Following complaints from residents and families, several malls in Qatar have banned shoppers from using two-wheeled motorized boards on the premises, saying that they pose a danger to the public.
Over the past month, signs prohibiting the use of the boards have been going up at several shopping centers around town, including Ezdan, Villaggio, Landmark and Dar Al Salaam malls.
Speaking to Doha News, Zahid Iqbal, the operations manager at Dar Al Salaam Mall, explained that the ban was initially informal:
“We were facing a lot of problems because children were hitting other people and bumping into them. It’s also very risky for people using these space boards too because they could hit glass or concrete and fall.
So we decided to ban the use in the mall and instructed our guards to tell residents to leave these boards in their cars.”
He added that the mall eventually put up official signs after parents and children resisted instructions from security guards.
Not all shopping centers have reacted to the rise of space boards by banning them, however.
City Center mall officials said they have discouraged their use but not prohibited them, and are now trying to find a more creative way to deal with the problem.
Speaking to Doha News today, mall director Jörg Harengerd said that management was considering creating a dedicated parkour area where kids and teenagers could ride their boards safely.
“Initially, we thought to just let them be and see what happened. Unfortunately, we found after a couple of weeks, that children were going very fast on these boards, bumping into people and were going down travelators (escalators for people with shopping carts) on them, which is incredibly dangerous.
There were a few small accidents, thankfully with no injuries, but that’s when we decided that something had to be done.”
I’m not a fan of banning things, especially because there’s no other place that children can ride these things in Doha as it’s so hot. We’ve discussed setting up an indoor parkour or skateboarding area in an open space on the third floor, where children can have fun with their boards. Let them have fun, but in a safe environment.”
No date for the opening of this area has been set yet, though Harengerd said that the mall was trying to expedite the process before the craze dies out.
Space boards began growing in popularity several months ago, when the two-wheeled self-balance electric scooters debuted at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January.
Initially labelled the IO Hawk or Hovertrax, these futuristic-looking devices are battery-powered and navigated by pressure from the user’s feet and weight distribution.
To move forward, right, or left, users tilt slightly in the corresponding directions, applying pressure to the device’s sensor pads.
The gadgets have been embraced by several celebrities, including Jamie Foxx, Justin Bieber, Jimmy Fallon, Chris Brown, Kendall Jenner and Nicki Minaj, who have posted them on Instagram or featured them on their TV shows.
As their popularity grew, several copycat devices have been created. They are dubbed spaceboards, Phunkeeducks, smart balance wheels and the like, under brand names like Scoot, Future Foot, Monorover, Airwheel, Airboard, iEZWay, Overroad and Oxboard, among others.
In Qatar, the devices cost anywhere from QR3,700 to QR6,500. They were first sold by Instagram businesses like Top.BB and Cloud Scooters, who carried both original American-made models and cheaper Chinese knockoffs.
The gadgets hit electronic stores like Virgin sometime before Ramadan, where they have apparently been flying off the shelves.
Speaking to Doha News, a Virgin Megastore representative at Landmark mall said:
“Whenever we get them in store, they’re sell out immediately. There are a variety of different models that are priced differently, so everyone seems to be able to afford one. Earlier, there were just a few high priced ones, so we wouldn’t see people use them everywhere, but now that the prices have reduced, they’re selling out quickly.”
According to Harengerd, the fad has been growing in popularity over the summer, especially after the Eid Al Fitr holidays.
“We saw an increase of these scooters in the last two months. Initially, you’d see one or two and it wouldn’t be a hassle, but everyone seems to have gotten these as Eid gifts,” he said.
In probably one of the most unexpected uses of the smart boards, a man was seen performing tawaf in Makkah while on a space board a few weeks ago.
After a video of the action went viral online, several people on social media criticized him, deeming the action irreverent.
Mall officials are not the only ones frustrated by the increased presence of space boards in Doha. In tweets to Doha News, several residents complained about the trend:
— Sandeep Pamulapati (@PSandeepReddy) September 2, 2015
— مريم (@SaracenQueen) September 1, 2015
Fortunately for those who aren’t a fan of the space board craze, first movers said that their fascination with the gadgets has been diminishing.
Maryam Al Thani, 19, bought her space board off an Instagram account some four months ago for QR4,000. Speaking to Doha News, she said:
“My friends kept saying that the AirWheel will soon replace physical activity…I laughed and didn’t believe them. (However), as soon as i tried it out for myself, I was convinced. I would transport myself around the house through it.
But after months of having the AirWheel, I believe the fascination has died down. Personally, I don’t even know where mine is. Like all other things, people lose interest and hop on to the next new thing,” she said.