Shoeless and shameless
‘Barefoot Longboard Guy’ proves his toughness, defies social norms
Matthew Romanyk’s longboard is the only thing separating his bare feet from the pavement and a terrible brush burn when he weaves his way between students, down Putnman Way and toward the Student Union.
As he approaches the thick crowd gathered around the SU, Romanyk needs to come to a stop without using his feet to slow himself down. Instead, he jumps off, simultaneously flicking his board into his hands and lands on his bare feet –– not a scratch on them.
At this point, they’re too tough for that.
Students across campus have labeled the freshman undecided major and Syracuse native “Barefoot Longboard Guy.”
Romanyk, who stopped wearing shoes at the beginning of the semester after noticing another student riding his longboard without shoes, says going barefoot empowers him by helping “build his toughness” –– literally and metaphorically. UB community members noticed a white man with brown hair frequently barefoot longboarding and holding a camera near the Student Union, and rumors spread about “Barefoot Longboard Guy” in September.
Photos on UB’s subreddit came next, identifying Romanyk’s face with the rumored barefoot longboarder.
“I’d imagine [the photos] just put a face to this anomaly,” Romanyk said.
Romanyk’s bout of fame peaked when a Reddit user posted a selfie with Romanyk, which quickly earned a spot in the subreddit’s top posts of the month, earning 147 upvotes.
But all stars –– even the shoeless ones –– start somewhere.
Romanyk moved to Buffalo from Syracuse last spring and spent the spring semester at SUNY Erie Community College before coming to UB this fall, where he began his barefoot lifestyle.
On Romanyk’s second day at UB, he noticed a student longboarding across campus without shoes.
Since then, he’s rarely worn shoes.
His friend Anna Tschopp, a junior psychology and childhood studies double major, claims that Romanyk’s barefoot habits don’t end after he leaves campus.
“His barefoot thing goes so far,” Tschopp said. “We went to a frat party the other night and he didn’t even wear shoes to that.”
Going barefoot and feeling cold and hot and rocky pavement under his feet helps him explore the limits of his tolerance, he said. Getting through his day without shoes is like a little personal battle.
“I just like to figure out how much I can handle,” Romanyk said. “It’s nice to show yourself what you can do, whether it’s carving a big hill … or walking around barefoot to toughen your feet up.”
Romanyk finds parallels between his barefoot journey and the journey of the fictional Alessandro Guiliani, who was forced to march across mountains in order to survive.
“[Guiliani] is like, ‘If your feet are tough you’ll make it, and if they’re not you’ll fall behind,’” Romanyk said. “That’s kind of how it feels even when you’re making the march from your friend’s house to your car.”
Although Romanyk isn’t forced to climb mountains for survival, he still believes he needs to be tough to achieve his goals: mainly “making it” as a photographer, a hobby he pursues even while longboarding. His goal is to photograph musicians and bring awareness to their unseen daily lives.
Romanyk said the UB community, which sees his bare feet atop his longboard daily, has so far been accepting of his barefoot lifestyle. Romanyk goes barefoot all over campus, including inside buildings and hasn’t received any criticism from UB employees, faculty or peers.
“That’s what I like about campus so much,” Romanyk said. “It’s a college campus. Everyone is so accepting.”
The comments on UB’s subreddit also serve as confirmation that the UB community “accepts” his lifestyle.
“I like Barefoot Longboard guy. Doesn’t disturb the peace and isn’t obnoxious,” a UB subreddit user wrote and 59 others upvoted. “Sometimes the best heroes go unnoticed.”
Raymond Kohl, the marketing manager for Campus Dining and Shops said that UB’s environmental health and safety departments advise customers to wear shoes in campus dining areas for sanitary purposes. But there is no written policy on footwear.
“While it is not currently a university-written policy, it is a basic principle of food sanitation that bare feet can carry bacteria that could be harmful if exposed to food preparation areas or where food is consumed,” Kohl said. “UB’s environmental health and safety department advises that no bare feet are allowed within food preparation, support or eating areas for reasons of health and sanitation.”
Still, Romanyk hasn’t had anyone tell him to put on shoes.
Off campus is a different story. Romanyk lives in downtown Buffalo, on the west side, and said he experiences more criticism about his bare feet in the city.
“People downtown are rough about the whole barefoot thing,” Romanyk said. “I’ll go into a convenience store and some of the older heads will get on my case about it like, ‘You can’t be barefoot in here.’”
The state health code doesn’t include restrictions on customers’ footwear, or lack thereof. But some businesses establish their own dress codes, and Romanyk said he adheres to codes when he notices them.
Romanyk said Walmart gives him particular trouble for his bare feet and he’s repeatedly criticized when he leaves the store.
Walmart has a sign that specifies customers must wear shoes upon entry, and a Walmart employee once told Romanyk he wouldn’t be allowed back unless he wore shoes.
“She said, ‘That is against New York State law.’ Bro, no it’s not,” Romanyk said. “You think I walk around in buildings without shoes on and [don’t] know what’s law and what’s not law? Get off my case.”
Romanyk argues that his bare feet are not a big deal, and he should be able to do as he pleases.
But Romanyk will soon have to curtail his habit.
His feet are toughened, but not enough for a Buffalo winter.
“When it’s cold out, you feel more of the ground. You feel every single crack,” Romanyk said.
He knows the return of shoes may bring an end to the attention he’s earned from the campus community.
“When it really starts to ache, I’ll just start wearing shoes again and I’ll fade into obscurity.”
Julian Roberts-Grmela is the asst. features editor and can be reached at Julian.Grmela@ubspectrum.com and on Twitter @GrmelaJulian.