SCENERY : Let the Good Times Roll - Slowing down is the key to speeding up in sail sports
BY BRIAN COE, NEWS-PRESS CORRESPONDENT
January 21, 2011 8:36 PM
IF YOU GO
What: Sporting Sails
Where: Mountain roads, ocean, ski slopes
Available locally: Arbor Santa Barbara, 1221 State St.
Cost: $80 for a lifetime of rides
Don't forget: Good shoes, camera, friends
In the ever-advancing technological age, we find ourselves constantly striving to make good things even better. With a solid design, adequate materials and enough imagination, the possibilities — especially in the world of outdoor sports — are borderline limitless.
Over the years, surfboards have been made sleeker, skis and snowboards have been shaped to cut harder and faster, and the development of the longboard has opened up skateboarding to steeper terrain than ever before. While the overriding trend in downhill sports has been toward increased speed, the minds behind Sporting Sails are a paradox on wheels: sometimes slowing down is the key to speeding up.
All Downhill From Here
When Billy and Nick Smith descended from their grandfather's attic in Colorado wearing a pair of parachute capes they had found in a box, the brothers were half curious and half confused. As it turns out, the "Ski Klippers" had been designed in the '70s by the old man himself, to offer wind resistance to skiers. While the brothers didn't find the fireworks they had been looking for, they were lighting the fuse of a very powerful new idea.
The next day, the two lifelong S-sport addicts (skiing, surfing, skating) took out the colorful canopies for a test run on skis — straight down one of Vail's steepest faces. When the blurry boys came to a skidding stop at the bottom of the mountain, they were greeted by a standing ovation, a frenzied mob and a million questions.
"We were on cloud nine after that," Billy says. "We left feeling giddy, thinking about the real opportunity we had and the trajectory it might take."
When the brothers realized that their grandfather's Ski Klippers could double as skate klippers, the ball bearings really got rolling.
"That's when all the doors started opening up for us," Billy says. "We set up shop in a Mill Valley garage and started skating around the hills of San Francisco to test out our different prototypes."
They experimented with several variations of their grandfather's Ski Klipper model, but the simple, original design was the finest version.
Good News Travels Fast
An unusually large number of "roommates" had gathered in the mountains for an opportunity to witness and experience the rush of downhill skateboarding with two of Sporting Sails' pioneers. When a yellow Volkswagon punch-buggy convertible pulled up and two dudes stepped out, all smiles and sunglasses, we were pretty sure we had our guys.
After explaining that he "might have to call in stoked to work today," Billy introduced us to Ryan Dafoe, close friend and comrade since Day 1 of the downhill Sporting Sail experiments. Wasting no time, all 15 of us excitedly piled into cars and drove a short distance to an ideal downhill section in the Santa Ynez Mountains.
Billy put on one of his Sporting Sails, strapping the bottom corners to his ankles and sliding his wrists through loops at the other end of the military-grade parachute nylon, which measures about 5-by-6-feet when fully inflated. He was mid-sentence when he must have concluded that showing us how the Sporting Sails work would be much easier than any sort of verbal explanation. In a red-and-white-striped tuck, Billy raced down the mountain road toward an S-turn (and a significant drop-off), deploying his flying-squirrel-type suit at the last second, creating just enough drag to make it around the corner. After disappearing from sight for a minute, he came running back up the mountain, his smile even wider than before.
"Alright!" he said. "Who's next?"
First Descents and Dissenters... at First
When no hands shot into the air, Ryan and Billy alternated descents, demonstrating that the Sporting Sails could also be used to slow the entire ride to a safer, more controlled speed, and not just to temporarily brake for death-defying turns.
"We're not trying to reinvent the wheel," Billy says. "We're trying to reinvent the descent."
Along those lines, Billy and Ryan have been making a number of first descents down mountain roads in a style that has never before been possible.
"The philosophy with the sail is to be able to make a descent without ever having to slide out or put your hands or feet on the ground," Billy says. "It's our version of a 'clean descent.'"
By giving the rider stability, control and speed management, Sporting Sails enable higher velocities with lower risk. Of course, no product can replace the ability needed to carve down pavement at breakneck speeds, but Sporting Sails have made it possible for experts and beginners alike to have longer, smoother and safer rides.
"It's really about reading and remembering the lines that you draw in the land," Ryan says. "From there, it becomes a whole new way to ride the same old skateboard."
Exemplifying yet another paradox, skateboarding's newest invention is allowing people to skate in a style that harkens back to some of the sport's oldest traditions.
Learning to Fly
Convinced that life and limb were in good hands, we eventually "trusted the sails." Each of us got a chance to try out the new form of skateboarding that few individuals have had the privilege of experiencing. Sporting Sails have only been sold commercially for 10 months. As advertised, the sails add an element of stability and comfort to the ride, while allowing for tighter, more precise turns at the same time.
The beauty of the sails is that it's up to the individual skater to decide when and where he or she wants to deploy them. Even on the exact same hill, two riders could get to the bottom in drastically different times based on their own styles of sail-skating.
We were all a little bummed out when it was time to go, but Billy and Ryan were kind enough to leave us with a few Sporting Sails so that we could attempt some first descents of our own in the county's expansive backcountry. Readers interested in buying Sporting Sails can find them at Arbor Santa Barbara on State Street.
As the two friends hopped back into their ride, they encouraged us to experiment with the sails in creative ways, from surfing and standup paddling to the product's original application on the ski slopes. While they don't formally recommend using Sporting Sails to jump from granite cornices (as a friend of theirs in Chile does), they are stoked to be working with a group of long-distance skateboarders (longtreksonskatedecks.com) on a series of cross-country rides around the world.