Each year, usually around late July, I visit my grandmother in Laguna Beach with the rest of my family, where we stay in her vintage house at the top of Diamond Street, off of Pacific Coast Highway. Although I wasn’t raised in a surf culture, I longed to be a part of one, so each year during my visit, I did my best to immerse myself in the “grom” lifestyle.
My brother and I would wake up early each day to hike to this park at the top of the hill to practice skateboarding, with stairs and rails at our disposal, often ending with bruises and bloody knees. The road up to this park though, called Summit, was a climb of about eight blocks of tremendous incline, where cars would speed so fast they almost clipped us around the corners. While neither of us would ever dare attempt it, my parents always warned my brother and I not to skate down it, because, to be perfectly honest, we probably would have died.
Over the years, this road became the elusive ‘Summit’ that no matter how good we got, we would never skate, because it was too dangerous and too awesome. I had no idea if anyone had ever skated down the entire thing before, but I would bet that those who had, left with some injuries.
This all changed, however, when I was shown this video, where not only does the rider – Liam Morgan – conquer the exact street that I grew up fearing, but he does it with style and ease:
To some, this may not seem like an impossible feat. There is tons of new footage on the internet of raw runs down steep slopes, but this one in particular hit home for me. I finally witnessed someone conquer the hill – with finesse. This prompted me to search for other videos like it, and what I saw blew me away. Not only was I impressed with the skill and precision required to do some of the tricky maneuvers that these skaters do, but I realized that the sport of downhilling has changed.
Over the past few years, downhill longboarding has taken a new shape, branching away from its parent sport of skateboarding. It has transformed into a full fledged extreme sport, with a riding style and set of risks similarly associated with snowboarding. The hills that were once ill-advised to ride are now a skilled downhillers playground. And the sport has just started growing.
The one issue that downhillers were always faced with in the past is a way to slow themselves down during a steep run. The powerslide, a simpler maneuver on a regular skateboard, is now being exercised on downhill runs (seen in the video above), which gives the rider much more control over his speed. While powersliding on pavement is still risky, especially when slick from rain, new and more efficient ways of creating balance and stability are continuously being developed.
One of these new tools that are being utilized are the downhill sliding gloves. With open fingers and discs shaped the hockey pucks on the palms, the gloves are used to grace the ground with your weight, to support the rider on sharp turns when bending over the board. The gloves alone allow for so much versatility on a ride, and makes difficult turns safer.
Downhilling as an individual sport has become the product of sponsorships pushing for team racing. Companies like Sector 9 and Landyacht began sponsoring athletes once the sport took flight, and now put on competitions all around the world. Athletes race down rigorous courses wearing Daft Punk-esque helmets and full-body leather suits for protection – an exhilarating, high-speed and high-danger sport.
Although bombing hills on a skateboard is no new way to “shred the gnar,” the recent advents of downhill longboarding have given it credibility to be considered a completely separate sport. Adrenaline junkies with backgrounds in sports like surfing and skateboarding are flocking to this new style of riding, because downhilling takes speed to a new extreme – along with danger.
Summit doesn’t seem so big anymore.
By Jesse Summers