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What Is Downhill Skateboarding?
Downhill skateboarding is a non-competitive style of skating in which skateboarders ride a longboard down a steep hill at high speeds. The goal of downhill skateboarding is to reach the fastest speed possible while maintaining complete control of your board—some downhill skaters have been able to break speeds of over 85 miles per hour. High speeds and increased risk of injury qualify downhill skateboarding as an extreme sport.
Essential Gear for Downhill Skateboarding
Safe downhill skateboarding requires the proper equipment to protect your body.
- The right board: The skateboard you choose for downhill riding should be stiff and stable. The trucks should withstand high speeds, and the deck should be slightly concave to keep your feet from slipping. Many downhill skaters prefer longboards, which have broader and longer decks than regular skateboards, making them easier to maneuver. The longboard’s wheelbase is also wider, giving the skateboarder more control at higher speeds. Longboarding is best suited for transportation or downhill skateboarding, not for tricks.
- A dependable helmet: The skateboard helmet is an essential piece of safety gear because it protects your head from an injury when you fall. You should always wear a multi-sport or skateboarding helmet that fits your head snugly (look for one with installable pads—it shouldn’t move when you shake your head). A skate helmet should sit low on your forehead and have side straps that form a “V” shape around each ear as well as a buckle that fastens tightly under your chin. If you can fit more than two fingers between the strap and your chin, it’s not tight enough. Also, be sure your helmet is multi-use and capable of taking more than one hit.
- Durable gloves: While they may not be necessary for casual cruising, a pair of sliding gloves is essential if you’re planning on executing sharp turns, tricks, and sudden stops. In the event of a fall, these gloves protect your fingers and palms from the pavement while traveling downhill at high velocity.
- Knee and elbow pads: When you fall—and you will fall—pads prevent or reduce the severity of cuts, scrapes, bruises, and burns. Ensure your pads have sufficient padding and an external plastic cap designed to take abuse.
6 Tips for Beginner Downhill Skateboarders
Before becoming the fastest downhill skateboarder, you’ll need to perfect your technique. Once you’ve done enough research and have the essential gear, consider the following tips to learn the fundamentals of downhill skating.
- Learn how to stop. Before trying any kind of speed skating, you must know how to safely and effectively reach a complete stop. Foot braking is an essential skill for downhill skateboarders. Foot braking is a technique where you lightly touch your back foot to the ground to generate friction with the pavement, helping you slow down to a stop. The controlled slide is the most effective way to control your speed when going downhill. This technique involves turning the board sideways while in motion so that the wheels slow or skid to a stop. To build comfort with these techniques, locate a hilly street in a low-traffic area, and practice foot braking and controlled slides at the bottom of the hill.
- Balance your trucks. Board wobbling worsens when you’re skating at fast speeds, and it occurs more frequently when your back trucks are looser than your front trucks. Make sure your trucks are evenly tightened—or slightly loosen your front trucks. You can reduce speed wobbling by crouching and keeping most of your weight over the front truck.
- Learn how to gain speed. Learning the basics of acceleration is paramount for downhill skaters. Tucking is a useful acceleration technique in which you make your frame as small as possible to reduce wind resistance and increase your speed, keeping your front foot entirely on the deck and your back foot up on its toes. You should also learn and practice drafting, which involves following closely behind a downhill rider to take advantage of the decreased wind resistance so you can gather enough speed to surpass them eventually.
- Practice navigating turns. When traveling at high speeds, you need to know how to take turns properly. You can either use foot braking or pre-drifting—a light drift that helps you slow down to carve a turn safely. Balance is key when navigating turns; too little speed means you’ll lose momentum on the turn, and too much speed can make you miss the turn and wipe out.
- Be fearless. High-speed downhill skateboarding requires a degree of fearlessness. While it’s essential to be smart and safe, you must also have the confidence to nail the technique. Nerves and fear can cause your muscles to tighten, which can affect the way your board handles. Stay calm and loose to maximize your downhill skateboarding skills and prevent injuries.
- Learn how to fall. Always try wide carves or foot braking before you bail on a downhill run, but if you’re about to lose control and don’t know how to save yourself, knowing the proper way to fall can help you avoid serious injury. When traveling at high speeds, never use your hands to break your fall, as you can severely damage your hands and wrists. Instead, learn when to tuck your chin and roll, and always look for a soft spot (like grass) to land on.
Want to Learn More About Skateboarding?
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