Mountain boarding a summer extreme
Quietly, attracting little attention, they climb to their secret places. Dirt roads, back streets, trails, and out-of-the-way spots are what these heavily padded warriors crave.
Once at the top, they step into their bindings, and push off. Skill and padding are the only safety nets, when a person is standing on a platform, attached to four small tires, careening down a slope.
“It’s not as scary as you think it would be,” explains Megan Mahony as dust swirls around her from a boarder whizzing past. “It’s another one of those adrenaline sports.”
The sport is mountain boarding or all-terrain boarding – consider it snowboarding without the padding of snow or skateboarding with dirt bike tires on the bottom of the skateboard. In Tahoe, the interest is still small, but growing.
Remember snowboarding, that sport that was only on the fringe, and would never be as popular as skiing? It’s kind of like that.
“Most people would agree that all-terrain boards have been around since the 1970s in one form or another,” said Evan Lipstein, president of Mongoose All-Terrain Boards. “It began with skateboarders wanting to go off-road, but the modern board came into being in the early 1990s.”
From his New York office, Lipstein explained that his primary customer base is aged 14 to 24, and most have a snowboarding background.
“The movement patterns used to control the board are virtually identical to snowboarding,” he said.
Bob Daly, owner of Shore-Line Bike Shop, said he has been pushing “edge” sports on South Shore since before snowboarding was cool.
“I spend about two years explaining what the sport is to everyone,” he laughed.
On Wednesday afternoon, Daly, 39, joined four other all-terrain boarders for a few trips down a dirt track on the top of Kingsbury. No one in the group would divulge the rest of their riding locations.
“If I told you where we ride, I’d have to kill you,” Daly joked.
Like skateboarders, the group worries about harassment from law enforcement and residents.
“I tell officers it is a platform bicycle. We obey all the rules of the road. I would rather take my chances with my verbal skills on the asphalt then to chance some of the rocks I’ve seen on the single track,” Daly said.
Chris Garvey, 32, a snow park designer at Sierra-at-Tahoe, said all-terrain boarders often improve the trails they use.
“We’ve already taken four bags of garbage out of here,” he said pointing up the dirt road. “The road already existed here, we’re just using it. We use Forest Service roads, trails, back roads, places where people aren’t spending a lot of time.”
Unlike the early days of skateboarding, all-terrain boarding seems to demand a respect for safety equipment.
“We can all think pretty well right now, and we’d like to keep it that way,” Garvey said, referring to the fact that every rider was suitably clad in a helmet. Hockey pads and pants, and long sleeve shirts completed their gear.
“We probably wouldn’t ride with someone who didn’t have a helmet,” added Trevor Brown, 33.
“We wear as many pads as we can fit on our bodies,” Garvey said.
Garvey, Brown and Wes Matweyew, 30, of June Lake, Calif., were practicing Wednesday for the Pacific Crest Dirtboard Championship scheduled this weekend at Boreal Ski Resort. Riders compete in boardercross and big air events. All-terrain boarding will get some of its first national exposure this year as a demonstration sport at the Gravity Games in Providence, R.I.
Marko Henricksen, national sales manager for Mongoose All-Terrain Boards, said the sport’s biggest setback in the United States is lack of exposure.
“Nobody knows where to get them,” he said. “That is our biggest problem. “We’ve sold boards in more than 80 countries. In Japan the sport has just taken off. There are around 40 to 50 ski resorts that offer rentals and lesson programs.”
Garvey and Brown said the lack of safety nets seem to scare some potential riders away.
“The strangest thing is that people, who we would think would really be into it, won’t even ride with us,” Garvey said.
Mahony also seems to be in the minority when it comes to women trying the sport.
“I try to get other girls to come ride, but they’re just not interested yet,” she said. “It’s a great way to get ready for snowboarding in the winter.”
It might be the lack of brakes on most boards that have people scared. Now companies are also offering high-end boards with hand brakes.
“It’s just a lot of common sense,” Daly said about keeping the ride safe. “You have to think ahead, pick your line, and keep it controlled. You’re constantly turning to decelerate.”
Lipstein said all-terrain boarders have a serious advantage over their winter counterparts.
“Once you have your board and pads, it’s free.”
Want to get started?
All-terrain board sales and rentals are available at Shore-Line Bike Store and Sports LTD. Information for beginners is available on the Internet at http://www.mongooseatb.com
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