The X Games is less then 10 years old. Some sports and athletics are virtually unchanged since their origins thousands of years ago in Ancient Greece, but most extreme sports are breathtakingly new. This sense of newness may be one of the factors behind the unbelievable amount of innovation that can be seen in the world of boarding today. Both athletes and gear manufactures are aware they are on the cutting edge of a new world, and so it sometimes feels like anything is possible.
One of the more exciting variations on the theme of riding a flat object on a surface in an attempt to achieve pure awesomeness was invented by Steen Strand in 1996. While trying to earn his M.A. in product design at Stanford, he created a variation on the traditional skateboard. By adding two spring-locked wheels to the center, that turned freely 360 degrees, and bindings that enabled more control and pressure on the corners, his new board design could slide latterly, like a snowboarder. The exciting end result was the ability to “snowboard on pavement.” This new device, which Strand named a Freebord, a fusion of skateboarding and snowboarding gives the rider the ability to perform both carve turns and slide turns on any skate-able surface. The end result is a thrilling fusion of multiple actions sports, allowing a blending of techniques that would otherwise seem impossible. Among some of the more than 5,240 Youtube videos that come up when I searched for “freeboarding,” I saw amazing examples of riders gliding sideways with the rapid smoothness, flexible dexterity, and quick rotations of the best snowboarders, but with higher jumps and flips permitted on the steeper, bumpier, terrain of skateboarding.
Although true masters make it look effortless, freeboarding can sometimes be tricky with a steep learning curve, and falling down at first is considered inevitable. However, most riders say they are able to gain confidence by starting on gentle hills and getting more advanced with practice. Experienced freeboarders are able to carve down hills in wide sweeping motions, as well as sliding outward and close to the board’s edge. There are also more advanced techniques such as jumping off ramps in a stall, or placing hands on the ground to rotate totally around. When bombing a hill, an experienced rider can get up to 50 miles per hour.
Today, the original Freeboard company based in San Francisco has more then 92,000 Facebook likes. An official message board includes 227 threads of freeboarders from different places all over the world looking for likeminded riders. Thus, the popularity of this emerging sport is growing as more and more skateboarding and snowboarding enthusiasts discover it. Freebord’s pro team features 9 riders between the ages of 19 and 30, people from all over the U.S., Australia, Spain, and Switzerland. Some are skateboarders like Daniel Clay excited by new possibilities of “bombing hills with speed control and maneuverability.” Others like David Schiotis were snowboarders who got impatient of waiting for winter, and wanted to shred all year long. Both have reason to be intrigued by the freedom allowed by this new device that allows riders, in the words of Steen Strand, the ultimate flexibility to “carve, slide, slow down, and stop whenever they want.” People from both worlds can come together, brining their expertise to learn this new skill, adding to an exciting, growing community of enthusiasts.