Fear can drive us to do amazing things, and one of the by-products produced by fear is adrenaline—one of the most intense sensations possible. The thrill of taking risks, engaging in activities that elicit that instinctual fear as a function of self preservation, is something indescribable. It is a rush that is often unattainable otherwise. Downhill longboarding can give you that fear, providing the rider with such a feeling of awe that they can’t wait to get back to the mountain top and “bomb” back down again.
Skateboarding originated in Hawaii during the late ’60s. When the waves did not offer ideal surfing conditions, surfers took to the asphalt with skateboards. Since then, the skateboarding genre has birthed many different categories, longboarding being the one derived from the islands and taking root during the ’70s, along with street, vert, and freestyle skating (all close cousins to downhill longboarding). Most of its forms remained unrecognized, and even frowned upon as a sport until the ’90s when some of the first professional skateboarders emerged onto the public scene. Skateboarding then became somewhat infamous as it grew connected to the outcast characters of society, the folks who didn’t fit into regular team sports and who used public spaces to ride.
As one of the fastest growing skateboarding variants, 21st century longboarding has changed remarkably since its first appearance. Now hundreds of companies direct their focus towards creating and producing high-quality decks, wheels, safety equipment, and other accessories readily available online or at local shops, and the sport is constantly evolving. It even possesses its own jargon: sliding, bombing, tucking, drafting, freeriding, and pushing are just a few terms. There’s an international community of longboarding that exists worldwide and is very broad, involving professionals and amateurs. All share the passion for “bombing” hills, and through this bond a growing, diverse, and eclectic group is forming.
TESTING THE WATERS
But this sport isn’t your typical after-work activity. The rewards are big and the risks are high. Wiping out at speeds exceeding 40 mph means losing skin and injuring body parts. Blind corners, guard rails, pot holes, and debris all pose serious hazards even when skaters are protected.
Longboarding requires wearing safety equipment, including a full face helmet and slide gloves as a minimum, while kneepads and elbow pads are highly recommended for a beginner. Because longboarding is an individual sport, you can learn at your own pace, which is often necessary considering the risks involved. Growing accustomed to the prerequisites such as braking and turning are vital basics in order to progress further in the sport. Beginners should never skate onto an open road where speeds average 40 mph, even reaching 50 mph, and above. Baby steps are crucial.
In order to maintain safe control while longboarding, sliding and braking techniques are practiced and honed alongside the skater’s progression in other skill areas, including higher speeds and steeper mountains. Sliding consists of pushing the skateboard out and drifting by falling down onto the left or right hand and using glove slide-pucks on the ground as support to break traction. This technique is beneficial for slowing down and takes practice to develop the proper form. Another braking technique is known as the foot brake, which involves taking the back foot off of the skateboard and dragging it on the road to regulate your speed.
Tucking is another essential technique for longboarding. Mastering the tuck means being aerodynamic. The proper tucking position requires placing the chest on the knee at the front of the board and angling the back foot and back knee into a position against the front calf muscle. Getting the form right takes practice. Maintaining this form on multiple-mile downhill runs, often lasting three to six minutes, takes training and endurance. Once the proper sliding, braking, tucking, and turning are developed, the goal is to hit the streets and practice these techniques.
Tucking— Proper tucking position requires placing your chest on your knee at the front of the board and angling your back foot and back knee into a position against the front calf muscle. Mastering the tuck means being aerodynamic.
Bombing— The act of going down hills is referred to as “bombing” hills.
Pushing— Using your back foot to literally push off the asphalt, making the board move at a faster pace.
Foot braking— Taking your back foot off of the skateboard and dragging it on the road to regulate your speed.
Sliding (a form of braking)— Pushing the skateboard out and drifting by falling down onto your left or right hand and using glove slide-pucks on the ground as support to break traction.
Turning— By leaning and shifting your weight into a curve in the road, the trucks under the deck are forced to articulate and steer the board in that same direction. The position looks unbalanced, but centrifugal force keeps your body firmly stuck to the board.
Carving— Rapidly turning your board from left to right, without sliding, to shave off speed.
Freeriding— A non-competitive approach to downhill longboarding. Typically freeriding consists of frequent carving and sliding down the entire road out of pure enjoyment.
Drafting— By following closely behind another skater you decrease your own wind resistance. This allows you to increase your speed and aerodynamic efficiency.
THE NORTH CAROLINA DOWNHILL SKATEBOARDING SCENE
Compared to the steep, straighter roads out west in the Rocky Mountains, the Southern Appalachian mountain roads are more winding and gradual. The lack of elevation doesn’t affect the level or intensity of skateboarding. However, one unfavorable tendency does occur on these east coast roads, gravel deposits, especially on unpaved and older quality roads.
Riders here have found ways to work around these road-quality issues. They use topographic maps or simply go and seek roads firsthand. Local riders become local road experts on their home turf. Each road holds different obstacles, and requires skaters to develop different approaches and techniques that put all of their skills to the test. From skating down long, six-mile courses, to shooting down shorter and more technical roads, local skaters are pronouncing the options and varieties all around Western North Carolina as seemingly endless.
Here in North Carolina, the longboarding community is spread throughout the piedmont and mountain areas. An effort put forth by the locals in Boone, which helped to unify and shed light on the North Carolina scene, is now known as North Carolina Downhill (NCDH). Through the media and events, NCDH has gained popular recognition for organizing the skate scene in North Carolina. Compared to areas such as California, longboarding remains on a much smaller scale in North Carolina but with a vast upward potential for growth.
Since longboarding depends on roads, both public and residential, the skaters seek the respect and approval of the communities. The reputations of the skate groups are in high regard. If, for example, skaters are confronted by annoyed residents in a certain area, that road will understandably be considered “blown,” or no longer skate-able. Open roads are the obvious preferred outcome in new target skate areas so good relationships are emphasized.
The roads that Western North Carolina offers vary in a similar way to ski slopes. We have everything from beginner slopes all the way to what could be called double black diamonds. Tapping into the local knowledge typically guarantees a good skate experience. A rookie climber wouldn’t just go rock climbing out in the wilderness without a tour guide. He couldn’t locate the ideal rock climbing spots nor would he know all the potential dangers of unfamiliar territory. The same principle applies to downhill skateboarding. If it sounds difficult to get in touch with the local skateboarding residents in an area, you might be surprised. It’s fairly simple to join one of the longboarding groups on Facebook in a specific city or town. Boone Longboarding, Longboard Asheville, and Charlotte Longboarding are a few examples. Based on experience levels, locals can find safe spots to go and grow.
Similar to other sports, the technology and gear of the sport is constantly advancing due to the innovation of the longboarding industry; from using spare wood or even 2x4s in the ’70s, to the flawless, machine-made composite material skateboards being created today. All of the various factors going into the design of the decks, trucks, and wheels today center on one objective: speed. Speed is nearly everything in downhill skateboarding (at least in the competitive circles), so it is a dominant factor in the production of equipment. The use of holes for aerodynamics, carbon fiber for durability, and polyurethane wheels all contribute to the fastest, lightest skateboard setups available.
An ideal board setup, especially for a beginner, consists of the following items: choice of deck (the platform in which the skater stands on), the trucks and bushings (components used for turning), and the actual wheels and bearings. There are many different details within these three areas to consider as well. Does the skater want a longer board (above a 26-inch wheelbase) for stability, or smaller for agility? Would it be more beneficial to ride all-grip, fast wheels or a smaller, driftier wheel? All of these options are completely up to the individual who can be assisted by sales people at most nearby skate shops.
Local skate shops are, however, losing customers daily as they compete against or convert into the online longboarding market. Local shops do provide shoppers with a place to go and come into contact with other skaters, learn more about the sport, and support the local business scene.
PUSHING THE BOUNDARIES
For some folks, skateboarding and longboarding seem dangerous. Physically, the athletes risk frequent, even severe, injuries; philosophically, observers regard skating activity as rebellious, immature, antisocial, even malicious and harmful with regard to attitudes and public property. Unfortunately, many people who see skateboarding negatively may have misinterpreted the true reason this sport is practiced across the globe. Laguna Beach, California, for example, has recently imposed a city ordinance banning the act of skateboarding on public roads and other areas. This ban is primarily due to the recent surge in popularity that longboarding received, especially out west.
Few in the skate community see the act of skating in public areas as a statement against society or as a means to injure themselves, but rather as a sport which combines positive feelings, uses outside spaces, and produces an adrenaline rush simultaneously. Skating provides a form of self expression that signifies a personal style.
A way around some of these above mentioned restrictions may be through better organized downhill racing. More recently, local skate groups are partnering with international organizations. These collaborations enable longboarders to sanction roads and hold races on them legally. Among these organizations, the International Downhill Federation (IDF) has recently risen to the top, replacing the older, International Gravity Sports Association (IGSA). Alongside downhill skateboarding, street luge and classic luge have also been added to these venues. There are three divisions: juniors (17 and under), open, and women’s. Each division consists of international riders, both professional and amateur. Races range geographically from North and South America and all over Europe—wherever there are good hills and roads. Course speeds have been clocked at speeds as high as 75 mph. Racers make it their goal to attend as many competitions as possible.
Taking place in Mount Jefferson State Park (in Ashe county), North Carolina, on April 18th-19th will be a much anticipated, first-ever city sanctioned downhill race, hosted by NCDH. A compelling side effect of this particular race will be the positive publicity it generates for North Carolina downhill longboarding—in this state, on the east coast, and in the Americas. Hopefully, North Carolina’s next race will attract the top spectators from all over the world. The race will require the entire state park to be closed to traffic, and it will attract riders and spectators from states around the country. The race is being held with the ultimate goal of raising awareness for the sport all across North Carolina.
If you ever witness some downhill action in your neighborhood, or on a winding mountain road, take a moment to stop and watch them make a run. Better yet, go online or visit your local skate shop to meet some of the people in the know. You might get talked into an adrenaline rush of your own. Just remember that as with any other sport that requires a balance of finesse, skill, and luck, and no shortage of “cajones,” approach it carefully.
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