Downhill skateboarding was conceived just a few moments after the actual invention of the skateboard. In simple caveman terms: Man gets wheels, man wants to go down a hill, et viola!, a new sport is born! Through the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s, advancements in skateboarding equipment in the form of specially formulated wheels, downhill-specific board designs, super-fast bearings, and racing gear made downhill skateboarding a high-speed and dangerous affair.
What started as an underground racing and “for fun” activity on the back hills and freshly paved roads of Southern California became a worldwide phenomenon when it got picked as one of the first sports to appear in the Extreme Games. As the “Extreme” phenomenon petered out (becoming just “X”), a long list of sports fell back into the underground; downhill skateboarding was one of them. But, as with skateboarding in general, the dips in mainstream popularity didn’t much affect the core, and while the NBC audience wasn’t seeing Biker Sherlock and crew bombing hills on a weekly basis, hardcore groups of diehard downhill skate crews were finding and racing down hills all over the world in grassroots events that embraced the more professional aspect of the sport rather than the “extreme” vibe it was previously saddled with.
In the last few years, downhill skateboard racing has enjoyed a resurgence, and it’s slowly, but cautiously, climbing back up from the underground. Tight-knit and unique skate crews from across the globe have been meeting on the tops of hills and racing to the bottom in a growing number of events worldwide, and the scene is thriving. Races like Angie’s Curve and the Catalina Classic have skateboarders who are literally risking their lives travelling at speeds in excess of 70 mph with just a helmet and some leather between their skin and the asphalt.
The recent Catalina Classic race is a perfect example of where downhill skateboarding is today. Downhillers, whose numbers are much fewer than street skaters, seem to be more of a collective, with races becoming family reunions—that is, of course, in between wheel-to-wheel speed duels through the picturesque yet terrifying hill of Catalina Island off the coast of Long Beach, California.
The downhill community is full of interesting characters, from the street-punk hell rats wearing handmade coveralls to the pros wearing custom-made leather racing suits. One could say the crews and personalities in the downhill skate world are an eclectic and passionate bunch; some of them are downright freaks (in a good way).
To help us understand this world a little bit better, we caught up with Sector 9 team rider Louis Pilloni to get the inside story on what’s happening right now in the world of downhill skateboarding.
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