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What are Downhill Gravity Sports?

Use the Power of Gravity to Race on Urethane Wheels

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What are Downhill Gravity Sports?
Photo © Marcio Eugenio, iStockphoto.com

Downhill gravity sports include inline skating and a variety of other recreational and competitive activities that use the force of gravity and human strength as the only power to propel a rider on wheels downhill. There many ways to zoom down a hill on wheels including:

  • Inline skates
  • Speedboards
  • Street luge
  • Classic luge
  • Slalom skateboard

All of these options combine using the force of gravity and the technology available in urethane wheels to provide a thrilling ride via a variety of unique gravity sports. Like many other sports, these gravity-based activities on wheels require all participants to make use of all safety precautions and protective gear that is available.

Inline Downhill Skating

Skateboards were designed for dryland surfing, and downhill inline skates are for dryland skiing. Inline downhill skating may remind you of an Alpine snow ski racing downhill event with racers competing on inline skates, not skis. The race course will be a paved mountain road, not a snowy mountain ski course.

The development of urethane based inline wheels allow athletes to skate downhill on inlines at extremely high speeds. In downhill inline racing, skaters use skates with a long frame and big, soft urethane wheels. Athletes use five and six wheeled skates, and they wear speed suits with aerodynamically designed helmets to preserve as much speed as possible. There are other considerations for downhill:

  • Four to six racers start each race at the same time, so drafting and passing strategies are a very important for each skater.
  • Any athlete who chooses a downhill inline skating discipline should have advanced level skating skills including turning, braking and balancing at speeds that easily reach 35mph and may go over 75mph.
  • Built-in brakes are not used on speed skates, so other braking techniques – like skating slalom curves or v-plowing with the heels pushed out and the toes in – are used to slow down.
  • Inline downhill racers can corner faster than the other downhill disciplines because the inline wheels have a narrow profile.

Technical downhill skating is a little different and requires inline skating down steep city streets. This downhill discipline is done with or without the use of ski poles and demands perfect turns on each curve of the road to prevent skidding.

Inline, Skateboard and Skateluge Slalom Racing

Downhill slalom events combine rhythm and style and can be identified by a race course that include cones. The athletes in these events are racing against the clock as they maneuver through the cones. Slalom courses are shorter than the other downhill challenges and often begin with a ramp. These short downhill slalom courses do not need to be as steep as those used for other downhill activities. They are also a lot safer, so hay bales to buffer crashes, corner marshalls and a medical crew are not needed.

Since slalom racing uses a shorter track, races are quick and the timing can be so close that athletes often win by mere fractions of a second.

  • Skateboard slalom events use a roll over start and finish timer, a starting ramp and a lot of cones.
  • Inline slalom tracks normally have a flat start, but occasionally there are giant slalom events on a longer incline track.
  • Skateluge slalom tracks begin with a push start on moderate sized hills.

Inline slalom skating was the first downhill slalom discipline to use the cones. A skater needs to concentrate hard to maneuver through these courses. A good pass will resemble a dance, and spectators will love it. The slalom inline skate is lighter in weight and usually has a shorter frame than the regular downhill skates. Downhill slalom skaters also use harder wheels and add rockering to their skates by using a mixture of wheel sizes to change the skate profile to the skating surface. A curved wheelbase with rockered wheels makes tighter turns and footwork possible for inline skaters.

Most skateboard manufacturers make a slalom model. This is because slalom skateboarding has the support of dedicated enthusiasts that continue to follow this downhill sport. Slalom skateboards can be found in a variety of sizes and in many shapes. The location of the trucks on the decks is the thing that separates downhill skateboards from slalom skateboards.

  • A slalom skateboard usually places the deck on top of the truck baseplate
  • Slalom skateboards may have a riser pad to add height and give the rider more truck leverage for quick, crisp turns
  • The wheelbase on slalom skateboards is usually shorter than the downhill 'boards.

The skateluge was designed for sitting and riding. Skateluge slalom is great for thrill seekers who are not comfortable standing upright on a skateboard. The skateluge board is less than 48 inches long and features an offset wheelbase that helps keep the rider's legs up in the correct position. A skateluge uses small, soft wheels. Skateluge slalom racers should use protective gear including elbow pads, a helmet and gloves.

Speedboard

Speedboard or downhill skateboard events are based on the original gravity skateboard idea. Downhill skateboards are available in a lot of shapes and sizes, have stiff decks, are light in weight and are built with a wide wheelbase of around 30 inches. These downhill skateboards come in three basic styles:

Drop deck boards feature a lower foot platform that sits below the height of the trucks. This setup has less traction and does not maneuver as well, but creates a lower center of gravity and more stability.

Top mount boards sit on top of the trucks like a street skateboard. There are disadvantages with this style including a high center of gravity that reduces stability. Advantages to this design include more grip and better turns.

Drop through boards have cutouts that lower the deck and provide more stability. But these boards reduce grip and are more difficult to turn.

There are many variations of these basic downhill speedboard designs.

Street Luge

Street luge, landluge or roadluge is an extreme sport combines skateboarding, sledding and thrill-seeking where the riders lay down on the boards instead of standing on them. This low profile postion creates extremely high speeds and riders even need to wear special shoes that work like brakes to stop the luge. They also need full protective gear and crash gear in order to ride safely.

The street luge itself is a simple downhill wheeled sled vehicle that allows riders to travel at speeds of 60 mph or more that are normally reserved for gas powered motor vehicles. The design of a street luge helps put the rider closer to the road, and creates a very aerodynamic human road machine. Most street luges are homemade, but if a rider plans to race, the design must conform to all technical guidelines set by the race organization.

Classic Luge

Classic luge or buttboard is a lot like street luge, but the equipment is less complicated – a slab of wood with wheels that provides boards more like large skateboards. The low cost simple equipment requirements make classic luge a good option for the new gravity sport riders. Rules do not allow classic luge to get expensive or complicated, so these exciting events measure skills not finance.

Although a few manufacturers make classic luge decks, most riders are do-it-yourselfers and build them using simple classic luge guidelines. Wide 200mm or larger trucks and soft 75 to78 durometer/70mm wheels are commonly used for classic luge.

Downhill Governing Bodies and Organizations

The International Gravity Sports Association (IGSA) is the world sanctioning body for extreme gravity sports racing. In the early years, the IGSA events featured street luge only. Then in 2000, the IGSA added downhill skateboarding, classic luge, inline skating and gravity bike events to its roster of sports. Today IGSA seems to promote only downhill skateboarding and street luge events.

The International Inline Downhill Association (IIDA) is the organization that was originally established to help regulate inline downhill events and develop inline downhill racing sports. Today IIDA is the world sanctioning body of inline downhill skating roller sports.

The International Downhill Federation (IDF) is a non-profit, democratic organization that was developed to help regulate and promote the downhill skateboard racing sports.

The International Downhill Racing Association (IDRA) is a grassroots nonprofit organization that caters to downhill street luge and long skateboard enthusiasts. The IDRA works to grow extreme gravity sports racing through education, safety and finding safe places for athletes to ride.

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