As Chris Jacques’ first wedding anniversary with his wife, Emily Jacques, approached in 2017, he wanted to get her something special. So he dropped $1,000 on an object he hoped would bring her as much joy as it had brought him: a Onewheel.
At first, Emily wasn’t sure the device—a skateboard-like electric vehicle with a large wheel in the middle—would be her thing.
“I was like, ‘Oh god, I know this thing brings him so much joy, and I’m gonna have to figure out how to use it, because he invested in one for me,’” she recalls.
But a few rides later, it was clear to Emily that Onewheel would absolutely be her thing.
Chris first heard about Onewheel in 2014, when inventor Kyle Doerksen was promoting his new invention through a Kickstarter campaign.
“I was just like, what is this magical vehicle, and how do I get one?” says Chris, who lives in Kensington.
Due to the four-figure price tag, he didn’t purchase his own board until 2016. He was instantly hooked, and started looking for others just as fascinated by the vehicle as he was. His search led him to two Facebook groups, a massive one for Onewheel owners around the world, and a smaller one for riders located in D.C. After becoming heavily involved in the latter, he eventually became its leader.
Today, his “DMV OneWheel Riders” group has approximately 350 members. He estimates that 75 percent of members are actually located in the D.C. area, while the rest are Onewheelers from places like Delaware, Texas, and West Virginia who’ve joined when visiting D.C.
“A lot of people will join and be like, ‘Hey, I’m visiting town this weekend, can you show me around the city?’” Chris says.
The group’s page is flooded with questions about Onewheel use, videos of people riding and doing tricks, and posts organizing group rides—often called “floats,” because riding can “feel like you’re floating on air,” Chris says.
“Floats” of 10 to 20 riders, ranging in age from 8 to 60-something, happen every other week or so in the DMV. Riders agree on a time and place to start riding in the Facebook group, then meet up to ride for approximately three hours. Their usual route starts at L’Enfant Plaza near the Spy Museum, where parking is free on weekends, then goes through Navy Yard along the waterfront toward the National Mall and around the monuments.
Onewheel batteries have to be recharged after seven miles or so of riding, so the group usually stops a couple times on rides to grab a drink and charge up. Chris calls this combination of Onewheeling around the city and hanging out with other riders “float therapy.”
“A lot of people use it as a way to mend and decompress from the day, the week, and whatnot,” he says. “Some of these people have high-stress jobs, and then at the end of the day they can hop on this weird machine, go for a float, and grab a beer with a bunch of people.”
To make this niche, weird tradition even weirder, every now and then the DMV Onewheelers wear LED stick figure costumes made by Glowy Zoey during evening rides. The effect of these so-called “glow rides” is delightfully strange—the riders appear to be colorful, glowing life-size stick figures floating across the ground. And according to Emily, people love it.
“Sometimes we’ll be riding around the monuments and stuff, and we’ll roll up on a group of middle schoolers taking a group photo in front of the Lincoln Memorial,” she says. “They’re just like, ‘Woah! What is that?’ And you just hear people start hollering from afar, and you’re like, ‘Oh! That’s us!’ We are in some way bringing just a tiny bit of joy and excitement to these middle-schoolers from Ohio.”
But even better than being stopped by tourists, Emily says, is being stopped by people who thought they were the only person in D.C. with a Onewheel.
“People will run up to us and be like, ‘Oh my god, my Onewheel’s at home. What is this club? How do I join?” she says. “And we’re like, ‘We’re not a club. We’re just people. But by all means join our Facebook group.’”
On the weekends, avid Onewheeler Adam Carluccio works as a wedding DJ in and around Centreville, Virginia. The job lets Carluccio devote his weeks to working on The Voice of Onewheel, a YouTube and podcast series about Onewheelers across the country, with his friend and co-host Matt LaBelle. Working on the show has put Carluccio in contact with Onewheel communities across the nation—Los Angeles, Denver, Dallas—and he says the DMV group is among the largest and most active he’s ever seen. He also says it’s given him an unprecedented sense of community.
“I’m a single guy, 35 years old. Most of my friends have kids, have families, and it’s hard to see people,” he says. “It feels like you don’t have a lot of friends at this age, as people start to pair off and stuff, and it’s just been really neat to feel like there’s so many people in this area who have the same interests and love for this stupid board that we ride.”
Emily says the best thing she’s gotten out of her Onewheel is that same sense of community. She’s constantly impressed by how supportive DMV Onewheelers are of one another.
“If you put yourself out there and are just like, ‘Hey, who’s down to ride? I need one right now just to clear my head,’ you can always find someone that will join up with you,” she says. “It’s just a really nice thing in these trying times in the world, to just have this little outlet that’s positive.”