Picture by Sam Eaton
Pleasure and Pain
As you might have guessed from some of the pictures, I'm big into board riding. Skateboards, longboards, dirtboards, mountain boards, and snowboards. If it rolls, carves or slides then I'm on it.
As one of the pioneers of kite landboarding I was among the first people to ride a mountain board under kite power. That's what I'm doing in the picture on the left, taken by Sam Eaton at the week-long Berrow kite traction event in 1999. I don't normally get all suited and booted like that when I'm cruising around my local park, but in that particular case we were on a very wet, windy and muddy beach - hence the wetsuit.
Over the last few years I've been getting more into downhill mountain boarding. There's a place in Aldershot I go riding with friends. Over the last few years we've dug ourselves out a nice little dirtpark.
The MBS Comp 16 Pro board is a totally sweet board to ride. It's light, got a nice spring to it and a really smooth edge-to-edge transition, great for both long sweeping carved turns and hard'n'fast cornering.
I've also got a dirtboard based on a skateboard setup, pictured above. It's got the monster-truck Xtreme Wheelz for the rough roads around town and the occassional bit of offroad downhill (see the video clip below). It has much more of a skateboard feel to it as you would expect. You've got more maneuverability but at the cost of stability. On this board you're perched up high on top of everything rather than sunk down between the wheel base as you are on a mountain board.
Downhill boarding gives you a great thrill, but you spend far more time walking up the hill than you do riding down. More often I'm kite flying, kiteboarding or skateboarding at my local spot, Stoke Park, in Guildford, Surrey. I've got the longboard you can see on the home page which is nice for cruising around the park. I've also got a BMW Streetcarver. It has got some nice features and is a fine piece of engineering, but it is painfully obvious that it was designed by engineers and not skateboarders. I rarely ride it, but as something of a boarding fanatic, it's nice to have one around the house to look at, if nothing else.
Most of my boarding these days is regular skateboarding in the skatepark attached to the side of Stoke Park. It's not a great skatepark by any stretch of the imagination, but it's still very popular and the source of a lot of home grown talent. When it's raining, I sometimes go and skate in the multi-storey car park in Farnham Road. There's not much to skate there, but it's a good chance to practice ollies, flip tricks and flatland skating.
Technical street skating seems to be very much in vogue these days, with many kids learning to kickflip before they can kickturn. It reminds me a little of the kite flying scene in the mid 1990's when there was perhaps too much emphasis on nailing tricks in isolation and not enough on how they were combined together with style. I like to think that I've learned from my kiting experiences and now when I skate, I always try to do my own thing and seek out my own style. Mostly I just like carving up the skatepark as best I can, landing the occasional trick, and above all, enjoying myself. That is the essence of freestyle - freedom and style. It should always be fun.
When I get a chance, I'm also into snowboarding. I'm very much a freerider, prefering the open slopes to riding the snowpark. Fresh powder is, of course, the very best.
With any so-called "extreme" sport, there is an inherent risk and potential for injury. I've had a couple of nasty accidents in my time - thankfully nothing too serious, but enough to hurt bad and leave permanent scars.
In June 1998 I met up with a kiting friend, Chris Matheson, for a spot of skating at the Meanwhile II skatepark in London, located under the flyover of the Westway. It was the first time I had done any real skating since I was a kid, and I hadn't really done that much even then. I foolishly thought I'd have no trouble picking it up again and set out trying to ride the concrete bowls before I had even got a proper feel for the board. I lasted about an hour before I face planted the concrete and smashed my front teeth. I ended up losing most of one, a good part of the other, and chunk off a canine to one side, as well as chewing through my lip. There's a picture of me taken not long afterwards showing the damage if you want to see what it looked like. Many months of dental work followed to rebuild my teeth and even then the results aren't permanent. Cracks in the roots of the teeth will expand over time and what's left of the teeth, and the crowns that are attached to them, will fall out or need to be taken out. Until then I have some time to save the thousands of pounds required to pay for titanium implants.
The message here? It's not about wearing helmets, pads, or anything like that because I had the lot on and still managed to break something. Sure, I could have been wearing a gumshield but how many people think of that (or whould chose to wear one) when skating? No, the real message is to skate within the limits of your capabilities. Learn to walk before you can run. You'll make much better progress in the end and have less chance of getting hurt.
Some times it doesn't matter how careful you are and things happen that are totally beyond your control. In August 2001 I was involved in a serious kiteboarding accident at Middle Wallop kite festival. I was cruising along quite happily when a huge gust gust of wind overpowered another kiteboarding and dragged him downwind into a head-on collision with me. Once our kite lines had crossed there was nothing either of us could do to avoid the collision. I was probably doing about 30 mph and he was heading towards me doing something clearly in excess of that. I had a second, maybe a second and a half to wonder if this was the end.
At the very last moment, I bailed off the board and tried to jump clear across the front of him, using the power of the kite to pull me forwards. I nearly made it, but the front of my left shin hit the side of his leg. He was using a board that fixed his feet firmly in snowboard bindings and there was nowhere for his leg to go. I remember feeling his leg fold up around mine as both his tibia and fibia snapped clean through. I heard him scream in pain and then I hit the deck taking most of the impact on my knees. I walked away from it (just) with cuts and bruises, but Roger came close to losing his leg.
I was very lucky. I wasn't wearing a helmet or any kind of pads, but I lived through it with nothing more than a few nasty scars to show for it. It's one thing to overlook the safety equipment on a quiet day in your local park when there's no-one around and only a gently breeze to contend with. But I was really stupid going out on a crowded field in gusty wind with nothing more than a T-shirt and shorts on - another lesson learned. And never, ever use a power kite with a board that doesn't let you get your feet out quickly. In the end, that is the reason why I'm still board riding and Roger sadly isn't.