The Renaissance (2000 on)

Where did it all come back?

PC Airflow decks 2000

For die-hard racers such as the LSD crowd including Clingfilm, Price, Drayton, Floyd, Nutsac and Stride, competition had never really gone away. Often it had taken other forms such as snowboarding and cycling, but the urge to skate lay within them.

Many UK skaters had stopped at the end of the seventies because of continuous bad weather and the killing of the California ideal. Skateboarding had become ‘punk’ and a vehicle for self expression. In this world, competition was a rude word. In addition, the media wanted to see extreme aerials and crash test dummies, street tricks and devastating roadrash. The skaters simply followed where the media and sponsors guided them, leaving in their wake a trail of slacker trousers and sweatshop trainers. It would take independence of spirit to break through the slick-marketed media crash-lifestyle back to the surf roots of slalom skateboarding.

Or a change in the media. The millennium saw the internet coming of age. Weird new sites were set up, but also environments that allowed questions about a nostalgic past that previously had no avenues for discussion. Friends Reunited. Yahoo search engine.  What had happened to slalom? And where is everyone?

NCDSA (North California Downhill Skating Association) was an early chat site that addressed the importance of skate history within its legion of discussion topics. Many of the questions about racing were raised, and on the 11th of May 1999, NCDSA had a Slalom forum to provide the answers. The webmaster, Adam, even put on informal slalom meets for interested longboarders.

In the States there was no kit currently in manufacture, so much of the slalom chat at that time was a voyage of discovery for new competitors. Many questions were asked. How far apart should you space cones? What wheels should you use, on what deck and with which trucks? What’s the preferred wheelbase, how is it measured, and why do existing slalom skaters use wedged risers and trimmed wheels? What older material is still usable and what modern kit can be forced to work? Flex or none?

From these discussions,  various bits of vintage kit were earmarked as the most technically advantageous for racing. Regarded as a must-have, there was a run on the well-reputed Tom Peterson Hyper Strada wheels, the slalom rider putting softer urethane in front and harder at back. Similarly, old Trackers, Lazer Slaloms and ACS 651 trucks were sought out, whilst the holy grail of decks, the Turner Cutaways, passed hands at a premium.

In 2001, Comet skateboards developed new signature race models for Fat City Racing’s O’Shea brothers and Gary Cross. G&S Fibreflex, now in the control of Larry Gordon’s daughter, Debbie Saili, worked in conjunction with ‘Attila’ Aszodi to produce the company’s first new slalom deck since the early ’90s Beau Brown design; the new model was called ‘The Response.’ Where the Comet boards were broad in shape for surf-stance riders, the Response followed the traditional ski-stance design with cutaway nose and tail.

In Europe, slalom had continued as an underground movement, with manufacturers in Switzerland producing carving longboards that emulated their Winter pursuit of snowboarding. Small companies such as PC/ Airflow, Summit and Indiana produced super-flexible, narrow pumping machines that were designed to be both urban cruisers and mountain carvers. Where Indiana sponsored top Italian skater Luca Giammarco, Airflow’s way of increasing awareness was to run free test boards at sites such as Zurich station and to organise slalom and boardercross events such as the ‘Mad Cow’ series.

Back in the States the plundering of vintage gear had started, as outlaw races began to spring up at new build estate roads and classic sites such as La Costa, Cambria and West LA College. The announcement by organiser Jack Smith of a Nationals Race at Morro Bay on May 20th 2001 served to accelerate the arms fervor for vintage and new product, especially when he changed its title to that of 2001 World Championships. No other global competition had staked a claim to this elevated title, nor was likely to.

New decks, the easiest part to manufacture, were the first to appear. When his son, Dylan, showed a flair for racing, successful IT mogul and enthusiast racer Howard Gordon went into partnership with Bobby Turner to re-start the seventies iconic slalom company, Turner Downhill.

Maurus Strobel vs Gary Cross, Morro Bay World Championships 2001

The Worlds in Morro Bay saw the two Us and European scenes gel together. The UK was represented by Pig City rider Simon Levene, and by Paul Price and Martin Drayton, two LSD skaters who were returning to skateboarding after Wintering in the States as snowboard instructors.

Indiana sponsored Swiss Rider, Maurus Strobel, battled with the American Gary Cross in the Worlds final, with Cross gaining the 2001 over-all victory on the widely spaced, non-technical course.

Slalom was now truly international again, rather than operating in isolated pockets of dedicated enthusiasts.

Wheel development:

Where a slalom deck had a long shelf life (unlike a street deck it is not subjected to repeated heavy impact), slalom wheels were prone to a high wear rate, especially those on the driving rear truck. Furthermore, urethane formulas had developed considerably since the seventies and so a similar modern pouring offered much more grip and speed than its vintage counterpart. Tooling up for new shapes is expensive (especially for such a small market), so proven cores and moulds were used by manufacturers in order to offer up own-branded contemporary product.

Fibreflex produced a contemporary Hyper Strada copy that picked up the nick-name FibreStrada as a complimentary reference to its origin. It was offered in only one durometer, 78a. Similar shaped wheels were
also offered by Comet with their Meteor and wheel manufacturing giant Kryptonics, with the KrypGrip. Both available in two durometers 78 &88a – effectively ‘front’ and ‘rear.’

Chris Chaput of Abec 11 already had a successful range of downhill ‘Flywheels’ on the market, so his research into traction and speed in urethane formulas had by and large been covered and was directly convertible to slalom product. Late in 2001, Abec 11 produced the first full durometer range of slalom wheels, the Stinger series, offering up a genuine race solution for all tarmac surface temperatures and conditions. A shape resembling the classic Road Rider’ shape, all Stingers only came in company green. Sharpies (marker pens) became the popular accessory to a wheelset so that durometer could be permanently noted on the inside of each wheel. This was because the printed graphics lasted right up until a wheel was actually used.

Deck Development:

Appearing at the early races was Gareth Roe, an engineer in carbon technology who produced his own deck, the ‘Bottle Rocket,’ using carbon fibre with a foam core in the cutaway ski-stance shape. From his website:

“RoeRacing was started in the fall of 2001 when Gareth received a few requests to build slalom skateboards. The sport of slalom skateboard racing had seemingly died out about a decade earlier, and no one at that time was making slalom-specific equipment.

When legendary racer Jack Smith hosted a get-together for slalom fans in Morro Bay, California, there was no new quality equipment to be found anywhere. Taking matters in to his own hands, Gareth built a board based on some old notes and a design that was over 30 years old.

With necessity being the mother of invention, and with some help from several guys that Gareth met at Jack’s little slalom event – Henry Hester, Terence Kirby, and John Gilmour – Gareth further refined the technique and came up with the first batch of high performance slalom boards available to the general public in over a decade.”

Gareth wan’t the only person to be approached for boards. In the 70s and 80s, Rick Howell had produced beautiful custom made decks that rivalled Turner in performance. Now in 2002, and with encouragement from ‘Badlands’ racers such as Charlie Ransom and ‘The Professor’ Steve Evans, Rick once again started to produce his ‘Ick Stick’ designs in wood, foam and fibreglass. These including the Carrera, which had wheelarches that worked as foot blocks on the  upside of the deck and was a strong influence on the highly regarded Pavel Skates ‘Paul Price Roadster.’

Gareth Roe / Seismic trucks/ Dan Gesmer/ 3dm/ BLR/ FCR

Here’s Dan Gesmer’s (Seismic Skates) take on the slalom renaissance back in 2002 from a US perspective:

Slalom turns in a remarkable comeback
By Daniel Gesmer

For the past year, legendary Dogtown protégés Steve Olson and Dave Hackett have been squaring off against each other almost every month, competing head-to-head for $1,000 pro purses. No, it’s not an Old School pool contest series. It’s the renaissance of slalom skateboarding, and these Grand Masters of cool are way into it – together with dedicated pro competitors, amateur enthusiasts of all ages and both genders, and racing legends from previous eras such as Tommy Ryan, Henry Hester and John Hutson.

Veteran racer and former standup speed record-holder Jack Smith, one of the key players in the current movement, distinguished slalom from aggressive skating as follows:

“The main difference is you turn. You don’t ollie. You do it on hills. It’s very equipment-oriented. You have to have equipment that works. All the image in the world will not win you a slalom race. You have to beat your competitor based on performance, not on a judge’s whim.”

The mainstream skateboard press offers little indication yet, but slalom-specific gear is now available from a surprising number of U.S. companies – decks by Bahne, Comet, Ick, Pocket Pistol, Roe and Turner; trucks from Seismic, Tracker and Turner; wheels from ABEC-11, Bahne and Turner. European brands include Airflow, Indiana and Summit.

Slalom decks typically have no nose or tail and include a flexible camber that racers work like a spring to propel themselves out of turns. Trucks are engineered for quicker, more powerful steering, while wheels are designed to optimize both speed and grip.

According to Turner Downhill head Howard Gordon, who is carrying the torch lit by the late legendary deck craftsman Bob Turner, “Slalom is a considerably different sport, a lot closer in its roots to the carving of skiing or snowboarding or, for that matter, surfing. It’s all about speed and long lines and the excitement of powering down the hill.”

Along with flatland freestyle, slalom was one of skateboarding’s original disciplines, taking obvious inspiration from slalom skiing. Virtually all major competitions in the 1960s and mid-70s featured a slalom event, including a famous show-down between Hester and Tony Alva televised on ABC Wide World of Sports as part of the 1976 Carlsbad Hang Ten World Championships.

Slalom was prime fodder for network sports television as late as 1978, when CBS Sports Spectacular broadcast the FreeFormer World Championships in Akron, Ohio. But momentum in the late 70s shifted decisively to aggressive styles, and by the early 80s the U.S. slalom scene had mostly dissipated.

Things were different in Europe. During the late 80s and early 90s, slalom blossomed there thanks in large measure to multi-time Swedish and European champion Jani Soderhall. He published a ’zine (Slalom!) and ran an international organization (ISSA) that sanctioned high-profile races throughout the continent, occasionally drawing top racers from the U.S.

The 1993 Jeux de Pyrenées, an alternative-sport Olympiad sanctioned by the French and Spanish Olympic Committees, included slalom and standup downhill skateboarding, and also helped inspire the X-Games. But slalom momentum never carried from Europe to the American skate scene, which likes to start its own trends.

European slalom lulled a few years later, but American interest began regrouping in the late 90s with crossover energy from longboard and downhill enthusiasts, pollinated internationally via the vigorous discussion forums on Adam Nathanson’s highly-influential website at

Scott Peer, head of the Westwood Ski Club, kick-started the renaissance in 2000 by including slalom in his series of luge, standup skateboard and inline races at West LA College.

The most significant turning point came in May 2001, when Jack Smith boldly staged the World Championships in his hometown Morro Bay. First conceived as a national championship, interest from foreign racers prompted Smith to recast the event as an international showdown. Comet racer Gary Cross took first place in the pro class, with Swiss racer Maurus Strobel, representing Indiana, finishing a close second.

The success of the Morro Bay and subsequent events encouraged Smith and 1970s slalom competitors John Krisik and Don O’Shei to organize the FCR (Fat City Racing) series. It consists of eight races with both pro and open divisions,

and it culminates this October in Morro Bay with the 2002 Worlds. The fifth FCR contest, held in July on the historic slalom hills of La Costa, was broadcast several times in mid-August on the Fox Sports network.

Gordon has observed steady growth in the number of participants at the elite-class events. “The World Championships drew 70 racers from around the world. By the end of last year, we had 80 or 90 just from the U.S. competing at La Costa. This year the FCR pro series has definitely helped move the sport forward.

“A lot of the participants are coming from snowboarding, skiing or surfing. So we’re tapping a different group of folks. That’s exciting for traditional skate shops who’re looking to develop new markets.” Said FCR series cofounder Krisik, who also heads Life-Link Int’l (parent company of Croakies and Daggers), “Here’s the deal. On a slalom board, you can carve like you’re on a snowboard. That’s the big discovery all the kids make. Unfortunately, that also indicates that the modern streetboard can’t turn.”

Smith listed other factors that contributed to the renaissance:

“You had this age group of guys who still wanted to skate but not necessarily ramp, vertical or street. Slalom is something they could still do with a great deal of skill. And they now have the time and the money to travel. “There’s also the high school reunion factor. The World Championships last year were similar to a high school reunion. An interesting part of racing today is, you’ve got guys who grew up reading about legends like Henry Hester and John Hutson. Now they get to race against their old idols and afterwards drink beer together and listen to great stories. “A lot of the guys who’re racing have children, too, and this is a way for them to enjoy skating with their kids. They can show little Johnny that Daddy used to rip and he can still rip.”

The American revival may spark renewed developments overseas, with plans already underway to stage a major event next year in Soderhall’s adopted hometown of Paris. As gear offerings multiply and past enthusiasts return in expanding numbers, the main question is: Will slalom catch on among younger skaters? Increasing numbers of regional contests, such as the Grass Roots series, suggest solid potential for the future.

Said Gordon, “Definitely what powered the resurgence was the return of racers from 25 years ago, but a lot of participants are new. My kids (Lauren, age 13, and Dylan, age 10) and I discovered slalom only a year ago, and now we all compete in the FCR races. My daughter gets to race against other girls as well as ladies who raced pro in the 70s, and my son has become great friends with other kid racers as well as pros like Hackett, Hester, Richy Carrasco, Brad Edwards and many others. It’s been a super experience.” Smith added, “Many of the current contenders raced back in the day, but at every event we’re getting more and more younger competitors – both boys and girls. When they try it, kids enjoy it. They can measure their improvement. It’s a work-reward program. They begin running a course at the start of the day, and by the end of the day they’ve shaved off two seconds.”

But Smith suggested that a Catch-22 has previously limited opportunities to expose younger skaters to slalom through mainstream skateboard channels. ‘In the past when I’ve approached the skateboard media about slalom, editors have told me that kids aren’t interested in it. My comment to them is, “How would you know? You’ve never shown slalom to the kids.” ’

A sea change is clearly underway. Said FCR series points leader and Turner Team captain Paul Dunn,

“We’re all here to celebrate the spirit of racing using skateboards. Racing improves the breed. There’s no subjectivity to it. It’s all timed events. You are forced to make yourself faster with technique and equipment. All you need are a stack of cones and an empty parking lot.

“Slalom gear is an easy sale once you have a few participants, and it’ self-perpetuating because people need to move up on equipment levels as they get better. Granted, slalom decks will outlast your average street board by years, but there will eventually be a need for any serious rider to own many different decks.”

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