--Before we saw your films we didn’t even know what speedboarding was. Is there an easy way to describe what speedboarding is and why you do it?--
Well basically Speedboarding is a sport which involves racing down big, winding hills on special skateboards designed to reach high speeds (I'm talking 120kmph). The way I tend to explain it to help those outsiders understand a little bit better; its the stand-up version of the well known sport "Street Luge".
Most people start off with the standard Longboard you see dudes carving down the streets or dodging people through Rundle Mall, then you get your first experience going down a small hill and the adrenaline addiction begins. From then on you hit bigger and bigger hills until you find yourself hurling down the tallest mountain in Australia alongside the best racers in the country.
--When did it dawn on you that, with the right board, you could go really fast down hills?--
It never really dawned on me overnight, its more of a case of progessing over time and getting a little bit faster every day you go down the hill. The thing I love about it, is you can never stop learning. There will always be a new challenge and when you conquer those challenges, you realise that you've just learnt something you thought you'd never be able to do. At the end of the day its like anything, its about how much time and practice you put into it.
--Do you know where the practice started? Where does the sport have its roots? Who are the best riders today? How is the sport received in Australia? Are more people skating?--
I think you'll find that skateboarding in general links back to the 1940's surf culture of California. The surfers would look for alternative ways to get that same rush of catching big waves when the surf was flat. Despite what some may say, downhill skateboarding came before the ollie and whilst trick skating has claimed the name of "skateboarding" the roots will always lie on the hilly roads of California.
The best riders today seem to all be Canadian. Probably has something to do with Longboarding all summer and Snowboarding all winter, but even so I reckon us Aussies will have a good chance of winning some titles this year. Jackson Shapiera is a racer from Sydney who held his position as 7th in the world last year after following the World Cup and a lot has happened since then in terms of training and competing here in oz. The competition between the Aussie community is really heating up and it would really surprise me if we didn't see any of our names high up on the ladder throughout the racing season.
--I think I was 14, skating pretty much every day and thought I’d try a hill. This didn’t end well. What causes speed wobbles?--
Some of its got to do with using the proper equipment, but 99% of it comes down to technique and experience. Trick skaters generally distribute the bulk of their weight over the back truck which helps them do the crazy tricks they do in skate parks, but when it comes to going fast you want all your weight over the front truck. Speed wobbles generate from the back truck due to poor weight distribution over that area and often lead to some sort of gnarly faceplant. So you want as little pressure on those trucks as possible and try to steer as much as you can with your front foot.
--How do you make a board that’s resistant to those effects? Tell us who makes the best boards in your opinion, how do the materials (trucks, bearings, wheels) differ to a street board?--
When it comes to picking the right board for the job, its all personal preference. All board designs have their advantages and disadvantages, but you quickly learn to exploit the advantages to better your riding style. The board I use to race with is made by Australia's own GLYDE Longboards and they have so far focused on boards designed for racing.
The only thing Longboards share in common with street boards, is the bearings. Everything else is bigger and stronger. The boards are nearly twice the length, double the thickness and very rarely have a kicker (tail to help with tricks). The trucks we use are designed to turn slower and smoother, because at speed leaning just the slightest bit to the left or right will steer you in that direction very quickly. The axles are also nearly twice as wide to help with stability and to also fit the big, wide wheels. The wheels are very soft and grippy to help keep us on the road. They are also often nearly twice the size of street board wheels. The research gone into wheels in itself has been huge over the years. Now we are able to pick wheels that will suit us for different courses; if we need a wheel that will grip around corners and maintain speed through straights we whack those wheels on and if we need a wheel that will drift smoothly and predictably and still maintain the speed through the straights we whack those ones on. Its a case of what works best to suit the conditions and the riders preference.
--What else do you need? Talk about suits, the helmets, the cameras, THE SHOES. Talk about what you customize in order to make it work for speedboarding.--
Whether you are cruising down a hill at 20kmph on your own or racing down a mountain at 80kmph with 5 other competitors, it is imperative that you wear a helmet. Its like seat belts in cars, whilst they may not definitely save your life they will give you a better chance of survival when hitting the road head first. When it comes to hardcore training, we wear fullface helmets to help protect our faces from curbs and other such solid obstacles we may "face" when sliding off the road. They are a similar style to motorcycle helmets, but are lighter and have much better vision which are both aspects that are very important. When racing however, we use helmets that will advantage us as much as possible. So super light, streamlined helmets are very popular amongst racer's, but they are often not as sturdy as the bigger heavier helmets we use when training.
When you start hitting hairpin corners at 50kmph, you often think, "Shit, if i screw this up I'll get serious roadrash". But when you have your motorcycle leather suits on all you care about is getting around the corner as quickly as possible. Confidence is everything when it comes to this sport and the suits help a lot with that mental side of things. Most people know what carpet burns feel like, well imagine a high-speed carpet burn with rough bitumen instead of soft carpet. Road rash kills confidence and will play with your mind the next time you go down that hill without your leathers. They also add to the very important aerodynamics aspect to racing; the more streamlined you are, the easier it is to cut through the air and the quicker you will get across the finish line. Its something us racer's think a lot about when purchasing safety equipment.
Because the sport is very specialised and unique, we have to come up with and share many makeshift ideas and techniques amongst the longboarding community. For instance, due to the way we brake (one foot dragging on the road) we tend to go through an average shoe sole almost instantly. So someone came up with the idea of sticking car tyre to the bottom of the shoe and they last a whole year instead of a single riding session. Another example is the many video camera mounts we have designed to achieve the perfect shot. Video is a very big part of longboarding life and is one of the few ways of communicating what it actually feels like to ride down a hill at 100kmph.
--What’s the worst stack you’ve ever had?--
When it comes to stacking, its important to learn to fall properly. Most crashes tend to occur on the road at speed, so rolling will do more damage than good. You want to try and slide as much as possible using your hands and knees to control the direction of the slide. We wear specially designed gloves with blocks of plastic fastened to the palms and sometimes fingers of the gloves. We use them for cornering and other styles of riding, but they become a lifeline when you come off your board. Your hands are the first thing you will put on the road when you fall, so you don't want them gripping up and doing damage to your wrists and collar bones. You want them sliding like everything else.
I have had lots of stacks and the worst was on a corner entering about 50, when I was flung off landing on my back and rolling into the curb. I walked away with a few bruises, but other than that I was ok. The fastest falls have all been around 70ish and were all errors made due to lack of experience back in the days I just got my leathers and owned a bit more confidence than skill.
--Is it fair to say you’ve had worse stacks while not on the speedboard?--
Absolutely. I've had crashes on my carving/cruising boards that have left me with some hefty bruises and scars and its all because I was unprepared for the seriousness of the fall itself. When you go from hardcore racing at 80-90kmph, to casual cruising around the backstreets at 15-25kmph you tend to forget you can still fall hard at the lower speeds. So you end up stacking awkwardly without the protection you would choose to wear when going down mountains.
--What makes the perfect road for speedboarding? Where are the best roads in the world?--
When it comes to hill searching the first thing we look at is the road surface. If its consistently rough, then we don't even bother getting out of the car but a few cracks and holes here and there won't stop us testing it out. The next thing we consider is traffic and corner visibility. If its a super busy road it makes cornering very dangerous, so we make sure the corners are safe enough to give us room for error. Then we look at the slope (speed) of the run and the length. But safety always comes first.
Ideally, the perfect run would be a smooth, newly surfaced, 5-10km long of winding, fast road with little to no traffic. But those sort of runs only exist in places like "The Snowys" and "Falls Creek" during the summer and of course all over Canada. Thats why we do a lot of traveling, in order to find the perfect run just like a surfer would to find the perfect wave.
--We know cops aren’t such fans of what you do. What’s the fine if you get caught?--
We are legally allowed to be on the roads that have no dividing lines or medium strip and have a speed limit of 60kmph. But of course we need to wear helmets (which is a given) and actually stick to the speed limit, which is a bit harder to follow. Unmarked roads are often very poorly maintained and lack all the other qualities that we require in a road, so we often end up riding the roads that get the attention of the cops. So we do have to be low key about it all so we don't get complaints from the locals and residents, because they are the ones that cause the boys in blue to visit us and issue the $50 fines.
--You studied film at the "Adelaide Centre of the Arts", what is it about speedboarding that makes it such good content for film?--
I think the thing that captures the audience attention is the speed and the sole fact that these dudes are pushing the boundaries of physics and to say the least, sense. Humans are naturally fascinated by what beings are physically capable of and because of the activity's underground status, people that watch any of the videos are often seeing the sport for the first time. I mean seriously, who wouldn't want to see a guy roll down the hill on a skateboard at 120kmph entirely propelled by gravity. A stunt like that defies logic.
--Although the sport looks inherently dangerous, when we saw you guys in action there were heaps of safety precautions. What’s involved in reducing the risk?--
The main issue we think a lot about is traffic. We work hard to reduce that risk by choosing suitable riding locations for everyone's skill level, picking quiet roads and roads that are divided from oncoming traffic, having spotters on certain parts of a run which may pose a threat to our safety and other general risk management techniques we have come up with over the years.
As a more experienced and serious rider, I make it my duty to make the newcomers to the group wear the proper safety equipment. If they don't have it, they don't ride with us until they do. Its simple as that. What we do is dangerous and there are risks involved, so to cover ourselves and the future of the sport we need to keep everything as safe as possible.
--Why customize? Why is it good to do something other than the obvious/average?--
Mankind will always look for more. Being an individual and doing something different from life's mainstream is apparent in all of us. When I first saw guys on youtube doing this I was blown away by the sheer extremity of the sport, but the uniqueness of the activity really nailed it for me. The thought that I could sooner or later be one of the best speedboarders in the world was very appealing and the fact that it is such a rare sport to be a part of, let a lone good at makes me more of an individual than I would ever have hoped.
--What are you plans for the future within the sport?--
Well at the moment I am saving my money big time and training like mad in preparation for the World Cup Tour I'm hoping to follow next year. Sponsorship is definitely something I am thinking about a lot, so before I get my new custom leather suit I'll need to find some local companies/businesses that will be willing to buy a patch on my leathers to advertise their name around the globe and to help me fund the trip next year. Being a fairly new sport, big dollar sponsorship is very rare, but the sport is gathering more and more interest among the big corporate industries. So hopefully sometime soon things will change and we will no longer be left broke after a racing season. Until then we will continue to work our arses off and enjoy what we love doing... Speedboarding.