that she wouldn’t buy one. Other students were more skeptical of the boards and their utility.
“It’s really easy to just walk,” said Sarah Grichnik, senior.
When riding the boards around, the students interviewed discussed how often others come up to them with curiosity.
“Now that we have it, all of our friends want to do it.” Bley said, as Hawkins added how people truly cannot appreciate these boards without riding them.
“You don’t realize how much fun it is until you actually get on it and move around,” Hawkins explained.
As holiday season approaches, Matthews said it’s easy to assume what may be on many students’ wish lists.
“Christmas is coming up, Hanukkah is coming up,” Matthews noted. ”I think it’s the next thing that everybody is going to ask for,” a trend he has noticed from friends who have demoed his board.
As one of the original owners of a hoverboard on campus, Herring believes that the boards won’t fade out.
“I think it’s the future,” Herring said. “Now they’re kind of expensive, you know $500 is still kind of expensive in some people’s eyes, but you know I think it’s the mode of transportation of the future as far as you know not really too much walking anymore, conserving energy.”