“Everyone gets ‘hover legs’ their first time,” Darren Pereira assures me as I grip his shoulder, trying to appear cool as my legs buckle and quiver.
I am locked in a battle to remain upright — and avoid becoming the star of a viral wipeout video — on a self-balancing two-wheeled scooter, more popularly (and inaccurately) known as a hoverboard.
“Hover legs is a feeling that you’re going to experience when you step on it,” the 40-year-old serial entrepreneur instructs me beforehand.
“Your legs go out like a fish out of water thing — that’s just your body learning a new way to balance itself.”
I’m at hoverboard training alongside Pereira and group of friends he describes as Toronto tastemakers.
But I already knew hoverboards were cool because I’ve seen celebrities like Justin Bieber and Kendall Jenner riding them on Instagram.
One of the other hover training newbies offers me the helmet from her e-bike. But none of the other tastemakers are wearing one — not even the guys spinning around, going backwards and doing tricks — so I decline.
After the first 20 wobbly seconds, I’m able to stand up on my own and slowly inch forward.
“OK, relax. No, relax. Just relax,” I’m told over and over.
I don’t feel like an arbiter of cool like Pereira and his friends.
I probably look ridiculous because I’m convinced I have to lean my body in an aerodynamic, forward-pointing position like I am the Rocketeer.
It’s only when Pereira tells me to think of it as mind control — the board will turn in the direction I shift my eyes or pick up speed when I ease up — that I am finally get it.
Our training is attracting a lot of attention around City Place. People walking their dogs stop by to ask about the boards. Pereira’s neighbour says hello as he’s walking into the condo and before long Pereira has convinced him to try out the board too.
It’s excellent marketing for his nascent hoverboard business.
Pereira’s company Hüüvr imports a few of these scooters each day from a manufacturer in Shenzhen, China and sells them online for $649.
Pereira believes hoverboards are part of a transportation revolution, despite controversies over their safety and their use on city streets. Sure, he says, he’s been stopped by police while riding, but only so they can take a crack at using it themselves.
He foresees a hoverboard in every home. His mother has one that she rides in the kitchen. His building manager has polio, but can hover, he tells me.
“I don’t see it as a tech gadget, I see it as a family transportation device,” he says.
Pereira endeavoured to create Canada’s first hoverboard dealerships about nine months ago after returning from a trade show in Las Vegas completely blown away by the technology.
He sought a manufacturer in Shenzhen, settling on Chic Robotics after several Skype interviews with the company, due to its relative longevity in the market and other indicators of quality such as its patent claims.
The electrical engineering graduate tests every board himself and wants to build a network of dealerships where they can be serviced.
He’s sold about 100, but sales have been taking off in the past month and he is now selling about eight every day.
On my second turn at hoverboard training, Pereira thinks its time for me to test hovering in the bike lane. I’m nervous but determined to play it cool.
I follow him for a block before he slows down to turn onto the sidewalk curb. Everyone has to slow down for this, he says, because these first generation boards don’t have the shocks required to handle big bumps.
But I can’t do it.
I stop completely, accidentally and forget how to make it move again. I stumble off, pick my board up off the street and place it down on the sidewalk. I don’t want Pereira to see that’s what I had to do, so I force myself to get back on the board before he can race over to help.
In my first attempt, my left foot is on the board and it starts spinning clockwise out from under me.
I realize a hover rider can’t hesitate. A hover rider has to be bold. So, I step on with one foot immediately after the other, recover balance much quicker than before and zoom up to meet him.
I’m skeptical but slightly proud as Pereira declares my hover training a success. He leans his shoulder down and I grip it for my awkward dismount.
I am a tastemaker too.