A longer, steeper and curvier ride
KOHALA — If ever there was an extreme sport tailor-made for the terrain of Hawaii Island – besides the Ironman – it would be downhill longboard skateboarding.
That is why a troupe of expert downhill longboarders visited last week to test the island’s challenging slopes and varied climates for themselves.
The five skaters — Cooper Darquea, Quentin Gachot, Liam Morgan, Jasper Ohlson and Tom Flinchbaugh — hail from Northern and Southern California and range in age from 16-26. As downhill skaters with impressive skills, each are under contract with various skateboard and skateboard equipment companies.
During their trip, the five traveled around the island to shoot high action videos for Prism Skate Company, based in Santa Cruz, Calif.
Compared to shorter skateboards that are used primarily for tricks, longboards come in a variety of shapes and sizes and are classically used for transportation and cruising. For those who are willing and able, commuting to work on a longboard has become popular because it’s inexpensive, eco-friendly, enjoyable and lightweight.
But the five longboard visitors aren’t casual users nor do they commute. Their downhill longboards are a bit larger and slightly stiff for enhanced stability. This enables downhill riders to achieve speeds from 20-89 miles per hour.
Videos of the riders performing exhilarating and speed-invoking downhill rides receive a lot of views on YouTube. As demonstrated in video after video, downhill longboarders practice their sport anywhere there is asphalt and steep hills or streets.
And the longer, steeper and curvier the ride, the better.
The longboarders feed their need for speed and adventure by traveling to various locales around the U.S. and the world, shooting videos at every stop. To date they’ve been to South Africa, the Philippines, Switzerland, Germany, Mexico, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Reunion Island — one of Morgan’s favorites because they skated between two volcanoes.
The team had never visited the Big Island until this month, and it didn’t disappoint.
“Hawaii Island is the biggest island and has the craziest elevations so we knew there would be good roads to skate here,” Morgan said.
“The huge variety of environments and climates to skate here make for an amazing video as you go from super dry, high-up altitudes to lava fields, lush jungles, grassy farmlands and cows,” Flinchbaugh added.
He does double duty with the group, serving as both a skater and their photographer. Some of his photography involves landscape shots or taking pictures while standing on the road.
But he also takes photos while skating.
“Because I was a skater first, one of my unique abilities is that I can skate with the camera and get a unique perspective that not everyone can get,” Flinchbaugh said.
Falling is an accepted and anticipated hazard of longboarding and riders even learn how to fall. Members of the group had a few falls during their week on Hawaii Island but none on lava, fortunately, and none that were serious. One occurred while the riders were flying down Kohala Ranch Road, which Morgan said was particularly slick. He also had a fall near Waipio Valley.
“Sometimes falling is good,” Morgan says. “If you’re not falling, you’re not pushing yourself hard enough.”
Gachot added, “We do our best to protect ourselves so when we fall it’s not as serious.”
All of the skaters wear protective gear including a high-quality helmet and slide gloves, and some wear protective body pads as well.
The team agrees downhill longboard skateboarding is dangerous, extreme and the most thrilling form of their sport available, and they wouldn’t have it any other way.
And neither would the few lucky local residents who got the heart-racing thrill of watching the skaters whiz by. Rick Ostrander of Waikoloa, with his wife, Stacey, and children Ashlynn, 14, and Kyler, 12, saw the downhill skateboarders come down the hill in Kohala Ranch.
“Watching them skate down Kohala Ranch Road was amazing and incredible,” Ostrander said. “Their speed was mind-boggling. They also were very generous. They signed our skateboards and gave us the skate wheels they used to skate downhill.”
The feeling was mutual. The skaters said they had a great time on Hawaii Island and will definitely return.
“My favorite thing was meeting the people,” said Ohlson, who at age 16, is the youngest member of the group. “We left a lot undone here, in terms of geographic locations on the island, so it’s definitely worth coming back.”