Afterthoughts: Hoverboards Are Real

The future is weirder than I thought it would be.
Illustration: Dana Paresa

I recently read a headline that really confused me. Rapper Wiz Khalifa was forced to the ground and handcuffed at Los Angeles International Airport, for refusing to stop riding his hoverboard. Afterward, Khalifa tweeted this: “All because I didn’t want to ditch the technology everyone will be using in the next 6 months. Do what you want kids.”


OK, wait, what? Did an amazing new technology get invented while I wasn’t paying attention? We have hoverboards now? Like Back to the Future-style hoverboards?


Turns out: No. What we do have, though, is a sudden trend of people riding around on self-balancing, two-wheeled scooters. They’re basically the technological descendants of the original Segway, only smaller and without handlebars. Just step onto one, and battery-powered gyroscopic motors kick in to to keep you upright. Lean forward slightly, and you’ll roll forward, lean right or left, and you’re effortlessly carving corners. It’s supposed to be very intuitive, after a few hours of practice.


Variations of these things have been around for years. In fact, there’s one guy who, for a long time now, has been commuting into downtown Honolulu on a single-wheeled version. He just stands on this thing and tools down the sidewalk at 6 miles per hour with both his hands tucked into his pants pockets. Not to be mean, but it’s the dorkiest thing I’ve ever seen. It’s even dorkier than riding on a Segway, if such a thing is possible. I’ve been tempted to pull up next to this uni-commuter and ask him a few questions, but I realized I really only had one: What are you doing with your life, man?


I was convinced these self-balancing scooters were destined to remain a niche product, used only by those people who don’t mind looking like huge doofuses, in the same category as recumbent bicycles, PT Cruisers and those hideous Vibram FiveFingers toe shoes.


But here’s the thing. Wiz Khalifa is a lot of things, but he is not dorky. What was he doing riding on this nerdy little contraption? Then I saw Jamie Foxx roll onto the set of The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, atop a hoverboard. Again, Jamie Foxx, not a dorky person. And then, because three things in a row constitute a trend, I saw a guy hanging out at the Starbucks in front of our downtown building—a pretty cool-looking guy—with a Khalifa-style hoverboard at his feet.


What’s going on? Are hoverboards about to become mainstream? I guess they’re practical and useful, once you get over the image problem. It’s like having your own personal moving sidewalk. No more pesky exercise, trying to get around the city. And, unlike Segways, these new hoverboards are small and light enough to pick up and carry into your office or living room. 


It all makes sense. I’m just having trouble getting over that image problem. Maybe I’ll change my mind once there are herds of these things gliding down Bishop Street and around Ala Moana Center, but, on the other hand, maybe this is how I officially become old. I can picture myself wagging my finger and telling some whippersnapper on a hoverboard, “Back in my day, we walked places. And we liked it! Feh.”


I have one suggestion that might solve the whole problem: Redesign the riding position on these things so you’re facing sideways, like on a surfboard or a skateboard. Boom, suddenly you’ve been upgraded from a hapless, helmeted tourist on a guided Segway tour into Marty McFly, hoverboarding into the future like a hero. Now that, I could get into.