Simple Tips for Better, Safer Downhill Longboarding
If you live around hills or mountains, or if you’re heading toward some for vacation, consider taking a longboard downhill. This discipline is where the wild ones operate — right on the edge of sanity. The hiss of urethane on asphalt when riding at speeds that cause tunnel vision is intoxicating, and it’s probably the most frightening fun you can have on a longboard. There are just a few things to consider before you head to the top of a hill.
Get the right gear
There are no rules that say we must use purpose-built longboards for downhill, but certain equipment simply works better for it. If you’re going to make a habit of bombing hills, you should give yourself the best chance of doing it well. The following equipment will do that.
The deck is probably the most critical component of a downhill setup. Options vary from drop-down designs that slide pretty easily to top-mount decks, which are more stable. Yocaher offers downhill longboard designs to suit any style of downhill riding — whether freeride, all-out speed, or a combination of the two.
Whichever shape you choose, make sure the board is stiff. Flex may be your friend when carving and cruising, but it is a liability at speed. That flex leads to instability, and it makes cornering less predictable. Choosing a deck with deeper concave will also help, because it locks the feet into place.
Stability is king in downhill, and having the right trucks makes all the difference. Reverse-kingpin longboarding trucks are much more stable than traditional trucks. They are less twitchy, requiring more rider effort to initiate turns. Traditional trucks are also far more susceptible to the dreaded speed wobbles that can cause a downhill run to end in catastrophe.
The best downhill wheels are tall and wide. More height (at least 70mm) means more ground is covered per revolution, while more width means better stability in turns. Wheels with sharp lips maximize corner grip, but they still slide when forced sideways.
Choose bearings with the tightest tolerances to ensure your setup can go its fastest. Bearings with higher ABEC ratings will generally spin faster and do so longer than those with lower ratings. Yocaher ABEC-7 bearings are fast out of the box, and they get faster as they break in. We also have ABEC-5 bearings for more conservative longboarders.
Riding downhill isn’t like cruising around on city streets. At these speeds, the slightest miscalculation can lead to spectacular crashes. Wearing safety gear is the key to walking away after a spill. The fastest, most experienced downhill riders always wear their gear, and so should you.
There are two types of helmets longboarders use: multi-use skateboard helmets and single-use bike helmets. The difference lies in the padded liner. The padding in multi-use helmets rebounds after it takes a hit. It lasts longer but it doesn’t offer much protection during hard impacts.
The best helmets for downhill are the single-impact type that are rated for bicycling, which have EPS lining. This expanded polystyrene foam deforms slowly, allowing the skull and brain to decelerate more gradually. It is much safer in a hard crash, but it must be replaced after each impact. These helmets are more expensive than multi-use helmets, but your brain will thank you if you take a spill.
Our first instinct when we fall is to put down our hands to keep our heads off the pavement. But doing this at speed without gloves will cause hamburger hands, and the pain is lasting. At a minimum, downhill longboarders should wear leather gloves to protect the palms during a fall. Sliding gloves, which have Velcro palms that accept urethane sliding pucks, can introduce a new dimension to your ride and still provide plenty of protection.
Hone your technique
Cruising is fun, but downhill longboarding is a bit more serious. Once you head down a hill, the moment soon arrives when you can no longer jump off the board and run out. At these speeds, commitment to purpose is the rule. Learn the following techniques to safely negotiate downhill terrain.
Learn to slide
When you’re going slow, there are a few different ways to slow down or stop a longboard. At downhill speeds though, there’s only really one way to do it. To scrub speed when approaching a curve, you’ll need to kick the board out sideways and slide. The friction from the sliding wheels lets you slow down without using any awkward foot drags.
Practice your slides on more mellow hills before you need them when the scenery gets blurry. For regular-footed riders, slide heelside during left-hand turns, and go toeside on right-hand turns. Make sure you know how to hook back up (get rolling again) before you try sliding into a curve.
Hitting the brakes
Once you’re comfortable going fast on straight hills, it’s time to take on curvier terrain. Entering a curve too hot is a good way to crash, though. The key to taking curves fast is to scrub speed at the right time to properly hit the apex. To do that, you must master predrifting, which is scrubbing off excess speed before you enter a corner.
At first, it’s best to scrub off more speed than you think you need to. Build your cornering speed gradually, going a bit faster each time you do it. Pushing the edge of your skill set gently this way lessens the consequences of entering a curve too hot. Soon, you will be able to sense when you’re carrying too much speed for a curve.
Hit the apex
Race car drivers try to take curves as tightly as possible. They aim for an inside point on the arc of a curve, which allows them to sweep out wide on the exit. They maintain the most speed possible through the curve when they hit the apex precisely, and downhill longboarders use the same technique for cornering.
Go slower than you think you’ll need to at first. Practice hitting the apex while hooked up, leaning on the trucks to sweep into the turn. After a while, you’ll get a feel for where you need to position yourself to maximize exit speed. Later, you can start scrubbing all the way up to the apex before hooking back up. You carry more speed into the corner this way, maximizing exit velocity.
Downhill riding forces us to build a more finely developed set of skills than any other longboarding discipline. It is riding on a razor’s edge, but it is not quite as dangerous as it may appear to the uninitiated. Get the proper setup and safety gear, then take a steady approach. You’ll be drifting into perfect apexes in no time, and you’ll be having the most fun you’ve ever had on a longboard.