Thrill of the Hill: Downhill Longboarding

Sarah Ross

Elliot Newey longboards down a steep road.
CSU graduate Elliot Newey competes in a downhill longboarding race. Photo courtesy of Elliot Newey/Sanctum.

At this point, most of us have seen a longboard around campus, whether it’s someone lazily skating to class or just seeing one locked up on one of the many board racks, but did you know they can go up to almost 80 mph? Did you know it could be your ticket around the world, and one of the best ways to meet people who will treat you like family?

Downhill longboarding is quickly growing into a huge professional sport, with Colorado in the epicenter of it all with our amazing mountain roads and steep hills that create the perfect conditions for these extreme skaters.

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Elliott Newey, a downhill longboard racer who graduated from CSU May 2014 with a Business and Computer Information Systems degree, began boarding in high school. He started to longboard mostly as means to get around, but he slowly started taking on bigger hills, then mountains, and finally racing in 2010. As a veteran in the sport, he shared his best and worst experiences, and how people who are interested in it can assimilate into the community.

For those of you unfamiliar with the downhill community, here is Newey’s definition: “Downhill racing is just that, racing down a hill as fast as possible. Events are usually run in brackets with races split into four-man heats. They run one heat at a time. The first two across the finish line move on to the next round until you end up with the final four. You’ll find that the style in Colorado is predominantly downhill skating, mostly due to our terrain. Our roads tend to be fast and long, with sweeping turns and hairpins. There’s a handful of places in the world where you can break 70mph on a skateboard, [and] Colorado is home to several of them. You’ll find more of a freeriding style in places like California where the roads tend to be slower and have more flow/turns.”

Newey said his favorite part of downhill longboarding is the community. Until recently, the sport hadn’t ever been a popular pastime, which gave the people who would seek it out a chance to be a part of an exclusive, tight-knit community.

“You’ve got to be very trusting of the people you skate with, everyone has to hold it together in dangerous situations,” Newey said. “The friendships I’ve formed through racing are some of the best I’ve ever had; we all look out for each other. It tends to be a giant family.”

Newey also expressed that boarding has opened up opportunities to travel the world that would never have been possible before, and that the community is so spread out that longboarders in Australia once took him in and showed him their own personal spots.

“Some of my best memories involve traveling to skate,” Newey said. “It’s always great to skate some new terrain, and travelling, camping, exploring with some of your best friends doesn’t hurt. Skate trips are some of the most fun I’ve ever had. There’s nothing like dropping into a big mountain bomb with amazing scenery at sunrise.”

Newey has even opened his own home to longboarders from around the country, and expresses that it the best part of the community.

“It’s a very welcoming community,” he said. “When I first started racing I could name everyone in the state that raced, now I show up to an event and see many faces I’ve never seen before.”

The way Newey portrays the life of longboarding makes it seem like such a carefree pastime, but longboarding is no walk in the park, nor is it all butterflies and rainbows when you get good at it. Even the professionals fall, and often.

“I once had an oncoming driver park in the middle of the road and start threatening a group of us,” Newey said when recalling his worst experience. “Not only was it an insanely dangerous move, but the man was clearly in a state of rage threatening to shoot us if he ever saw us skating again. It’s not uncommon to come across people who feel the need to impress their opinions upon us, as if we totally overlooked the danger of what we do until they enlightened us. For every one of them, there’s 10 that are beyond stoked to see us skate by.”

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Interesting in boarding yourself? Here is Newey’s advice for beginning boarders:  “Learn the basics, skate within your means, and be courteous drivers,” he said. “I know too many people that can do all sorts of fancy slides but can’t throw down a solid footbrake. In an emergency situation, you need to have the basics dialed. Dig your teeth into something you can handle. A lot of people rush to the steepest hill they can find, and a lot of them have a bad time. It’s all about knowing how to skate within your means and work your way up to the bigger stuff. As a community we have to self-regulate. If someone can’t stay in their lane and skate a hill safely, I will tell them to go somewhere else. It reflects on the community as a whole when a person has a bad accident, like hitting a car.”

As for revealing his own personal spots, Newey wouldn’t budge.

“I won’t give out any spots; skaters tend to keep those things under wraps,” Newey said. “But, it doesn’t take a genius to find a hill worth skating. Just jump in a car and start driving. CSU does have a longboard club; there’s a few hills local to Fort Collins that they will session. There are plenty of outlaw races around the state, and even professional. Pikes Peak World Cup is [every September]. There’s a Fort Collins longboarding club on Facebook, and others for Colorado.”

So there you have it, an underground sport that very few were aware of, that is slowly coming to the forefront of society, and you now have an inside scoop on the tight-knit life that these boarders lead.

Article produced for College Avenue Magazine.