How to Slalom

The basic principal of slalom is simple. Lay some obstacles on the ground and go around them as fast as you can. You do not need any special equipment. Any board can do this and tin cans provide excellent, and available, obstacles. You don’t even need special places, I learnt on paving slabs. Of course specialist equipment will give you greater performance but they will not be any better at teaching you the technique. Therefore there are two aspects to becoming proficient at slalom, technique and equipment.

Technique

Feet

The first thing to change from normal riding is the foot position. In slalom it is better to adopt a more forward facing stance. This gives the benefit of looking forward through the course to plan the best line. Also your centre of gravity is directly over the board which will give more grip, and you will be able to travel through the obstacles faster as your body will need to move less. To enable this it means that your feet should be pointing forward. The ideal angle is between 30 and 45 degrees from the normal “surf” stance, but gaining a comfortable stance is more important. The balls of your front foot should be just behind the front truck and the heel of your rear foot level with the rear truck. (see dia 1) This foot position can take a long time to get used to, but it is worth perfecting as it will greatly improve your performance. With your feet over the trucks you will place more weight on the wheels and gain more grip. The balancing of your weight will give you better board control and can be aided by how you set your board up, see equipment. This foot stance also enables you to turn faster. To turn left, if regular footed, you push your weight down on your front foot heel, to turn right you put your weight on the rear foot toe. This way each foot controls the direction of turn. You will notice on nearly all photos of slalomers, especially when turning backside, that their rear foot is on their toes, when they are placing most weight on it. Therefore you will be able to traverse the obstacles at the same speed that you can run on the spot. This technique will easily allow 6 obstacles per second, in ideal conditions. Obviously this is not always the case and there are many courses where the cones are at greater distances and the mph is a lot faster. In these cases more weight will need to be placed on the rear truck to gain more speed through greater traction. You will also find the slalomers with a muck lower stance as they try to lower their centre of gravity. The feet seem a lot flatter in this type of slalom but the stance remains the same.

Arms

Arms are very important to get through the course. They have two purposes, the first is to steer and the second is to balance. Steering can be helped when you use your strength to throw your weight down as you push on either your heel or your toe. This gives a quicker response to the turn. Generally speaking you push down on the opposite arm than the direction you wish to turn, and you push out, or up, with the arm on the side you wish to turn to throw your body weight over. Photos/Videos often show slalomers at the apex of the cone with their inside arm up, pushing them over, and their outside arm across.

The second element is balance. The arm leaning into the turn counter act the centrifugal force of the turn and allow you to lean over more, increasing the amount of turn. When the board is sliding the arms drop, to lower the centre of gravity, and to stabilise the skater. However they are still used to help turn, but control has a greater priority. High speed giant courses often require less “brute-force” to get through and require more control of line to grain the best speed. Here balance and line control are more important as the boards tend to slide more and there is not the necessity to turn sharply.

Pumping

This is the most critical skill and the most difficult to teach and to learn. There are many types of pumping techniques, which individually may seem difficult but collectively help explain the phenomenon. On ramps you pump a board at the bottom of the ramp to give you more speed to go up the other side. You use you body weight to project you forward and your arms to throw your body weight forward. Another form of pumping is tic-tac or space walks. If you wheeley and turn 45° left then right you will be projected forward. This is a form of pumping.

The ramp used the critical energy point, the bottom of the ramp transition, where the board is under most G-force and stress, and uses this to push the board forward. The tic-tac or space walk used the critical point, the turning, to project the board forward. Slalom uses both of these principles. The critical point is at the apex of the cone or obstacle. The most weight is being pushed down and the wheels are under most stress. By using body weight and arm movement it is possible to project forward like on a ramp, and due to the turning, in the same way as a tic-tac or spacewalk. When you hear slalomers pumping there is a sound difference as they reach the apex of the cone and applying a pump. The sharper the turn the better the pump, which is the same with the other methods, the tighter the ramp the faster the exit. Practice is the only way to get this, but good foot and arm movements almost make it a natural process.

Lines

Picking the correct line through a course is critical on some courses and less so on others. The greater the cone spacing the more line becomes important, and the less potential there is to pump. Modern races are so close that 1mm off line could loose you the race. When top racers skate you can sometimes see two lines of urethane on the road where each skater has used the same line. Generally the apex is found when your board is pointing directly down the hill or course.

This however is not always the case. Gate cones need a different line and offer a greater challenge. You need to plan your line early to get the best exit and angle through it. These can win or loose you the race.

Sometimes you know there is a difficult cone coming and you want to prepare for it, maybe cutting in early to give you more time. The Cut-in technique will help you. This can be used to slow down also as it makes the turn tighter which will loose you speed.

Weight

Sliding is bad. It looses you speed and can hurt. There are three types of slide: rear wheel, the back whips around you; Front wheel, the front drifts away from you; drift, where all four slide at the same time. A drift is ideal and gives the greatest chance of success. Next comes a rear wheel slide which can also be used as a brake, and lastly is the fatal front wheel slide which is normally disastrous. Slides are controlled by your body weight balance over each truck. The more weight over each truck gives traction. How you distribute you weight when turning and pumping will determine how much grip you will gain. If you have good weight distribution then you will drift. The position of your feet is critical in balance and weight distribution.

Equipment

Any skateboard can be used for slalom. You just need to loosen the trucks. The first skill is to develop the technique and specialist slalom boards will only allow you to go faster and tighter. There is no shames starting with cones meters apart. In the 1970s there were limited boards and most people learnt on their “normal”, and probably only, board. Boards were thinner in those days which would help but basically the same principles apply.At some point you will need a specialist board. These differ from normal skateboards in many ways. Every aspect of a slalom board is specially made for this event.

Decks

The decks are a different shape when compared to street boards. The main difference is that it is cut away to remove the risk of “wheel-rubout”, where the wheel rubs against the deck when turning. This allows you a tighter turning radius. They are also generally cambered, raised in the centre along the length, and flat along the width, and they are flexible. The flex and camber allow for a more effective pump and a slightly lower centre of gravity at the apex. They are made from either fibreglass/Canadian maple laminate or carbon fibre, the later being most expensive but not necessarily better. The two constructs ride differently and the type is down to personal preference.

Trucks

The trucks at the front are normally around 101mm and have a tighter angled pivot on the baseplate, which increases the ease and degree of turn of the truck. The aim is to try to get the board to turn slightly quicker at the front. Some skaters use “Rad Pad” or angled riser pads to further increase the angle of the front truck. The lower the back end of the baseplate is to the ground the greater the turning angle. The rear truck has less turning potential and some skaters use “traction control” trucks, where the centre of gravity is lower and more central, to increase grip. These are expensive. Special soft bushings are also used to help the truck turn.

Wheels

The wheels are specially made for slalom with shapes that offer more grip. They are very fast and gripy and come in different durometers, hardness. The softer they are the gripier, but slower, except on rough surfaces. Wheels are chosen for the type of course, speed, temperature and surface. A harder wheel is generally used at the front and a softer on at the rear. Generally 88 at front and 78 at rear. There are now also a range of sizes. Bigger faster courses require bigger wheels, but they accelerate slower.Also the bearings are normally expensive and precision made. Titanium and ceramic options are rapidly being adopted

Setting up your board

This is the most critical of all aspects of racing. The basic things you change are as follows:

Trucks

The trucks should be just tight enough to get you through the course. The greater the pressure you put on the turn the greater the pump. If they are too tight you will not make the course, but if they are too loose you will not be able to generate speed.

Wheels base

The greater the wheel base the greater potential there is for the board to maintain its speed, like downhill boards. It will also be more stable and turn less.

Wheels

All considerations must be made to get the most from the wheels and bearings. Only experimentation will guide you here. If it feel on the edge but manageable then it is probably OK. If you are sliding go softer, if not go harder. If the surface feels rough, go softer etc.
Also the greater the diameter the better they maintain speed but the slower they accelerate.

Decks

Decks are different even the same type. Some are better at big courses, others for pumping and others for grip. It’s a nightmare out there. Look at what others are doing.

Chris Linford

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