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Street luge is an extreme gravity-powered activity that involves riding a streetluge board (sometimes referred to as a sled) down a paved road or course. Street luge is also known as land luge or road luge. Like skateboarding, street luge is often done for sport and for recreation.
Other than the supine riding position and very high speeds (40-97 mph / 64-157 km/h), street luge has little relation to its winter namesake (luge).
Street luge was born in Southern California as downhill skateboarders found they could reach faster speeds by lying down on their skateboards. This early form of the sport is now referred to as "classic style" or "kont boarding".
Street luge is an extreme gravity-powered activity that involves riding a street luge board (sometimes referred to as a sled) down a paved road or course. Street luge is also known as land luge or road luge. Like skateboarding, street luge is often done for sport and for recreation.Street luge was born in the early 1970's in Southern California as "downhill skateboarding."
Gary Sconce built numerous snow-ski based downhill skateboards for himself and his friends, and using his 1961 Ford van to haul them up, started the Glendora Mountain Road racers. With the advent of urethane rubber wheels and precision bearings, the sport really took off.
Sconce originally designed the downhill skateboard with the help of a computer to eliminate speed wobbles at any speed. The Glendora Mountain Road racers and the Huntington Beach based Underground Racing Association were constantly racing down Glendora Mountain Road until the advent of strict laws against the sport.
By the early 1980's Sconce's board had front and rear wind farings, four trucks, eight wheels and ran at night with lights. This early form of the sport is now referred to as "classic style" or "butt boarding". In 1975 the first professional race was held at Signal Hill, California and hosted by the U.S. Skateboard Association.
The original first street luges were made from twelve hand made wooden ski jumping skis, around eight feet long that were sold after the closing of the 'Movie Slope' ski resort, north of Upland California on Mount Baldy. The skis were very wide long and stiff and made for excellent 'Downhill Skateboards' for the racers. The clay wheels were soon replaced by soft urethane, but racers found out that at certain speeds, the early loose metal bearings heated up so much the wheels melted. Finally, precision bearings and harder urethane wheels made the high speeds we sought viable. Sconce would turn his wheels on a lathe and put parallel grooves in them to increase turning traction. The original design and placement of the wheels done by computer at Cal Poly, Pomona, California is still used by all of the racers today. The position of the wheels in relation to the load of body weight stops all speed wobbles and allows a racer to go as fast as he or she is willing to go in the conditions.
Sconce would pile 8-12 racers in the back of his 1961 Ford Econoline window van, called 'Van Gogh' as it was missing the passenger side mirror. All the rear seats were removed and since there were no seat belt laws, the 'GMR boys' would 'surf' the inside of the back all the way up Glendora Mountain Road. Racers would bounce off the walls and the inside roof of the van, laughing and screaming with delight.
At the highest point of the road, Sconce painted a 'START' line across the roadway. The racer that drew the smallest straw, had to drive the van down while the others raced. Sconce would line everyone up and at the shout of "Go!" all would pump with their hands as hard and fast as possible and then lay down for the long ride down. It would take nearly 20 minutes to descend down to Little Dalton canyon. Racers would hit very high speeds on the straightaways and would do whole board power slides around the hairpin corners.
When 'street luge' started, there were no laws against downhill skateboarding whatsoever... Except racers could get a ticket for speeding. Boarders were officially 'Pedestrians', and laughed that a pedestrian could get a speeding ticket. Sconce and his GMR racers were never ticketed however, because no police car could catch them. The boards could easily outrun any cars.
When blasting down GMR all through the 1970's and into the 1980's, the racers never had any serious injuries attributed to their racing. The boards could turn sharper than a car, and could stop faster than a car. One racer broke his arm on a hairpin turn when he came around a corner and a motorcycle was stopped in the absolute center of his lane, its rider looking at the beautiful LA smoggy view. Racers wore full face helmets, thick leather gloves, elbow pads, knee pads, and would wear two pair of jeans to act as poor man's leathers. The most feared injury, (at which racers howled with laughter when it happened) was a "bun parter." If a racer fell off sideways when going around a corner at speed, they sometimes would hit the dragging side of their butt first. Inertia would keep the front side traveling at 40, 50, 60mph, so the buns would separate with a high-speed yank. 'Bun parters' were something one tried to avoid and were hilarious to all the other racers when they happened.
Street luge, or our original 'downhill skateboarding', has had legs and the old guys like Sconce, still know exactly where and when it started... Although today's kids never believe them.
In 1975, the first professional race was held at Signal Hill, California, and hosted by the U.S. Skateboard Association. The race winner was based on top speed. The boards used in this race varied from basic skateboards to complex skate cars in which the rider was completely enclosed by plastic or fiberglass. The sport was not commonly referred to as street luge at this time but the term luge was used to describe some participants' riding position. Most contestants were standing up; however, an opening in the rules enabled riders to choose their own board position, including supine. By 1978, repeated injuries to both riders and spectators halted the races at Signal Hill.
Several riders from the Signal Hill races kept the sport alive by continuing to hold races in Southern California. around the early 1990s, both underground and professional races continued to be held in Southern California by such organizations as the Underground Racers Association (URA), Federation of International Gravity Racing (FIGR) and Road Racers Association for International Luge (RAIL). Race organizers in the 1980s and 1990s started implementing many more equipment, safety and race regulations.
Meanwhile, in the early 1990s, some Austrian skateboarders started sitting down on their skateboards on the way back from teaching skiing in the Alps. This activity lead to a classic style street luge race in Austria, riding wooden boards closer to large skateboards than the usual street luge, which is heavier, longer, has larger wheels and more trucks than a skateboard or classic luge. There is now a healthy street luge riding and racing presence in many European countries (see below).
In the mid 1990s, ESPN’s X Games showcased street luge to the world and the sport was originally sanctioned by RAIL, then by the International Gravity Sports Association (IGSA). NBC followed ESPN’s lead and created the Gravity Games in which the sport was sanctioned by Extreme Downhill International (EDI). Smaller events were also held in Canada, South Africa, Australia, Switzerland, Germany, Sweden and the U.K.. Qualification criteria for these events varied and were controlled by each of the sanctioning bodies.
After a media splurge through the late 1990s and early 2000s, extreme sports like streetluge have taken a lower profile. The X Games has become more stadium-based for commercial reasons. Others, such as the Gravity Games, Hot Heels and the Australian Xtreme Games, have disappeared.
While no longer a sport in either the X Games or Gravity Games, street luge is a burgeoning sport in numerous countries with competitions around the globe. There are approximately 1200 active street luge riders in the world.
Equipment, safety and racing
Street lugers ride boards in the supine position. The design of these boards is based on the rules set forth from different governing bodies. Consistent design elements include:
- The use of lean-activated steering skateboard-style trucks
- The prohibited use of mechanical brakes
- Front and rear padding
- Length, width and weight restrictions - details depend on sanctioning body
- The prohibited use of parts that enclose the rider’s body or hinder braking
Current street luge boards are made from many materials including steel, aluminum, wood, and carbon fibre. The majority of the street luge boards in the world are custom made although commercial models are now available. Actual board designs can vary as the construction rules are very open and allow for numerous design considerations.
Riders participating in sanctioned racing events are required to wear safety equipment including:
- Hard-shell helmet with chin strap and face shield or goggles
- Leather or Kevlar racing suit
- Leather or Kevlar gloves
- Sturdy Shoes
Race courses are usually held on mountain roads but have been held on city streets as well. Courses can range in length from 0.5 to 3 miles (1 to 5 km) and vary in layout (number and severity of turns). Racing can take the following formats:
- Single elimination with 2, 4, or 6 racers at a time
- Double elimination with 2, 4, or 6 racers at a time
- Timed trials
- No elimination points system (points for each finishing position in several heats)
- Mass runs, with up to 20 racers at a time (positions are decided by the order they cross the finish line)
- Lott, Darren. The Street Luge Survival Guide. Gravity Publishing, 1998, p. 11.
- Bee, Peta. Wild Gym. Guardian Books, 2008, p. 140.
- Mattern, Joanne & Herndon, Ryan. Guinness Word Records, Just Outrageous!. Scolastic, 2005, p. 59.
- Lott, Darren. The Street Luge Survival Guide. Gravity Publishing, 1998, p. 170.
- Lott, Darren. The Street Luge Survival Guide. Gravity Publishing, 1998, p. 171-175.
- Lott, Darren. The Street Luge Survival Guide. Gravity Publishing, 1998, p. 176.
- Taylor, Brenda. Ansted course quickly becomes the highlight of luge season for many racers. The Register-Herald WV, 1999, p. 1.
- IGSA IGSA Rules and Regulations. 2011, p. 11.
- Nichols, John. Street Luge. Steck-Vaughn, 2001, p. 20 & 43.
- Nichols, John. Street Luge. Steck-Vaughn, 2001, p. 9.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Street luge|
- GravityDB.com Gravity Sports Database
- video of street luge by Yvon Labarthe (World series champion 2009)