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Skate Tips: Slalom

I know that I said in this month's Editorial that I'd be talking about a conditioning program for skateboarding, but I'm still too messed up from my last trip to Temecula Skatepark to worry about serious exercise. Instead, we're going to be looking at slalom skateboarding.

Although these techniques will work on almost any board, they will work much better on a slalom deck. Now, if you walk into your local skate shop and ask for a slalom deck, the odds are good that they won't know what you are talking about, even though they may have good slalom decks in stock. Ideally you're looking for a cambered board (bends up in the middle), that has a real responsive flex. The key word here is "responsive." The deck should be springy and pop back into shape after each flex. A board that just bends in the middle won't give you nearly the performance that a springy board will.

There are a number of good slalom decks on the market. Sector 9's Cosmic Rider and Cruiser models are appropriate. Flexdex makes a number of good slalom boards, and the original slalom board, the Fibreflex is now being made by Acme.

For trucks, Seismics would be great , but I understand that they retail for about $150 a set, which puts them out of the price range of most people. Randall Speed Trucks are supposed to be nice, but I've never had a chance to try them. Personally, I've been using Independent 166s on my Cosmic Rider II, and they work just fine. I'd love to upgrade into some Seismics, but at that price I don't see that happening anytime soon. Angled riser pads are recommended though. For wheels, go for large-diameter soft (78A) wheels. At more advanced levels, you may want to play with different hardnesses for different surfaces, but in the beginning, high-traction fast wheels are the best.

There are two basic slalom stances, parallel and normal. I'm not going to go into much detail about parallel stance. In parallel stance you stand with your feet close together, parallel to the length of the board, similar to snow skiing. I've never been very good at parallel stance, probably because I've never skied. I've always felt that I get more power with normal stance. Does that mean that it's faster? Not necessarily. Someone with a powerful style often turns in slower times that someone with a clean smooth technique.

The basic technique is as follows. You'll want to build and maintain speed with each turn. It's easiest to break each turn into two parts. As you start the turn, throw your weight forward, while bending your knees. This causes the board to flex downward. As you come out of the turn a good slalom deck should return to its original shape. As it does, unweight the board slightly and try to redirect the upward motion of the board forward and set up the first part of the next turn.

By making each turn like this, you can create a pumping action that can increase speed with each turn. In practice, the basic motions are much easier that they seem. It is much harder building the leg strength needed to keep these motions going. A good slalom rider should be able to use this pumping motion to keep moving over long distances on level ground and even up slight grades.

As a competitive event, slalom is largely a thing of the past, but hopefully with companies making good slalom decks again, maybe that will change. In the 1970s, when slalom racing was at its peak, course layout was generally at the discretion of the contest organizers. Courses should be set so that they are neither too fast nor too slow, and care should be taken to ensure that none of the gates are so tight that they can't be taken at a reasonable speed. If a certain section of the course is faster than the rest, cones in that section should be set wider apart in that section to compensate. A good example of a typical course is the one used at the Bahne-Cadillac National Championships in 1975.

Aside from racing, slalom techniques can be useful in other areas. If you're looking for a good workout, try pumping slalom style to maintain speed without pushing. At the skatepark, pump the board to gain extra speed on mellow banks and on the transitions between banks. Whether between the cones or at the skatepark, learning to skate slalom can be a valuable addition to your skating repertoire.

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Nose Wheelie, except where noted otherwise, was written and created by Chris Sturhann.
Copyright © 1997 Chris Sturhann