If you have ever felt the need for speed, you may have just finished watching the 1986 hit movie, Top Gun, or you might be a fan of street luge. While not much like the winter version it gets its name from, street luge does involve traveling at extremely high speeds (70-102 miles per hour).
History of Street Luge
The origins of the sport can be traced back to some skateboarders in Southern California during the mid-1970s with a desire for more speed. They realized that if they laid down on their boards—which led to the name laydown skateboarding in the early years — rather than stand on them, they could reach higher speeds.
The first professional race was held at Signal Hill, California, in 1975 and was hosted by the U.S. Skateboard Association. Competitors could use a wide variety of boards and could choose whatever position they wanted on the board (standing, sitting, or laying down). But due to too many injuries, the race was discontinued.
Organizations like the Underground Racers Association (URA), Federation of International Gravity Racing (FIGR) and Road Racers Association for International Luge (RAIL) helped keep the sport alive in the 1980s and 90s by holding races. It helped when they started to implement more regulations and made the sport safer.
The sport really began to take off when ESPNs X-Games gave it a global platform in the mid-1990s. It was then that it became officially sanctioned by RAIL and later the International Gravity Sports Association (IGSA).
NBC gave it another platform with the Gravity Games in 1999 (where it was sanctioned by the Extreme Downhill International (EDI)). Similar events were held in countries around the world, i.e. Canada, the UK, South Africa, Australia, Germany, and Switzerland.
After seeing a rise in exposure and popularity in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the sport became more low key. Many of the competitions were discontinued. While it is no longer part of the X-Games, there are still races held all over the world.
The current speed record was set on September 10, 2016, by Mike McIntyre (101.98 miles per hour). According to the rankings compiled by the International Downhill Federation, the international governing body for the sport, the top rider in the world is from Brazil, Thiago Gomes Lessa.
Of course, skateboards were not built for riders to lay down on them and travel at high speeds. Early competitors did use traditional skateboards while some used what were called skate cars and others were completely enclosed in fiberglass or plastic.
It wasn’t until the 1990s that the board that resembles the modern day one was developed. Riders began using larger wooden boards with smaller wheels. Using boards like this became known as classic luge.
Modern day competitors are allowed to make their boards out of any material (i.e. aluminum, steel, fiberglass, carbon fiber, etc.). They are close to the ground and often utilize anywhere from six to eight wheels and three or four longboard trucks. Boards can be as long as eight feet but are usually shorter.
Classic luge boards are wooden, use four wheels (70 mm or smaller; often made of hard plastic since rubber tires don’t hold up as well) and two trucks, and are no longer than 49” or wider than 12.” Classic boards are suitable for beginners not ready to invest much money in the sport yet. They can be had for less than $150 while modern boards can easily cost a few hundred dollars.
How to be a street luge racer
It is not hard to become a street luge racer. All you need to do is buy or make a board and purchase a helmet (in case you crash). Propulsion is strictly due to gravity. So, to engage in a race or just make a run for yourself, you need to find a relatively level hill. The higher and steeper it is, the more speed you can build up. This also means the greater the force of an impact will be if you crash.
Since the boards are so close to the ground, it helps if the surface is as level and clean of debris as possible. It wouldn’t take much for a ride to be derailed by a stone or large bump in the road.
When you begin a run, make sure you keep your head down, toes pointed down, and body as flat as possible. Doing so decreases wind resistance and helps you reach top speeds faster. The more aerodynamic you can keep your body, the better.
The risk of injury is high with street luge racers. When getting started, riders are recommended to take on smaller, less-steep courses in order to get a feel for how to control the ride and reduce the risk of accidents.