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The Hoverboard Lie: How Back to the Future Ruined Childhood

Do you remember the first major disappointment of your childhood? The first time you realized that the world was not exactly the hopeful, magical place that you had once believed it to be? Did it happen when you found out that Santa Claus wasn't real? Did it happen when your first family pet died? I know when it happened for me. There is a silent core of sadness at the very heart of me that still resonates with loss every time I hear one word: Hoverboard.

hoverboard

The hoverboard, in case you are a soulless automaton who never experienced childhood, was a special effect from Back to the Future II that immediately replaced the flying car as the flagship dream of hyper-advanced technology. The hoverboard was the perfect storm of nerd-child fantasies. It had all the appeal of futuristic tech, the dream of pure flight and the raw aesthetic lust of all the best toys.

And, if left alone, that's all it would ever have been: a fantasy.

Even children, upon coming out of Back to the Future II and immediately miming sweet hoverboard jumps while inexplicably making lightsaber noises for sound effects, knew that it was just a special effect, not real.

Oh, but the next day at school? The next day at school, there was that one kid. That one insecure little dickhead who had to make friends by lying. That sniveling little weasel who had a black belt in karate, who once met Chuck Norris and who had this super-hot girlfriend across town (but she goes to a different school; you wouldn't know her). The next day, there was that horrid little bastard who first uttered the words "they're real, you know. Hoverboards are real."

hoverboard0

The face we all made as soon as we heard that.

And instantly all his previous lies were forgotten.

"What do you mean they're real?"

"They exist. For real."

"What? Fuck you. How would you know?"

"My uncle works at Mattel. If you watch carefully in the movie you can even see the logo. They're who makes it."

"No way. You're such a liar. Why hasn't anybody else seen one?"

"It's parents. They all say they're too dangerous, because you can go too fast and hurt yourself."

...aaaaand that's where he had you.

Son of a bitch! Of course! It's the parents! That is exactly the kind of bullshit parents would do, isn't it? I mean, it's not like he's saying he rode one, or hell, that he's even seen one, because Mattel can't release them. Nobody gets hoverboards! Fucking parents!

furychild1

Goddamn you! GODDAMN YOU TO HELL, PARENTS!

And so for, let's face it, way longer than you should have, you too probably secretly believed that hoverboards were sitting in a warehouse somewhere like at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Forever locked away in a nondescript wooden crate marked "Too Dangerous (For Kids)." A large wooden crate, abandoned and forgotten... that hovered tantalizingly just inches off the ground.

I'm an adult now (sort of) and somewhere along the line I let go of that hope, but I've still held onto the vague sense of disappointment to this day. However, being an adult in the age of technology, there was now something I could do about it. I could now find out exactly how close we are to having real live hoverboards and, more importantly, find out who the motherfucker was that first started the "they're real, but too dangerous for kids" rumor, and hopefully drag him screaming into Hell with me (I have no illusions about myself; I'm a complete bastard with poor-impulse control. I'm going down there, probably pretty soon, and the best I can hope for is a deserving travel companion).

And you know what? I found him. Quite easily. It was not hard at all to uncover, I'd just never thought to look for the bastard. The guy that first started it all? The insecure little prick who had to lie for attention? I found him.

It's Robert Zemeckis.

zemeckis11

Look at him. Even now trying to lie... about being bald.

That's right. The director of Back to the Future II.

And no, this is not backhanded blame for some crap like "he popularized too cool a concept." He actually did it. Every word of that now infamous lie first came from his lips. Apparently tired of being asked how the special effects were done, Michael J. Fox said that Zemeckis started answering those questions with "what do you mean, how did we do it? It's a real hover-board. It flies. Michael [J. Fox] just practiced a lot."

And listen, I don't know about you, but I'm not going to call Michael J. Fox a liar. Michael J. Fox is literally the most lovable man on earth. He is equal parts underdog and superhero. He is the adorable, pixie-like champion of the common man, and he is bravely, humorously facing down one of the worst diseases on the planet. If he ran for president of the American people's heart, he would win by a landslide. So you know what? I'm going to trust him over Baldy McDickhead up there.

michaelvzemeckis1

Seriously, who are you going to believe here? Alex P. Keaton, or somebody who looks like the Devil's accountant?

But you don't have to trust Michael J. Fox (you monster) because it's all on tape.During the Making of Back to the Future II Television Special, Robert Zemeckis went on camera and said "Hoverboards have been around for years, but parents' groups worry that kids will get hurt, so they've pressured the toy companies not to put them on the market." After which, presumably, he ate an entire baby seal whole by unhinging his jaws and horking it down his neckhole with a series of sickening, jerky swallows, like an owl. On that same special, he even paid a special effects crew to have "test footage" made of the actors practicing on "real hoverboards" off set.

Let me put that in a more concise and accurate way: Robert Zemeckis intentionally made a short film entirely out of lies, for no other reason than to crush the spirits of children. Here it is:

Look, I know: "Fake!! photoshop!!1! you can see the pixelz!"

We all know that. Now.

Everybody can easily spot this as bullshit today; when every other image you see is a political figure's head expertly superimposed onto a penis, you get pretty good at spotting fakes. But in the late 80s, if somebody showed you something like this--the application of incredibly expensive movie-quality special effects in an off-screen candid setting--you just believed them. You believed them because we goddamn trusted them back then. It was a much more innocent, fluorescent-colored and conspicuously gay time.

So there it is, now you know: Robert Zemeckis is the one responsible. He is the one that stole the hope right out of the screaming bodies of millions of children, because he is a twisted sociopath who feeds on the destruction of joy.

But there is redemption at hand! There are real efforts being made, right now, by people who have somehow hung onto their hope throughout these dark years--never giving up on the dream of bringing into reality what Robert Zemeckis could only mockingly destroy: The dream of a real live hoverboard.

Here's one example, the Airboard:

It is a hoverboard, technically, in that it does hover and you stand on it as one could stand on a board. You control it by shifting your weight dramatically in the direction you want to go. There are no brakes, but you can slow yourself down by squatting low until it stops.

You know what advantage the movie hoverboard had over this thing? You didn't look like a complete tool riding it. You looked fucking awesome, and that is a hard thing to do when you have to poopsquat just to avoid careening into traffic on your giant air hockey puck.

airboard1

Early 90s German Techno band, or the face of the future?

But all that doesn't even matter, because the Airboard is not only ridiculously expensive (starting price around $10,000), has an exceedingly short life span and can only navigate on super smooth surfaces to begin with.

But there are other efforts. Here's the Hoverboard (optimistic name, guys) which is a slightly more literal take on the concept:

hoverboard2

Future Horizons, creators of the Hoverboard, seem to have drastically misunderstood the appeal of the movie version, so they just built a hovercraft shaped like a board. And the world collectively sighed, pinched the bridge of their noses, and reluctantly said "good job, guys, that is... that's just real awesome," because the world simply couldn't bear to break their hearts. This is a board that hovers, sure, but just like the Airboard, it only does so on completely smooth surfaces, it runs out of fuel quickly and it looks like a shitty Ukrainian knockoff of Seaspray, the hovercraft Transformer.

hoverboard1

Whut? Is good Transforming Person, yes?

You know what else can run only on perfectly smooth surfaces, achieves approximately the same speed but with better maneuverability and takes a very, very long time to run out of juice? A skateboard. That's the whole point of the Back to the Future hoverboard fantasy: A super-speed skateboard that can go anywhere at high speeds, for long distances, and not spackle the sidewalk with a layer of bloody enamel if you hit a pebble wrong.

And here's the closest thing we have to that right now, the Scarpar Powerboard:

It has everything great about the hoverboard: It's super maneuverable, can generate speeds of at least 35 miles per hour (though they happily advertise you can double that), it can traverse any terrain (it even runs over a goddamn log in that video) and on one small tank of gas it can operate for up to 20 miles. There's just one problem: It doesn't fucking hover.

Now, admittedly, a skating tank is pretty high on the list of "rad things I would draw on my Trapper Keeper," but no matter how awesome the Powerboard gets, it's never going to hit that futuristic milestone of sustained, personally accessible flight.

scarpar1

At least is has the decency to look awesome, though.

But considering that the Scarpar Powerboard, once released, will only cost about $2,000, it may have to do for now. And as soon as it is released (they're aiming for next year), I believe the only appropriate celebration would be to tie up Robert Zemeckis and drag his screeching demon husk through the woods with it until the fucking thing runs out of gas.

But hey, it's not like I'm bitter or anything.


Find more from Robert on Twitter, Facebook or his own site, I Fight Robots. Where you can find him sobbing quietly in his closet after revisiting all of this heartache.

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