Austen Silva racing on his Onewheel XR at FloatLife Fest.
(Photo: Luke Wein)
In California, the streets are abound with men and women navigating on their Onewheels. It wasn’t always like this, though. For so many years, skateboards ruled the West Coast - particularly in Los Angeles, where every skatepark teem with its own set of features.
But in 2014, Onewheel boards emerged and even skateboarders found themselves enjoying the riding experience. While these boards don't exactly veer away from the sense of familiarity with skateboarding, Onewheeling offers a whole new experience of what board sports are all about.
What is Onewheel?
A Onewheel is essentially an electric skateboard. The single wheel contains a brushless electric motor that propels riders forwards or backward. To use the board, you have to step on the platform with your trailing leg, placing your front foot on the blue section of the front to engage the sensors.
Having a single large tire helps you more easily ride over uneven terrain and on more technical trails that are typically used for mountain bikes. Combined with the way the board balances gives a very unique feel to riding and is often referred to as floating in the Onewheel community.
When you lean forward, the board’s electronic controllers take control. And the more you lean, the faster you’ll go. As the Onewheel uses a combination of sensors, it monitors your motion and provides the correct voltage to the drive hub motor.
You can say that the Onewheel is an impressive feat of engineering, because it really is. And it’s all thanks to the genius mind of Kyle Doerksen - the brainchild behind Onewheel. After 8 years of tinkering, planning, and designing a handful of prototypes, Doerksen eventually quit his day job and founded his company, Future Motion Inc.
The Float Life and the Onewheel Community
“The interesting thing about Onewheeling compared to the other board sports out there is that you have a gyro and it’s self-balancing,” Jeff McCosker said. “The board actually helps you ride. Think of it as a skateboard and a Segway getting together and having a baby.”
Jeff McCosker is among one of the many Californians who discovered Onewheeling and became passionate about it. But that passion wasn’t only confined to the quick weekend rides on the bustling streets and the neighborhood. It became an integral part of his life, especially when he launched his very own company in 2017 called The Float Life.
Currently located in Sacramento, The Float Life provides original Onewheel accessories such as float plates, protective sidekicks, stands, fenders, tires, bearings, apparel, and all things Onewheel. Today, they are the largest and one of the most sought-after aftermarket brands in the Onewheel community. And The Float Life happened all because of that Kickstarter campaign link that he received from his long-time friend, Nick San Filippo six years ago.
“When I clicked on the link, it was the Original V1 Onewheel,” Jeff recalled. “And I was like, ‘wow, that’s really cool’. But for $1500, that’s insane. We’re used to spending a hundred bucks for a full skateboard or maybe about five hundred bucks for a full snowboard, but fifteen hundred bucks for a Onewheel? That was just crazy.”
Jeff McCosker riding on his Onewheel.
(Photo: The Float Life)
Put off by the amount that he had to spend, Jeff decided to forget about it for a while and went on with his life. But the idea of the Onewheel was too compelling, too strong to ignore that it just kept popping into his mind for weeks after. He kept on going back and forth to that Kickstarter link, watching the promotional videos on repeat. What made up his mind completely, though, was when Jeff decided to check out one of the forums.
“There was this message board for Onewheels, and I decided to learn more about it,” He shared. “And at that point, Onewheels used were selling for more than they were brand new because they were much more difficult to get and they were having some production issues.”
Jeff eventually ended up buying the Onewheel thinking that if he didn’t like it, he could simply sell it for what he paid for. It took two months for the board to finally arrive. When it did, Jeff rode the board for fifteen minutes and enjoyed the experience so much that he decided to get another one for his wife so that they could ride together.
But when you have an extensive background in board sports coupled with an entrepreneurial mindset, you will always have that strong desire to reinvent - pun intended - the wheel. And reinvent is what Jeff exactly did. He knew that even though the riding experience on his Onewheel was enjoyable, there was still so much room for improvement.
“I started making parts for it that would help the boards ride better so they can accomplish the tricks and maneuvers that I want,” Jeff said. “And when people saw them, they started asking questions like, ‘can you make me some?’. That’s what I did.”
In the beginning, he began making a couple of Onewheel parts all by himself. But over time, the demand eventually grew and Jeff needed to hire a few more people to help him keep up with the increasing popularity of his creations. And the rest, as they say, is history.
But The Float Life is more than just a household name in the Onewheel community. As the company is composed of like-minded and talented individuals sharing the same passion and the same ideals, this led them to form a professional team of riders that they also named after The Float Life.
“We’ve got the best riders in the world,” Jeff said, a high-level of enthusiasm apparent in his voice. “We’ve got guys that are just a hundred percent dirt racing, and that’s all they do. And we’ve got guys that just like doing tricks in the street, kind of more like a skateboard-style kind of riding. So, it’s pretty much a well-rounded team.”
To date, The Float Life Pro Team has several talented riders in their roster participating in big name events such as the Race For The Rail organized by Future Motion Inc. and the FloatLife Fest. But Onewheel didn’t only limit its popularity in California.
Here in Charlotte, North Carolina, Onewheel aficionados arrange weekly large group rides consisting of 20-40 people on average that ride all over the city. Such weekly events were made possible because of a Onewheel Facebook group called “Onewheel Charlotte”. Created in 2017, Onewheel Charlotte has around 900 members to date.
Group members from Onewheel Charlotte and Oak City Onewheel.
(Photo: Tyler Evans)
Festivals such as the Oak City Shred Fest organized by Oak City Onewheel - North Carolina’s largest and most active Onewheel riding group - in Raleigh have also become so popular that organizers are now looking to hold it annually. The Float Life also participates at the festival as well, coming all the way from California. The team hopes, though, that they would see more international events in the future. But according to Jeff, that is still a far-fetched dream.
“Onewheeling hasn’t made it big internationally yet,” He said. “And there’s a lot of few things that are holding it back.”
Costs and logistics are two of the biggest issues. On top of the price of the board itself, an international buyer would have to pay for the taxes and duties. That meant a lot of money - especially for those who are confined within their budget. Repairs are also another big factor.
“The way the repairs are structured with Onewheeling is all the boards are supposed to go back to the Bay Area for everything,” Jeff added. That, unfortunately, includes a simple repair such as a tire change.
A New Normal
With their mission of introducing Onewheeling and its close-knit community to a wider audience, The Float Life also released a film called ‘A New Normal’. Premiered on January 16, 2022, A New Normal showcases beautiful, cinematic shots of riders maneuvering on the streets and on off-road trails as they perform impressive and clean jumps over obstacles and curbs.
The film is a sequel to ‘Socially Distant’, an equally impressive masterpiece that takes viewers on a different kind of Onewheel journey. Viewers of the film would be likely nostalgic as the warmth of each shot reminds you of watching an old-school street skateboarding film. It was a project spearheaded by the team’s Marketing Director, Bodhi Harrison.
Bodhi Harrison, The Float Life’s Marketing Director, is the brainchild behind the Onewheel films ‘Socially Distant’ and ‘A New Normal’.
(Photo: The Float Life)
“Bodhi has put the vast majority of work into it,” Jeff said. “And he did an amazing job. The team also put their bodies on the line just to make the film as best as it could possibly be. We’re so happy with the way it turned out, and we’re looking forward to the next project.”
Avid fans of the film would not be disappointed as Jeff and The Float Life team still have a lot of ideas in mind. As a matter of fact, they are just getting started.
“We want the next project to be another version of A New Normal,” Jeff said. “But bigger and better. We aim to take our next releases up to the next level.”
The Basics of Onewheeling
When you’re only planning to ride the Onewheel for leisurely purposes, beginners can pick up the basics pretty quickly. Sure, it can get pretty wobbly at first - but you’ll be relieved to know that you can find your way in just a few minutes, regardless of your board sports familiarity. But for Jeff, though, he finds that any board sports experience can be more of a detriment than an advantage.
“All my skateboard buddies would jump on it, and they would feel pretty comfortable from the get go,” He said. “And because they were too comfortable, they would often take the board to its limits and then crash it going at full speed.”
Jeff pointed out that it’s easier for people who don’t have any first hand board sports experience as they are a little bit more timid and cautious with it while not pushing the boundaries on what the board can do. Because of this lack of experience, beginners will also - ironically - end up with fewer injuries compared to those who are already seasoned in board sports.
Jeff McCosker and Elijah Soto
(Photo: The Float Life)
Just like other board sports, one of the best things about Onewheeling is being able to do tricks with it. Jeff, however, feels that no one has ever really mastered them yet. Not even close.
“But what’s cool is the board is constantly updating,” He said. “They’re coming out with new models every year. The boards evolve with the rider as well.”
By consistently introducing new updates and cutting-edge technology in Onewheels, it becomes easier for riders to perform more extreme tricks. And with the addition of Digital Shaping, riders also have the option to customize their board’s ride feel through the Onewheel App. Users of this app can adjust the top speed, responsiveness, and handling based on their riding level and environment.
For beginners who want to perform tricks, Jeff recommends getting started on learning the 180’s, going front side, back side, and both regular and switch. Another go-to trick that most beginners should also know is the Curb Nudge, which is similar to learning how to ollie on a skateboard.
By being able to perform the Curb Nudge, it lets you climb up a tall curb or a ledge without having to get off from your board. The Float Life’s YouTube channel also has a must-watch playlist for those who are looking to take things up a notch with their tricks.
Onewheel riders geared up and ready to race
(Photo: Luke Wein)
Just like other boards, falling on a Onewheel is inevitable. But with enough precautions and by taking things easy, beginners can get the hang of it in no time. Yes, riding a Onewheel board is a lot of fun - but the excitement amps up especially if you get to end the ride in one piece. To get started, here are the pieces of gear that you will need:
While there is no helmet that’s made specifically for Onewheel, riders can opt to go for the typical open-face helmets that you often see in board sports. Our head is the most important part of our body, and you should protect it by investing in a high-quality helmet.
Wrist Guards, Elbow Pads, and Knee Guards
Even professional riders are wearing wrist guards, elbow pads, and knee guards to safeguard themselves from any possible injuries. Wrist guards prevent breaking your wrists or destroying your hands when you take a fall while also letting you slide which can help prevent breaking your clavicle in the process. Elbow pads and knee guards do the same by protecting two of the most complex parts of our bodies that when seriously injured, they could take some time to heal.
It is amazing how Onewheeling is an activity that can be both relaxing and intense at the same time. Relaxing, because it lets you explore the places around you without being inside the corners of your vehicle. Intense, because Onewheeling can also involve fast-paced races and doing tricks that can happen on off-road courses and even on beaches.
And we all know that when it comes to board sports, seeing everything around you in the clearest way possible is extremely crucial. And for Jeff, wearing an eyewear that will help protect his eyes when riding is one of the most important pieces of gear that he recommends. And the kind of eyewear you wear depends on the type of riding you are planning to do.
When you’re just cruising in the city, you can simply put on a pair of sunglasses for sun protection. But when you’re riding on a trail, especially one that has a lot of trees, varying light conditions could be one of your issues. Since you’ll be riding in alternating low and bright light conditions, it can be difficult for your eyes to instantly adjust - making it harder to see the roots and the rocks on the ground.
For situations like this, wearing a pair of sunglasses with photochromic lenses can come in handy. Photochromic sunglasses transition from light to dark in a matter of 30 seconds, and it’s one of the best ways to protect your eyes when you’re riding your Onewheel in heavily shaded trails.
When it comes to his sunglasses, Jeff has some preferences in mind. “I prefer something that wraps around the sides a bit,” He said. “Because debris will get into your eyes, so wearing sunglasses that feel a little bit snugger is a must for me, especially when I’m riding with a group.”
Wearing photochromic sunglasses is ideal when you’re riding in heavily-shaded trails where there are varying light conditions.
When racing, especially through trails, you may need something a little more secure and safe as the experience can be intense - especially when you’re going on full speed. This is where wearing a pair of reliable goggles can make a difference. Make sure to look for high-impact resistant lenses to protect your eyes against branches and the debris. Visual acuity, especially on a race, really matters and it could contribute to the outcome in how you finish the race.
When racing, especially through trails, you may need something a little more secure and safe. Wearing a pair of goggles can really make a difference.
From that unassuming Kickstarter campaign link six years ago to establishing a household brand in the Onewheel community, Jeff McCosker has surely come a long way. And together with his The Float Life family, they continue to inspire and encourage more people to discover a wonderful riding experience like no other - board sports experience not required.
For those who want to try out Onewheeling for themselves but are not ready to fully commit their time, effort, and resources into it, Jeff has an advice: “Try to find Onewheel dealers in your area, and see if they have a board that you can go test out. There is also a service that’s called Suprents, and they’ll ship you a Onewheel that you can ride for a few days and if you want to buy it, they’ll take the cost off the rental price.”
To Jeff, it’s not the recognition that makes all the hard work worthwhile. It’s the relationships that he managed to build along the way. There are some people in the community who he considers some of his best friends, and if it weren’t for onewheeling, he would probably never met them.
“We come from such different backgrounds and with completely different interests,” He said. “It’s really cool that something as simple as Onewheel can really bring people together like that.”