7 Essentials of Downhill Skateboarding
Ask anyone who speedboards about their first time stepping onto a skateboard and going down a hill, and they'll all tell you roughly the same thing; they'll all undoubtedly tell you about the feeling, the threshold, the limit. The invisible line of fear that exists in our brain, the nonexistent wall which we spend the better part of our whole lives trying to break down, to become better, faster, stronger.
As a skateboarder, especially when it comes to plummeting down hills at 50+ miles per hour, naturally you begin the sport with a lot of apprehension, fear that if you approach that corner, reach that speed, you won't be able to handle it. Truth being told, many people in this world simply can't.
They look at downhill skateboarding as a death wish. Alas, as with all things, practice makes perfect. If given enough time and dedication, there is a latent beauty in this sport that runs the serious risk of completely consuming your everyday existence. It becomes this undying obsession with a feeling produced through a glorious love affair with gravity.
Let it be known that not one downhill skateboarder simply stepped on their board to ride the perfect line down the mountain when they first started. Every person in this sport earned their abilities to ride the way they do through blood, sweat, and tears. Trial and painful error.
It's the hard truth of downhill skateboarding. You love it without question, and it hates you, beats you, scars you, but you still love it. It's a genuine addiction that those who see it for its face value will never ever truly be able to understand. You're going to crash, you're going to fall, get hurt, bleed, you may cry, (I did a few times…). It's a part of what makes this sport what it is. You do it because you're fascinated with it, completely, genuinely.
So with that said, we here at Stoked compiled a short list briefly but essentially touching off on a few of the NEED TO KNOW aspects about protective gear, speed management, and cornering that will hopefully allow you to discover the glorious side of this sport, with less time spent wallowing on the more masochistic end. The basics, read on :
Essential #1: Gear
It should go without saying that if you're going to risk your life doing what you love, you're going to want to entrust your life to equipment that does what it's supposed to do when it's expected to perform. Apart from also having quality gear, is the factor of also having the RIGHT gear for the job.
Boards come in all different shapes and sizes, and sometimes it can be a little overwhelming when it comes time to select the right shred stick for the job. It may take you going through a few different decks to finally settle on what features you like / dislike in a board most.
The important thing to remember is this, a downhill board should be stiff, have a bit of concave to keep your feet from slipping too far forward or back, trucks with enough stability to keep you going straight even at terminal velocity, and wheels with whatever your preferred grip to slip ratio is.
Proper bushings, such as Venom Downhill Barrels or Riptide APS Barrel Bushings and sharp lipped wheels such as Orangatang In Heats, will make a world of difference when it comes time to going around corners quickly. Make sure to do your research and ultimately select a setup that best compliments your style of riding.
Whether you purchase a set, or make your own, if you plan on keeping your hands from being reduced to a mangled twisted wad of fingers pointing off in different directions, it's important that you use a proper set of gloves.
Paired with a set of functional slide pucks, such as a set of Ojoom Slide Pucks, you'll be able to use your hands to leverage your slides while you're mashing down hills. Plan on this being a must have if you plan to make this your game.
This is a no brainer, pun completely intended. There is nothing that screams green horn more than a kook on the mountain without a helmet. It's not a macho thing, it's just lame.
If you're not going to think of yourself while downhill skateboarding, think of everyone else and the mess they'll have to deal with after you paint the road reflectors with your brain matter.
Look into picking yourself up a proper CPSC hard foam half shell like the S1 Lifer Helmet or a badass full face like the Predator DH-6.
Essential #2: Going Fast
So you've got your setup all dialed in and you're ready to stop taking boner runs down the hill. The time has come for you to learn how to tuck. Initially, this stance may feel a bit awkward to go fast in, but keep in mind that tucking also GREATLY reduces your wind resistance by making you smaller, which means that you go faster.
Initially, tucking will be hard in regards to it feeling like a un-natural position to be in while going fast, and in terms of how it will make your quads burn after long periods of time spent holding this position.
Tucking and going fast takes a lot of time and practice to perfect, but rest assured, your hard work will reward you with the ability to bonsai charge everything and look like a boss while doing it. Work on your tuck, you'll go faster.
Essential #3: Drafting
Once you've managed to keep up with the person in front of you, the next step is going to be learning how to get around them quickly and efficiently. The means by which you do this is to "draft".
Navigating wind resistance is the ultimate key to passing the putter. Take advantage of the fact that while they may indeed be in front of you, they're also handling most of the hard work of cutting through the air in front of you as well.
So to draft successfully, simply try getting as small as possible directly behind the person in front of you. You will soon notice yourself accelerating, use this bit of acceleration to sling shot yourself out and around them, taking care not to pass in an oncoming traffic lane, or hairy hairpin corners.
Essential #4: Aerodynamics
Apart from your set up, the only way to really increase your speed is to focus on aerodynamics. Some people claim this is improved by use of an aerodynamic helmet, or aerolid, which users claim reduce the amount of wind resistance your shoulders create. A recently released study suggests different, alas, this is yet to be proven in its entirety.
Ultimately, the important thing to focus on is to maximize the effectiveness of your tuck. This will improve as time goes on, but will easily be the largest contributing factor to your overall top speed. Mo'Aero should always be your unwritten 'Go Fast' rule.
Essential #5: Taking Turns
So you've taught yourself everything there is to know about going fast, perfected your tuck in a straight line, acquired a pricey aerolid, cleared 65MPH down that big straight hill in your neighborhood, righteous! Now that you've mastered going as fast as possible, it's time to learn how to manage all of that raw, unbridled, forward momentum by getting it to go around corners.
One of the most important things in regards to getting around corners is your entrance speed. This could mean the difference between slamming into a guard rail post, or looking like a super hero. Entrance speed is everything.
Sometimes you'll need to slow down when entering into corners, and you can achieve this by either foot braking, or pre-drifting (but you should always drift because it looks cooler). Learning to manage your speed is where the real skill in downhill skateboarding lies.
Too little speed into the corner and you'll slowly cruise through the turn, having burned off most of your speed in your initial drift, causing you to exit the turn painfully slowly.
Too much speed, and you'll blow your line, miss the apex, and end up on the outside of the turn, most commonly into landscaping rocks, tall curbs, guardrail posts, parked cars, or mailboxes… not fun.
Avoid the painful conclusions of both sloth and impatience, and perfect that entrance speed.
Essential #6: Predrifting / Scrubbing
By far one of the most challenging feats to achieve in the incline oriented skate domain. The perfectly executed predrift allows for a rider to approach a tight corner with a very large amount of speed, then, using friction, slide off just enough to maintain cornering speed while also gracefully kissing the apex through the corner.
Let there be no doubt that this is a very difficult trick to learn, and if you're new at this game, it'll take you a bit of time to perfect, but once mastered you'll find yourself with the ability to go anywhere in the world and know just exactly how fast you should be going to make the turn and look like a star while doing it.
Predrifting should be performed while entering the apex, while scrubbing is most commonly performed either midway through the turn or after the apex.
Essential #7: Apexing
Once you've perfectly nailed that entrance speed, you're going to need to hit that apex in a beautiful arching line so gloriously exquisite and bewitching, that it give's your admirers on the sidelines goose bumps and causes them to break into a cold sweat.
Hitting the apex on corners is an art form in itself, and in many cases can sometimes negate you from even having to slow down to make the turn. To hit an apex you must always follow this simple cornering rule: outside inside out.
Apply this to every corner you encounter and you'll soon come to realize the full cornering potential of your downhill skateboard. Sometimes, scrubbing through the turn allows for you to adjust mid corner so you can hit that apex perfectly, allowing the rider to maintain their speed when exiting the turn.
The deeper into the corner / later you wait to make your turn, the less of a turn you're going to have to make, but the braver you'll have to be.
The tighter to the inside of the corner you are, the harder a turn you'll have to make on your exit, resulting a lot of the time in you going too wide, and ultimately missing your exit. However, for racing purposes, the inside is the most contended spot, and scrubbing through the turn is sometimes paramount to making it under these conditions.
Start simple, follow the outside inside out equation when taking corners, then start trying to come in hot while scrubbing those exit corners when you start racing. The bottom line is you're going to learn a lot more from the act itself. So find a deserted hairpin corner, and start practicing!
This is a sport for romantics, as quiet as some of them may be. You skateboard because you love it. It's that abusive relationship you just can't seem to get out of.
Let this be a warning to you now, that if you try this sport, chances are, you will fall hopelessly, madly in love with it. It will redirect the trajectory of everything you're doing, become the mantra to your every day.
If you're lucky, it will take you places, show you things, open your eyes to a glorious world of people and experiences you never knew existed. At times, it may seem like the hardest most painful thing you've ever done, lived, experienced, but essentially, that's because it is.
Thanks for reading, now go skate.
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