Imagine soaring down a road in Dallas, Houston or elsewhere in Texas at 70+ mph while lying on your back, just inches from the asphalt. That’s the sport of street luge, an extreme gravity-powered activity that involves riding a street luge board, or sled, down a paved road or prepared course. Street luge is also known as land luge or road luge and, like skateboarding, street luge takes balance and lightening quick reactions.
The only difference between street luge and the winter Olympic sport is the lack of snow and ice. Street luge was created in Southern California when downhill skateboarders found they could reach faster speeds by lying down on their skateboards. But, like regular luge, the concrete version picks its winners based on top speed.
In 1975, the first professional street luge race was held at Signal Hill, California, hosted by the U.S. Skateboard Association. The boards used in that race varied from basic skateboards to complex skate cars, in which the rider was completely enclosed by plastic or fiberglass. At the time, the sport was not referred to as “street luge,” but the term luge was used to describe some participants’ riding position. Most contestants stood up, however an opening in the rules enabled riders to choose their on-board position — including prone. By 1978, repeated injuries to both riders and spectators halted the races at Signal Hill.
Several dedicated riders from the Signal Hill races kept the sport alive by continuing to hold races in Southern California. Throughout the 1980s and into the early 1990s, both underground and professional races continued to be held in Southern California by such organizations as the Underground Racers Association (URA), the Federation of International Gravity Racing (FIGR) and the Road Racers Association for International Luge (RAIL). Race organizers in the 1980s and 1990s started implementing many more equipment, safety and race regulations.
Meanwhile, in the early 1990s, some Austrian skateboarders started sitting down on their skateboards on the way back from teaching skiing in the Alps. This activity led to a classic style street luge race in Austria, riding wooden boards closer to large skateboards than the usual street luge, which is heavier, longer, has larger wheels and more trucks than a skateboard or classic luge. There is now a healthy street luge riding and racing presence in many European countries.
In the mid 1990s, ESPN’s X Games introduced street luge to the world and the sport was originally sanctioned by RAIL, then by the International Gravity Sports Association (IGSA). NBC followed ESPN’s lead and created the Gravity Games, where the sport was sanctioned by Extreme Downhill International (EDI). Smaller events also appeared in Canada, South Africa, Australia, Switzerland, Germany, Sweden and the U.K. Qualification criteria for these events varied and was controlled by each of the sanctioning bodies.
While no longer a sport in either the X Games or Gravity Games, street luge is still a burgeoning sport in numerous countries, with competitions around the globe. There are approximately 1,200+ active street luge riders in the world.
The actual street luge itself hasn’t changed too much since the sport began. Street lugers still ride modified skateboards in the prone position. The design of these boards is based on the rules set forth from different governing bodies. Luge design elements include:
1. The use of lean-activated steering skateboard style trucks.
2. The prohibited use of mechanical brakes.
3. Front and rear padding.
4. Length, width and weight restrictions — details depend on sanctioning body.
5. The prohibited use of parts that enclose the rider’s body or hinder braking.
Current street luge boards are made from many materials including steel, aluminum, wood, and carbon fiber. The majority of the street luge boards are custom made, although commercial models are also now available. Actual board designs can vary, as the construction rules are extremely open and allow for numerous design considerations.
Riders participating in sanctioned racing events are required to wear safety equipment including: Hard shell helmet with chinstrap and face shield or goggles; leather or Kevlar racing suit; and leather or Kevlar gloves
Races are usually held on mountain roads but have also been held on city streets. Courses can range in length from 0.5 to 3 miles (1 to 5 km) and vary in layout, including the number and severity of turns.
Physically demanding sports such as street luge can be a great way to exercise to maintain good health.
Pat Carpenter writes for Precedent Insurance Company. Precedent puts a new spin on health insurance. Learn more at Precedent.com