19 June 2007

It is all down hill....

Old guy (Patrick) riding down a hill under the shadow of my hate. Photo by Pete.

So here is the 'controversial' story, my irresponsible journalism etc. Please feel free to let me know where I 'hate' on skateboarding and kids who would otherwise be carrying AK 47s...

Please pick up the new Wend for the properly edited version along with some killer photography from the Eastside Longboarders:

Downhill somewhere past 45, the line fluctuates. It’s a different place and time for each rider, but after 45, it becomes increasingly apparent. An all-encompassing awareness of an impending bad situation… Downhill, one inch to either side or one inch past this intangible line and it suddenly becomes a physical presence. By the time you see this line, it’s all over anyway; the only thing left to do is reassess your mistakes, get down, and try to find it again.- CR Stecyk III, 1975

In this day and age, skateboarders, by and large, specialize in one of the two main forms of skateboarding, performing highly technical maneuvers in the street or manipulating the bowls and transitions of a skatepark. It wasn’t always this way. If you skated throughout the 1960s, 70s or 80s, chances are you indulged in various forms of skateboarding and there were many to choose from, including freestyle, slalom, pool, high-jump, half-pipe and of course, downhill.

Skateboarders have always ridden downhill. If you have ever spent any time on a skateboard you might well remember the first time you let gravity decide your fate. You might remember that exact moment when you accelerated to a speed beyond your comfort level and having to make the split second decision to either jump off or ride it out. It is one of the simplest thrills of the sport. Wait, skateboarding is a ‘sport?’ Maybe not, but perhaps it comes closest to being a sport with downhill. While most of skateboarding’s disciplines can only be subjectively judged, downhill can be measured quantitatively. Whether it is against other competitors, the clock, traffic or against your own fear; downhill skateboarding is always a race.

During the early 1990s, skateboarding went way underground. The only people really keeping it going were teenagers and twenty-somethings in ridiculously oversized clothing, performing very technical maneuvers on skinny boards and tiny wheels in the streets. San Francisco was the then epicenter of skateboarding and inevitably some of these ‘street-skaters’ were tackling the forty-nine hills of The City but downhill as form, was not really an integral part of the scene.

Meanwhile, across the bay in the hills of Berkley, deeper underground than the street skaters, the likes of Cliff Coleman were sliding down hills, as they had been doing since the 1960s. Coleman, now in his late fifties and still ‘bombing hills,’ perfected a technique of sliding that helps the skateboarder control their speed while negotiating seemingly impossible bends. Leather gloves with plastic plates on the palm are used to skid across the asphalt on their hands while they slide their boards around in a pendulum motion. It not only looks exceptionally graceful and skillfully controlled, it means downhillers can speed into turns without fear of ‘sliding-out’ and flying into on-coming traffic or off the road.

By the early 2000s, skateboarding began to re-emerge from the gutter. All the old geezers, largely inspired by the Z-Boys documentary, began re-exploring the styles and disciplines they had practiced in their heyday and downhill began to make a comeback. For downhill is one of the few disciplines of skateboarding where experience and an expanding waistline are advantages over the agility and recklessness of youth.

While there is something to be said for bombing a hill on small hard wheels, low to ground, on a conventional skateboard, the geared-out skaters on specialist equipment are the ones really pushing the limits. From carbon-fiber decks to high performance soft and grippy urethane wheels with top-secret chemical formulas and geometrically complicated trucks to full-faced motorbike helmets and streamlined leather racing suits, these guys take it seriously.

This summer, downhill is set to continue its come-back. In an effort to boost tourism, the city of Capitola, near Santa Cruz, CA is hoping to reintroduce the Capitola Classic, a legendary race that was once one of the focal points of the downhill scene. It will be one of only a handful of races around the country where skateboarders will see how close they can get to the current world record of 62.55 MPH, held by Gary Hardwick. Gary has allegedly but unofficially hit 72 MPH.

72 MPH, mere inches above the asphalt, standing on an unstable wooden plank.