Longboarder to cross Utah for paralyzed friend

Jun 7 2012 - 6:13am

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(MATTHEW ARDEN HATFIELD/Standard-Examiner) Ben Smith longboards in North Salt Lake on Wednesday. Smith is planning to skateboard across Utah to raise money for a vehicle that can accommodate paralyzed friend Gates Hunsaker.
(MATTHEW ARDEN HATFIELD/Standard-Examiner) Ben Smith longboards in North Salt Lake on Wednesday. Smith is planning to skateboard across Utah to raise money for a vehicle that can accommodate paralyzed friend Gates Hunsaker.
(MATTHEW ARDEN HATFIELD/Standard-Examiner) Ben Smith longboards in North Salt Lake on Wednesday. Smith is planning to skateboard across Utah to raise money for a vehicle that can accommodate paralyzed friend Gates Hunsaker.
(MATTHEW ARDEN HATFIELD/Standard-Examiner) Ben Smith longboards in North Salt Lake on Wednesday. Smith is planning to skateboard across Utah to raise money for a vehicle that can accommodate paralyzed friend Gates Hunsaker.
(MATTHEW ARDEN HATFIELD/Standard-Examiner) Ben Smith longboards in North Salt Lake on Wednesday. Smith is planning to skateboard across Utah to raise money for a vehicle that can accommodate paralyzed friend Gates Hunsaker.
(MATTHEW ARDEN HATFIELD/Standard-Examiner) Ben Smith longboards in North Salt Lake on Wednesday. Smith is planning to skateboard across Utah to raise money for a vehicle that can accommodate paralyzed friend Gates Hunsaker.
(MATTHEW ARDEN HATFIELD/Standard-Examiner) Ben Smith longboards in North Salt Lake on Wednesday. Smith is planning to skateboard across Utah to raise money for a vehicle that can accommodate paralyzed friend Gates Hunsaker.
(MATTHEW ARDEN HATFIELD/Standard-Examiner) Ben Smith longboards in North Salt Lake on Wednesday. Smith is planning to skateboard across Utah to raise money for a vehicle that can accommodate paralyzed friend Gates Hunsaker.

NORTH SALT LAKE -- Crossing Utah -- from border to border in a south-to-north direction -- could take 15-year-old Ben Smith two weeks. That's because he will be traveling by longboard.

The 400-mile trip, roughly from Kanab to Portage along the state's back roads and a few frontage roads along the freeway, is to begin Monday.

The trip is an effort to raise awareness and money for Ben's friend Gates Hunsaker.

On April 5, 2011, one day before he was to report to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Missionary Training Center in Provo, Hunsaker broke his neck while snowboarding.

The injury left Hunsaker paralyzed from the chest down.

The money raised by Ben will be used to modify Hunsaker's vehicle so he can drive himself, said Rick Smith, Ben's father.

The hope is the public will make donations online or personally to Ben as he boards through the communities, said Rick Smith, who will be following his son in a vehicle.

"This is just a grueling service opportunity he has chosen to do," Rick Smith said. "We're going to see a lot of the state -- very slowly. But it is going to be good to be with my son."

In addition to providing support, Rick Smith said he will perform any needed repair work on the four longboards his son will use on the trip.

"We anticipate it takes approximately two weeks, but we don't know. It is hard to predict," Rick Smith said.

A longboard, which has no steering handle, is wider and longer than the average skateboard, with larger wheels that allow more surface area to be covered.

To prepare for the trip, Ben said he has been traveling by longboard to different neighborhood destinations whenever possible.

But this is not the first time the Woods Cross High School sophomore has traveled a long distance on a longboard.

"I've done 40 miles in a day," said Ben, who will be standing and pushing the 39-inch-long, 10-inch-wide, Landyachtz longboard with his legs.

His longboard was donated by Annex Skate Shop in Bountiful.

Ben said his biggest fear is the heat from the sun.

"It might rain, but I'm not too worried about it. I'll use an older board if it is raining," he said.

There have been a few people who have raised questions about the distance he is looking at traveling, but for the most part, Ben said, people have been supportive.

A wrestler and lacrosse player while he was a student at South Davis Junior High School, Ben said he is hopeful to have the necessary stamina to complete the trip.

The idea to longboard across the state was suggested by Ben's older brother, who is currently serving an LDS mission, said mom Cindy Smith.

"I'm nervous, but proud, and glad his dad will (follow) behind him," she said.

Rick Smith and his son are still looking for a business or friend to allow them the use of a small motor home for the trip, giving them a place to sleep and go to the bathroom.

"That is a donation that we haven't solicited yet, but we need to," Rick Smith said.

Donations to Hunsaker can be made online at www.longboardutahforgates.com.

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