Picture sliding down a street feet-first on a plank at more than 60 miles per hour. That, in a nutshell, is street luge.
Street luge emerged in Southern California as downhill skateboarders found that they could go faster by assuming the position. Fast forward to 1975 when the first professional race unfolded at Signal Hill, California, run by the U.S. Skateboard Association. The winner was decided on speed.
Little else about the contest was set in stone. Some contestants rode supine. Other hell-raisers rose standing up. Cue some horrible scrapes causing all kinds of grief – competitors and spectators went flying. Consequently, the Signal Hill race failed to last even into the 80s. But – perhaps because it was just such a blast – the gravity sport refused to fizzle out. Several Signal Hill diehards staged street luge races in the area. Then, in the early 1990s, something very strange happened. Some Austrian innovators began sitting back on their skateboards as they returned from teaching skiing in the Alps.
The Alpine adaptation spawned a street luge craze. For a short spell, the sport was even featured in the biggest extreme sports competitions, then it was mysteriously dropped.
Are you tempted to take the plunge?
Before you get going, you should purchase either some Kevlar (the reinforcing material used in tires and bulletproof vests) or leather clothing and recruit a basic long board, or a “buttboard.” Buttboards are about 4 feet long and a little wider than skateboards so you have more wiggle room. Built of wood, buttboards sport steel bearings and tough plastic wheels. Heavier than the steel or fiberglass sleds the pros use, they run at less of a lick, which makes them easier to learn the basics on.
Another plus of a buttboard is that it usually costs dramatically less than a street luge sled. So a buttboard is the ideal option for a rider keen to give the sport a try without busting the budget, whatever scrapes his elbows take.
No matter what vehicle you use, start small. Rather than instantly propelling yourself at breakneck speed down the nearest mountain, begin with a gentle slope and gradually progress to meaner inclines. Understand that you have no suspension, so you get intimately acquainted with every twist and bump in the road, and the fact that you are flat on you back means that minimal wind resistance comes into play.
As for form, point your toes and stay as low as you can.
Deliberate stopping is a hard ask for a simple reason. Street luge boards have no brakes – hey, brakes are for divas. You fizz to a halt by dragging your feet along the ground and relying on friction, which means you must wear sturdy shoes with added rubber padding to withstand the heat.
The extreme sport related to conventional winter sports luge performed on ice raises the specter of another no-nonsense road sport: gravel grinding (dirt biking). Street luge’s gritty unpretentiousness only serves to heighten its cool, we reckon.
Downhill daredevils keen to go even farther out of their comfort zone can always give the powered street luge version a try. Powered street luge boards are hooked up to gas or electric motors that let riders test the limits of their speed and sanity. In the adrenaline-pumped big thrills stakes, few extreme sporting activities except perhaps wingsuiting compare. DO:MORE and get started today.