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New twist on old toy

Balance Boards first hit the scene in 1952 and were simply a toy. But after decades of evolution and the popularity of board sports, its applications include skateboarding tricks and physical therapy.

Stanley Washburn, who created the first commercial balance board, got the idea from natives on Africa’s Gold Coast.

In 1942 Washburn, a World War II pilot for an air transport command, took a trip along the coast of Ghana, while his plane was getting repaired, and discovered children playing on a board laid over a sawed-off tree round.



Much to the amusement of the native children, Washburn fell on his keister on his first attempt. But he would go on to make the first balance board, which he called the Bongo Board. Through the decades modifications to the board have made the board faster and more conducive for tricks, but the concept has remained the same: A roller on the ground and a flat board, about the size of a skateboard, to balance on. The rollers are now tapered to enhance tuning and on some boards multiple grooves allow the rider to “ollie” in and out of different positions laterally across the roller. Long boards with flex are now also in the mix.

Professional athletes and Olympic hopefuls in the final stages of physical therapy now employ the balance board to simulate various board sports and balancing techniques.



At Emerald Bay Physical Therapy, the balance board is used to help patients regain strength and balance after knee and ankle injuries.

“People get a kick out of it because it’s challenging,” said Chris Proctor, a physical therapist at the clinic.

Proctor said the balance board is used for all types of athletes, but until the clinic began using the balance board, there were no machines that replicated snowboarding.

“We tell them to pretend that they are snowboarding through a slalom or giant slalom course,” he said. Skiers are told to visualize going down a mogul field.

Proctor warns that while a balance board can be a good tool for therapy, it takes practice to learn.

Allen Barichievich, a physical therapist at Barton Memorial Hospital, constructed his own version of the balance board for patients to use.

Barichievich said he first witnessed the use of balance boards for physical therapy six years ago at the Stanford Outpatient Rehabilitation Clinic in Stanford, Calif.

When asked about the unorthodox method of therapy Barichievich replied by saying: “I think as a physical therapist, we can use what we need to in the clinic.”

At Barton, the board, in addition to rehabilitation for knee and ankle injuries, is used for neuromuscular re-education and balance training to help patients recover from strokes and brain injuries.

“All the tissue should be healed and patients should have generally 80 percent of their normal strength and stability back,” Barichievich said of the appropriate time to employ the balance board.

Brew Moscarello, owner of Vew-Do Boards, based in Manchester, Vt. said he found an old Bongo Board one day in the late 1980s and decided to improve on it. He would go on to befriend Washburn and started selling his own board in 1990.

“I wanted to do ‘ollies” and ‘kick flips’ and turn, so I designed one that would allow me to do all the moves I could as a snowboarder,” Moscarello said.

While there are a handful of companies that make balance boards, Moscarello claims heir to Washburn’s throne.

“He’s the grandfather,” he said. “I consider myself the grandson. I’m just carrying the torch.”

Bob Daly, owner of Shoreline Ski and Sport on Kingsbury Grade, said he rides his Vew-Do Board while watching television. He said professional balance board riders perform at skate and snowboard trade shows and tricks include “kick flip entries”, “shove-its” and “spins”. He said people can drop onto the roller with the board from several feet up and balance. Sometimes people, using several rollers, will ride across the floor.

“There is a lot of creativity,” he said. “The sky is the limit to what kind of tricks they can do.”


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