For surfers, nothing could be more enchanting than an enormous cresting wave. For snowboarders, it’s mammoth alpine peaks that seem to scratch the heavens. And for us longboarders, nothing is more seductive than the slick asphalt of a winding road that plummets at a thrilling incline.
But like all of the challenges and excitement that are behind our love for extreme sports, bombing a hill can be very dangerous and at times life-threatening. Longboarding takes place on the most unforgiving of surfaces, like concrete and asphalt, coupled with perilous dangers such as traffic, road hazards, and the difficulty of slowing your speed, which can often take years to master. While we all love the rush of carving up the street and feeling like we’ve conquered the road, every old rider has horror stories that could have been avoided with a little bit of caution.
The Right Getup and Gear
No matter how cliched it sounds, having a helmet is the most essential safety element to riding any hill regardless of your experience. Make sure your helmet has a certification tag inside and is loaded with comfy pads; helmets are not something you should be picking up secondhand at the flea market. I also recommend knee pads and wrist guards, which are particularly important because of our tendency to stop our falls with our hands. Those nasty broken wrists are the most common hospital injury for snowboarders and skaters. In addition to pads and something solid for my noggin’, I always hit the hills with at least a good pair of jeans, a jacket, and my backpack – which, although it may crush my lunchtime burrito and soda, has protected me from the unforgiving street on a few wild spills.
Also, don’t forget to give your longboard a full inspection before each and every ride. All bearings should be properly lubed, nuts and bolts tested, and bushings inspected for proper tightness and balance. Proper bushings are paramount! Keep in mind that a loose bushing can get pretty gnarly at high speeds, and one that’s too tight will prevent you from proper carving or avoiding that parked car ahead.
Style and Technique
The main difference between a newbie and a weathered longboard warrior is the seamlessness and ease between rider and board. The right longboard can become an extension of your body after years of practice, giving you the skills to handle incredible speeds and maneuvers while in the midst of a downhill thrill ride. Before attempting any hill, you should have a proper grasp of foot-braking techniques and smooth carving styles to prevent dangerous speeds. Sliding is another way to slow down but can be difficult for new riders and on steep inclines. It should be practiced and mastered on driveways before trying it on the road.
Even when not thinking, a good downhill rider keeps their weight low, knees bent and ankles very loose, turning smoothly with their entire body and avoiding those catastrophic speed wobbles that occur when we tense up and overcompensate with our legs. If they do occur, trying carving them out with wide, slow turns and focus your eyes on the road ahead instead of what’s going on below while shifting your weight slightly more over the front truck. Once again, proper bushings are vital!
Get the Attitude
So if you’re comfortable with some basic techniques and you’re all dressed for the part, it’s time to focus on the head games. A wise rider will feel confident when approaching a hill but always do so humbly and after taking the right safety precautions. Always walk the hill before attempting it, judging distances and speeds, keeping an eye out for bumps and hazards, and always planning an emergency exit strategy. Don’t ever attempt hills that end at busy streets or are plagued by traffic. Having a friend or two to scout intersections and stop the occasional car is a great idea and can even save your life. A bit of fear comes with the turf, but if you don’t think you can make a turn or foot-brake at any point during your bomb, spend a few weeks practicing and reassess the situation. Also, try a hill starting from the bottom and working your way up before attempting the “black diamond” from the very top. You’ll build confidence and skill without as much risk to your safety and future as a rider.
Never let pride get in the way of having a good time and mastering your sport. Don’t sacrifice your pads or better judgment to “look cool” or impress your friends. Take a look at the sport’s professional racers: they wear full face helmets and leather body suits and usually have an attitude like a meditating Buddhist monk on top of a holy mountain.
It’s All About Fun
It’s always good to remember exactly why we love the sport of longboarding and ripping up the pavement. I keep in mind that by not bombing a hill with proper safety measures, I could be risking the thrill and good times I love. Most of us longtime riders know plenty of risk-takers who after taking a serious fall have had to sit on the bench while we enjoy our favorite pastime.
But now you’ve got a bit of solid information on how to bomb that tantalizing hill, so do the ground work, practice slow, and ride smart. Study that hill, love it, and most of all, respect its awesome power, just like the surfers who bow to the mighty waves of the Pacific Ocean or the snowboarders who pay homage to the snow-covered giants of the Rocky Mountains.