Are you a cannibal for downhill?

Anthony Flis showing how to do a Layback Slide. Image taken by Maxwell Dubler

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220px-SkateordietitleBack in the late 1980’s / early 1990’s, skateboarding had a different meaning. It was a sport for people who felt like outcasts, and the media of the time helped propel it into that caliber with movies like Gleaming the Cube and Thrasher and the video game Skate or Die. This is what most likely attracted me to the sport at a young age. It was an opportunity to be accepted because I was different. Skateboarding may now be an Olympic event but you will never cage the rebellious soul of it. A perfect example of this is the Donner Downhill skateboard competition coming up in just a few weeks.

The Donner Summit – Murder, Cannibalism, and Forlorn Hope

Very close to the tragic site of the Donner Party, old Highway 40 looking east towards the town of Truckee, California. Image Taken by Paul Bolt
Very close to the tragic site of the Donner Party, old Highway 40 looking east towards the town of Truckee, California. Image Taken by Paul Bolt

Downhill skateboarding, even on the best of road surfaces, is an adrenaline pumping event. When you put it on a road filled with massive cracks, rough gravel, and tight turns, it can lead to pure cannibalism on the athletes. It’s fitting that Donner Summit located just northwest of Lake Tahoe is named after the famed Donner party that attempted to cross the pass in early November but were caught in a snowstorm that dumped nearly five feet of snow overnight. Stuck in the wilderness for five months, they were forced into cannibalism. A few of the stronger men attempted to hike out with two Native Americans but got lost. They then murdered both helpers and ate them. It was a gruesome story of bad planning and horrible decision making. Fortunately, the Donner Downhill contestants are better planned and will take on the course like kings.

History of Downhill Skateboarding

Downhill skateboarding, also known as longboarding, started back in the 1950’s. With no waves on the horizon, the need to ‘surf’ was too great so skateboarding was born in Hawaii to surf the land instead. It wasn’t until the 1970’s that the technique was honed with the advent of polyurethane wheels by people like Tom Sims in California. Still considered an underground movement, this sport continues to gain traction with Sector 9 mass producing long boards and the introduction of reverse kingpin trucks, allowing people to more easily achieve higher speeds.  Sector 9 also got its first “longboard” (a snowboard with trucks and wheels mounted to it) in the Lake Tahoe region from the locals deprived of snow in the summer.

Concepts of Longboarding

If you do get a chance to witness one of these events, here are a few things to watch for that will make things a bit more interesting!

Image Taken by: Alex Flagstad
Image Taken by: Alex Flagstad


Similar to road cycling, longboarders use drafting to increase speed and pass other skaters. When the rider gets behind another person, it reduces the overall drag from the wind. This area is called the slipstream. The drafting boarder waits until the last possible moment before slingshotting past their competitor.


Air Brake

It involves standing upright as tall as possible with arms outstretched to catch as much wind resistance as possible. This is primarily done to reduce speed before a tight turn so as to not fully stop and kill momentum.


Considered to be the best way to slow down, especially in a race. When going into a turn, the boarder will slide the deck in the direction of the turn to help slow them down. If they do it too little, they’ll end up in the corner. Too much and they’ll end up getting passed by another more aggressive skater. How many kinds of slides are there you ask? Here are a few different variations:

Pendulum Slide

This is when the board rotates more than 90 degrees and then returns to its original position over the course of the slide.

Shutdown Slide

Put on the brakes! This is when a skater slides to a complete stop.

Anthony Flis showing how to do a Layback Slide. Image taken by Maxwell Dubler
Anthony Flis showing how to do a Layback Slide. Image taken by Maxwell Dubler

Speed Check

A drift that reduces the rider’s speed without bringing him to a complete stop.

Layback Slide

This is a frontside slide that’s performed while riding downhill. The skater places their uphill hand on the ground behind the tail of the board and breaks the rear wheels out of traction.

The Coleman

Invented by Cliff Coleman, it’s usually used to make a full stop. All you have to do is complete a 180 degree turn with one hand on the ground. Piece of cake, right?

Red Bull Donner Downhill

To see all this in person, head up to Lake Tahoe and check out the Red Bull Donner Downhill. 64 racers will compete side-by-side as they speed down the infamous Donner Pass. The competition will consist of eight racers per heat traveling at speeds upwards of 50 mph down the treacherous 2.4 mile (3.8 km) stretch of Old Highway 40. Four riders from each heat will advance to the next round, until the eight finalists battle it out, where one will be crowned the Red Bull Donner Downhill victor.

When: Saturday, September 10, 2016 from 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.
Where: Donner Pass Rd (Old Highway 40), Truckee, CA 96161
Cost: Free to watch

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