Mountainboarders show no fear in downhill ride
On the Nevada side of Heavenly near Tramway, the sun glistens through the trees and clouds of dust, and casts a burnt orange glow over the forest.
Riders cruise down the mountain on wooden boards outfitted with oversized, air-filled, monster tires. Speeding past rocks and over bumps, the riders skillfully meander down the trail using the hand grips on either side of the board to help maintain stability – on a surface that mocks such activity.
Not for the faint-of-heart, mountain- boarding combines a smorgasbord of skills including snowboarding, skateboarding and mountain biking.
“It fulfills so many sensations,” said Mongoose pro-rider Trevor Brown. “If it glides, slides or rolls, I’m all good.”
While snowboarding, in the family of board sports, might be the closest relative to mountainboarding, the wipeouts tell a different story. Perhaps that is why Brown calls it “the bastard child of all board sports.”
Most riders wear a collection of body armor, which is pretty much anything they can find, from BMX padding to hockey equipment – helmets, elbow pads, knee pads, torso and shoulder guards, butt and thigh pads.
The sport, also known as all-terrain boarding, was started about seven years ago by a group of Colorado adventurers who were trying to find a summer alternative to snowboarding. Mountain Board Sports was formed. They built a few boards for themselves, and as people witnessed them drop off the steeps in Moab, Utah, and roll down the massive rolling hills of San Francisco, mountain boards suddenly became in demand – the sport utility vehicle of skateboards.
Don’t think that just because falling off a mountainboard equals impact with some of earth’s most solid elements – rocks, dirt and possibly trees – that there is any restriction in the minds of the riders. The tricks and go-big attitudes are just as intense as in any other board sport. In fact, riders are doing all the same tricks snowboarders and skateboarders do from flips, spins and grabs to rail slides and ollies.
Although mountainboarders might not reach the same speeds as snowboarders or mountain bikers, the bumps of the trail make the rider feel like a speeding bullet.
“It’s trippy,” said Ray Garcia, boarder-cross racer. “It feels like you’re going way faster than you are. When you’re only going 15 mph, it feels like you’re flying.”
While most terrain is very solid, it is the sandy patches of earth that can be the most dicey, spitting the board out from underneath the rider, tossing him like a rag doll into a minefield of roots and rocks. But for all the mishaps that a novice might experience, the thrill and exhilaration of mountainboarding is more immediately captured by those who have graduated from the baby steps learned in the mountainboarding school of hard knocks to the realm of control and precision – when picking a line is a conscious decision and getting air is something done with purpose and with intent.
“You pretty much have to adapt to the course and ride it the way it’s supposed to be ridden,” Garcia said.
A good point considering the spankings of Mother Nature are anything but kind.
Kevin Cooper, known around town as Coop, and owner of Cutting Edge Sports, has seen the sport grow in popularity with leagues and competitions. This summer, he has sold 23 mountain boards.
“The first time I tried it I was hooked,” Coop said. “I was like a 36-year-old kid running up and down my driveway, and my wife was laughing at me.”
It is recommended that mountain boarders learn the tricks of the trade on pavement before moving to the dirt, a way of learning the essentials of balance.
The power slide is a key component of the mountain boarding repertoire of moves. It is the rider’s emergency break and an introduction to more advanced turning.
While two- and three-wheel boards have evolved, the four-wheel board is acclaimed as the most popular.
“You don’t want to make it hard; you want to make it fun,” Coop said.
For starters, riders can get a board and bindings for anywhere from $165 to $300; protective gear is about $100, according to Coop.
Boards range in size from about 94 centimeters for kids to 152 centimeters for people who want to go faster and carve more.
Bindings are metal pieces that look like oversized drawer handles, which allow for both a solid connection to the board and, if necessary, easy escape capabilities.
While mountain boarding is available at a few select ski and snowboard resorts, actual tracks have been built across the country.
“It has been a slow and steady growth,” said Bob Daly, mountain boarder and owner of Shoreline Ski and Snowboards, at Stateline. Daly, recently, taught his 8-year-old daughter, Hannah, to follow in her father’s tracks.
This year the All Terrain Boarding Association, Sept. 15 through 17, is hosting the World Championships at Kratka Ridge Mountain Resort, outside Los Angeles. The event will feature top mountain boarders, who will compete in boarder-cross and aerial freestyle events in several age categories and ability levels for both males and females. Brown and Garcia will be among the field of South Shore locals competing in the boarder-cross event. For information call (831) 728-9001 or visit http://www.atba.org
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