Downhill Skateboarding - Life going downhill. Fast!
Words Lloyd Clark & Nick Simic
Since the advent of downhill skating in the '50s, bragging rights and 'the need for speed' has seen downhill skaters conquering the fastest, most technical hills in the world. And with the ever-increasing speeds that these leather-clad skaters reach, there’s no doubt that downhill skateboarding is one of the most spectacular sports to watch. With no brakes, other than feet or slides, riders crouch low, with their heads pushed forward and arms tucked back to reduce wind resistance, and can reach the most insane speeds of 100 km/h plus.
Downhill skateboarding, also known as longboarding, is an alternative sport - some may say extreme - comprised mainly of three different aspects: racing, sliding, and cruising.
Gravity racing is the most intense of the three aspects of longboarding, as it requires a serious amount of discipline and, as with any kind of racing, it’s very competitive. Top competitors need to maintain high levels of fitness and ensure that their equipment is in good condition and of good quality.
Other than going as fast as possible down steep, curvy hills, longboarders also enjoy putting their boards perpendicular to their direction of travel, causing all four wheels to drift or slide rather than roll. This freestyle aspect of longboarding is better known by the skaters as freeriding.
In general, there are two types of slides; puck-down and stand up. A stand up slide, or standee, is done without putting a hand on the ground. It is more difficult than a puck-down slide, where skaters will drag one or two hands on the ground for balance. Longboarding gloves are specifically designed with pucks on the palm, which slide on a tar surface. There are many variations to the slides, such as 180° or 360° spins from regular stance and switch, heelside and toeside, one footers, and many more. The more creative and longer the slide, the better. Competitions for this form of skating are known as Slide Jams and are where skaters are judged on style, the longest slide, and best trick. Slide Jams sometimes also include kickers and ramps.
Most popular in coastal towns with long promenades, cruising is the most mellow aspect of longboarding and the easiest for beginners. The bigger, softer wheels and longer decks common to longboarding make the ride really smooth and it’s possible to ride just about any surface.
There are even some events held for longboarding on flat paths over long distance, just look out for the word ‘Push’ in the event title.
Who can participate?
This is something for all stand up gravity sport enthusiasts of any age, provided you’re not pregnant, of course. People aged from 11 to 45 participate at races where there are separate categories for men and women, as well as various age categories.
What you need
• Board - including trucks, wheels, bearings, etc.
• Helmet - a full face, recommended for downhill, or half shell.
• Sliding gloves.
• Knee and elbow pads.
• Leathers - for racing.
Where to get it
Core Gear (www.coregear.co.za) - Jeffreys Bay
Longboarding SA (www.longboardingsa.co.za) - all over South Africa
Cornerstone Surf & Skate (www.cornerstone-online.co.za) - Stellenbosch
Baboon Boards (www.baboonboards.com) - Cape Town
Boardhub (www.boardhub.co.za) - Cape Town
The Corner Surf Shop (www.thecornersurfshop.com) - Cape Town
X-ware/Jozi-X Johannesburg (www.x-ware.co.za) - Johannesburg
Longboarding Warehouse (www.longboardingwarehouse.com) - Durban
Where to go
Each province has formed groups that help riders stay connected and informed of skate sessions. It’s always advisable to find these local groups so that you get a good understanding of where to skate and, especially for new skaters, you learn the best ways to skate from the more experienced guys before you pick up bad habits.
It’s also advisable to contact the local guys before going to skate any good hills because they will advise you of the safety precautions to be taken on that hill, as well as any rules that might need to be followed. The rules are usually in place to maintain a good relationship between skaters and local residents, thus ensuring that the spot will be open to skaters for years to come.
Here are some Facebook groups to join, depending on which city you are in:
Gauteng: Jo’burg Longboarders Club (JLC)
KwaZulu-Natal: Durban Downhill Sessions (DDS)
Eastern Cape: Downhill Eastern Cape (DEC HEADS)
Western Cape: Cape Town Fizzers, Longboard Stellenbosch, Noordhoek Bombers
There is a certain etiquette that downhill skaters follow and it’s different depending on where you’re skating. Whether you’re racing at 80 km/h or attempting your biggest standie, there is a level of respect practiced amongst skaters and between skaters and the communities they skate in.
Serious injury is a real risk that downhill skaters are faced with every day, but this can easily be avoided if you’re smart about it. Make sure you hook up with your local community of longboarders before you head to the hills. You don’t want to be the one responsible for blowing out a spot.
Paving the way
There is a by law that states that skateboarding on a public road is illegal. Since this law seems so ridiculous and all encompassing, there are groups that have been set up with the intention of having this law changed. One such group is the NSC (National Skate Collective) and they are making good headway with the officials in Cape Town. The Mother City has the worst reputation with the cops when it comes to skateboarding, which stems from a history of skateboarding being associated with drugs and vandalism. Longboarding is totally the opposite these days, as it gives youngsters an alternative form of ‘high’. Luckily, the cops don’t hassle skaters too much in the other provinces and longboarding community members are striving to keep it that way.
Most of the companies that import or retail longboarding gear in South Africa spend a lot of money and effort on sponsoring events and skaters. Recently, there has been more and more involvement from companies that are not skateboarding specific and this bodes well for the future of the sport.
Events to diarise
The South African scene is growing, and with this growth comes a lot more opportunity for events and competitions! Cape Town has hosted most of the races and Slide Jams, but events are fast spreading to the rest of the country.
The top events to look out for in 2014 (dates still to be confirmed) include the Fair Cape Downhill Challenge, Donkin Downhill Dash, King of the Fort, Street Kings, Natural Descent, and Hot Heels Africa.
Names to look out for
South Africa has produced some seriously talented skaters who are or have been sponsored by overseas brands and big companies. Some of our most well known South African skaters include:
Stuart Bradburn - Former downhill skater for Red Bull and World Champion.
Michael Zeitsman - Placed fourth in the world three times. Stuart and Michael are the only South Africans to win Hot Heels Africa. Mike is now a rapper in the popular electro hip-hop band PHFat.
Matt Arderne - 2010 SA Champ and Rider for ABEC 11 Wheels.
Paul du Plessis - 2011 SA Champ and rider for Cult Wheels.
Raul van den Berg - 2012 SA Champ and rider for Orangatang Wheels and Fibretec Skateboards.
Decio Lorencio - 2013 SA Champ and YouTube hero (Spoofing the Cam and Silver Slipstreams).
So if it is excitement that you are looking for - either taking part or watching from the sidelines - you've got it all with downhill skating.
Did you know?
Canadian Mischo Erban set a new world record for the fastest skateboard speed from a standing position on 18 June 2012. He maxed out at 129.94km/h (80.74 mph) in Les Eboulements, Quebec, on the road descending to the St. Lawrence River port of Saint-Joseph-de-le-Rive. The road is noted for being dangerously steep, in points descending at an 18-percent grade.
Source: DO IT NOW