downhill skateboarding

Deeply rooted adrenaline addiction, dabbling in various ranges of trauma and complete disregard for self-preservation aside, skating down a mountain has a lot to give. I’ll be building this page out progressively but for now I’ve only got access to a few trips, until I reunite with some hard-drives.

This rant is downhill-centric but my downhill & photography life share timelines and are intrinsically linked.  In early 2009 I got my first camera which practically consumed my entire existence, I dropped out of Uni to pursue pleasure and obviously it was one of the all times.  I was working at Goodtime and in June of that year one of my work mates showed me a video of two dudes in suits skating down a giant mountain on longboards.  Up until that point, only taking photos (and love) had managed to consume my desires so comprehensively but here was skating down a hill – something I’d done my whole life, but not in this way… The very thought of finding a giant mountain to skate down, in control of your destiny, was wild and I’m not hellbent on adrenaline, more so a mere dabbler.

There I was, dealing with two simultaneous bouts of extreme carnal and selfish desires for fun – perhaps the peril/glory of finally leaving the up-until-that-point life-long routine of school and uni.  I entered into comprehensively focusing on two things: skating down hills and taking photos.  In the beginning they were mutually exclusive but it wasn’t long before I began taking , what I thought were, nice photos and was started shooting downhill for my blogspot and Goodtime’s social media – thanks Gail (true legend status).

In another stroke of luck, a downhill magazine came into fruition around the same time and was based an hour away on the Gold Coast thanks to the master Kurt Nischel.  I got to cut my teeth in the world of editorial photography and for the first time in my life realised that making a living off photography wasn’t party grommets and events – another pivotal moment in my photography, downhill and the desire to combine them into a single entity of ultimate existential pleasure.  

I met Chad Gibson, a phenom, and we went all in.  Obviously I was doing other things, but when I look back It feels like all we did was look for big hills to skate and shoot (and work at Goodtime).  We grew together into professionalism, as he was getting to skate a bunch and being exposed by me, who had an epic rider to work with – this epoch was the time I started shooting more commercially and was really starting to focus on photos.  Through Chad I met Adam Yates and it was love at first site, mostly because of his impassioned rant about hammocks, but mainly because he looked at it differently to pretty much everyone I’d skated with, including myself.  He was all about riding a hill to feel the lines and not crash into a guardrail – perhaps moreso than ever, because that first meeting was one of the first times he skated a mountain after getting hit by a car.  Nonetheless I fell even further in love with it.  To basically surf down a mountain without worrying I was going to die was one of Yatedawg’s many and perhaps greatest teachings – for him I am ever wiser.  I’m living up in Canada, in the grips of Covid, so seeing him is a while off now but how I wait our glorious reunite. 

I was on my way to Adelaide for a wedding, or maybe a birthday, and Kurt told me that there was a race being held in the Barossa Valley on a hill-climb track called Collingrove. This was the first event I’d been to that I wasn’t going to skate in and also the first time, and was pretty stoked to watch some of the names I’d come to learn of through the magazine.  About 5 steps out of the car this chap called Gabe Gwynne came over with a smile suggested we cruise around together.  Over the next 6 years I’d go on multiple trips with this legend, countless gigalitres of froth aside, he was and still is one of my favourite humans to lurk with.  We toured NZ, Japan and eventually lived together up in Vancouver for a short stint – basically until winter came and I had to leave for obvious reasons…

In 2012 I went to Europe on a non-skate-related mission but persuaded the powers-at-be to check out the Kozakov World Cup Race in Czech Republic. I’d been to the two Aussie World Cup events but those hills (Keira & Bathurst) didn’t have the same level of technical braking, and up until that point, I’d not really skated any roads that require that – in Brisbane we’d either just do big skids, or skate mountains that required no sliding.  Watching 4 people sliding at 90km/h within a few meters of each other was wild. WILD.  Louis Pilloni (praise) asked me what my moves were and we made some very frail plans to meet somewhere in Italy.  I made the drive down and forgot about the whole skating scenario as I was consumed by the Alps and what it’s like photographing in them – we don’t really have mountains in Australia, they’re moreso big hills.  I ran into the crew in the Dolomites and was torn between whether my heart was going to fail from the fear of skating this 44 hairpin giant-mountain road, or from meeting the gods of downhill – James Kelly, Matt K, Louis, Scoot, Adam Persson etc.  Getting down that mountain sealed the deal and I was (and still am) spending the majority of my time involved with this pastime – I don’t skate mountains very often, barely is probably a better descriptor, but I still shoot & live by DH and run e-commerce & social media for Landyachtz.

In Feb/March 2013 Matt K asked me along to N-Tense D-Centz – a bus tour for bigwigs around NZ’s Northland with a great crew.  As far as my own personal downhill experience goes, it was probably my favourite trip as I got to skate everything – it would be the last trip I would take where I wasn’t on it purely for photo work. I never stopped skating on trips, but it turned into a few cheeky runs at the end of the day and not the sole focus.  After that trip Adam put me in touch with his sponsor Landyachtz to see if they wanted to buy any shots and they did – they paid me substantially more than I ever thought a DH photo was worth and within 2 months I did my first trip with them and took on a staff photographer role from that point on.  What a relief it was, freelance life was brutal and I never shot downhill in a freelance capacity ever again.  Since then, excluding a self-induced life developmental hiatus in 2017/18, I’ve shot with Landyachtz.  The notions I saw in Yates on that very first meeting carried through their entire ethos and their modesty and altruism have helped me find fulfilment in both work and photography, probably a level that’ll live on in my mind as the apex of bliss in my life.

Getting stuck into the staff role with Landyachtz had a tonne of perks, mainly trips & Guff.  They had just kicked off the Skate & Explore era and sent us around the world to prove it, which we did, in widely varying levels of grace… Over the years I spent countless hours with Guff as he was always there with my taking care of the  video demands.  You’ve certainly seen his videos and he’s certainly responsible for making some of the most timeless downhill movies you’ll see, and he’s still doing it.  Lurking corners with Guff was a leading factor on my pre-trip excitement and after 7 years I still look forward to sharing a corner with the guy.  Don’t get me wrong, I will forever cherish relationships I’ve made with skaters along the way, but while they were busy bombing we were waiting for the feint whirr of wheels and wind, maybe a puck slap if we were lucky.  

Thanks downhill for giving me so much meaning, and all it took was sacrificing a few square meters of skin to the gods of gravel rash – who’d’ve thought.

Adam YAtes – Gold Coast

Australia

Stomping Ground

Being the area I cut my downhill (and photography) teeth it’s hard to summarise Australia’s state of being because I’m not sure which epoch is most true so I’m going to make it personal.  Australia is huge and it’s sprawl both created and facilitated it’s epic roads. The Great Diving Range spans the entire east coast and is riddled with some seriously long mountain bombs and, bless it’s soul, the reason for the rainforests and hinterlands of Australia – perhaps my favourite macroclimate on earth. The freeride boom didn’t really require anyone to head out of the city as most of our cities are very hilly and there’s plenty of speed to be had in town, if you’re willing to danger-ride your way past parked cars and blind driveways.  

Brisbane’s steep streets gave way to some insane growth in freeriding and had the biggest number of downhill skaters, but it was probably the big mountains of western Brisbane, Southern Sydney & Northern Adelaide that were the places big mountain DH in Australia progressed the most.  My yearly pilgrimage to Bathurst and Keira World Cups were what really exposed me to the variety of hills and riders out there and finding a new crew every few hours was a huge perk.  Perhaps it’s my knowledge of the place, but I certainly rate Australia as the best place to downhill-skate – based on it’s variety in roads, pavements and isolation.  It lacks the mega mountain roads of the European Alps and the ludicrous curves of Malibu but the variety is unrivalled – and Euro’s big mountains get a bit boring after the 30th hairpin, dare I say.  

Australia is a place where you can know a place like the back of your hand but constantly to find new and epic roads, and the glass ceiling of progression is high.  The first picture in the gallery is case in point – I used to ride my motorbike along this range just west of Brisbane and that particular section was a road I thought would never be ridden with any real conviction to speed but I still rate as one of the gnarliest roads to take a DH board down.  The pavement is chunky and haggard, made worse by it’s tremendous lumps made by the Aussie sun’s ability to cook a road & the trucks that drive up it.  There was a time, probably in the mid 2010s that I would dreamscape videos of people riding it.  

Fast forward to 2019 and my long-term friends Josh Evans & Max Heaton took me there with World Champ Harry Clarke to show me that this monstrous hill was now very much within the spectrum of rideable hills – these guys are some of the best skaters on the planet, so it’s slightly more acceptable, but even still, it’s insane.  I’m still shocked tbh with you.  This anecdote summarises the Aussie scene to me and why I think it’s the raddest on the planet, bias included.

Api Ihaia chasing Kevin Reimer – Whistler World Cup

Canada

BC & Racing 

Downhill in Canada is a mix of mountain highway bombs, races and suburban danger riding, three things that are sure to mess with your heartrate.  At first I didn’t really get the appeal, especially because highway bombing terrified me to the core – regardless of the marginal pavement and logging trucks… And that’s between the 5 months of snow and rain.  Over time I started to not only see why they ride the way the do, but began to enjoy their particular version of skateboarding.  I came into the sport well after the OG Canadian crews had started their run, and back then there was no freeriding or basically anything like what we were doing in Brisbane. I knew about group like Striker/Coast Longboarding but to experience it was something else.

 

I was well entrenched in Landyachtz by the time I made it up here so my exposure is definitely to their circle and the trips they wanted to do around the province – and lot of city fun, like Alley skating and beer-crusing.  This definitely worked in my favour as they knew the place well, having been skating it, as an official entity, for 14 years before I arrived.  These photos are mostly BC and that has mostly been my experience, but over the years skating Montreal, and the Alberta Rockies have been a highlight.  I’ll get that content on here at some time in the future.

 

With Landy I’ve been able to get a pretty good feel of BC and it’s rad, but scary.  Everything is so huge and wild, that its hard to feel at ease, and when you’re already riddled with the emotional challenges of foreign travel & downhill skating it made me feel pretty overwhelmed.  I live here now and things are a bit different but it’s still the most wild place I’ve skated, and even mellow roads are on another level. 

Billy Bones & Dillon Stephens ~ Bergamo

Italy

Italian Alps & Mt Vesuvius

Italian hills are dooooope.

Kyle Martin ~ Fuxing District

Taiwan

Taipei to Taroko gorge 

 

If someone had told me beforehand, and in hindsight, I’m certain Adam did, that Taiwan was going to be one of the best places I’d visit for downhill I would’ve thought maybe.  Yet, before we’d even left Taipei I was certain that If I wanted to tour somewhere on my own time this was the place.

The crew was a bit smaller than other Landyachtz Skate And Explore trips but it was certainly a quality over quantity situation with Adam Yates, Billy Bones, Kyle Martin and Guff.    The coastline is unreal, the mountains are aggressively wild and the people are RAD.  What really shocked me was the quality of their roads and as the place is so immensely riddled with mountains, even the highest mountain pass has a near perfect road.  What wasn’t perfect was that most of the good roads are on the side of a cliff, the kind of cliff on which hitting the guard-rail is your best bet for survival.  Combine this with the trucks making very questionable moves, such as punching bettel nut all day long, driving in the middle of the road and having to water cool their brakes certainly ramped up the danger.

As scary as it was it was hard to worry considering the paradise we were in.  Especially considering that Taiwan has the 2nd highest ratio in the world of convenience stores to population, and most of them are 7-11s with a fridge full of fantastic Asian beers and a warm-food section that made this tour one of my all-time favourites.  I will forever be thankful to the Tiger Surf Shop crew that made this tour one of my favourites – legend status, if you’re ever in Taipei check them out!!

Click to watch Landyachtz Skate & Explore Tawian 

This photo below was shot on the same road as the first image in the gallery below, the cliff-side one…

Dillon Stephens ~ Transalpina

Romania

Transalpina – Carpathian Mountains

It’s hard to suggest a single road to be the epitome of downhill skating but the Transalpina is certainly such, with a history fitting of legend – as it was first traversed in the 2nd century AD by Roman legions.  Showcasing this road and it’s insane length is challenging as it spans multiple environments, from alpine down to coniferous forest – in total there were 7/8 different runs, some of which were nearing 10kms long… 

The incomplete guard-rails meant the Highway itself was officially shut but that didn’t stop us, tourists or any of the locals from driving this masterpiece of design and pavement.  I’m not sure if this road will be as quite once it’s opened but given it’s isolation, I’d say it’s likely – especially because the closing of the road turned the only town along it to practically close.

Not even this glorious sunrise could warm us on what was the coldest I’ve ever been taking photos of downhill.   Even without the my camera sucking all of my body-warmth out of my hands, through my gloves, it was unbearable but a sunrise this special on a hill this insane obviously calls for a certain level of ignorance. 

The Transalpina Highway was the extremity of our tour across Europe and had we known how unreal this road was we would’ve made it there a week earlier.  In the end we got to skate it fo 3 days (and a few nights) but we still didn’t get to skate every section.  

Bricin ‘Striker’ Lyons ~ Hout Bay

South Africa

Cape town to Durban

I’m going to preface this rant to say that South Africa is a must visit location for skating or otherwise.  It was never on my radar but it certainly was after visiting – in fact I loved it so much that I pushed my return flight back a week to get a taste of the non-skate-tour life.  Thanks for having me!!  But back to the tour, it was my first proper trip with Striker and the first time I got to spend proper time with Matt Bates, who changed my life – in both my consideration of Coffee and as a great friend in my home town. 

I guess I liked it so much because it’s a pretty similar climate to Australia, and the people we hung out with were for the most part, very much like my homies in Aus.  We never spent any time in Johannesburg – keeping our trip between Cape Town & Durban, so that probably affects my opinions of the place. I think the photographer in me was more excited than the skater because the mountains in RSA are extremely old, Cape Town especially and these weathered giants certainly have a different appeal to other ranges I’ve visited – which was perhaps another similarity to Aus.

A testament to the relaxed nature of the place is that there are few countries other than Aus where I’ve felt comfortable without shoes, but I lost my shoes half way through the trip and that was not a problem at all, except for skating, but I had a board with soft-grip which is probably why I didn’t look for them, and I wouldn’t have had to look far, they were in the van all along…     

Click to watch the 4 part video series.

Adam Yates – Gangnam

South Korea

Seoul, geyonggi & Gangwon

It’s hard to suggest a single road to be the epitome of downhill skating but the Transalpina is certainly such, with a history fitting of legend – as it was first traversed in the 2nd century AD by Roman legions.  Showcasing this road and it’s insane length is challenging as it spans multiple environments, from alpine down to coniferous forest – in total there were 7/8 different runs, some of which were nearing 10kms long… 

The incomplete guard-rails meant the Highway itself was officially shut but that didn’t stop us, tourists or any of the locals from driving this masterpiece of design and pavement.  I’m not sure if this road will be as quite once it’s opened but given it’s isolation, I’d say it’s likely – especially because the closing of the road turned the only town along it to practically close.

Not even this glorious sunrise could warm us on what was the coldest I’ve ever been taking photos of downhill.   Even without the my camera sucking all of my body-warmth out of my hands, through my gloves, it was unbearable but a sunrise this special on a hill this insane obviously calls for a certain level of ignorance. 

The Transalpina Highway was the extremity of our tour across Europe and had we known how unreal this road was we would’ve made it there a week earlier.  In the end we got to skate it fo 3 days (and a few nights) but we still didn’t get to skate every section.  

Paul Gratland – Malibu

USA

Epicentre of Freeriding

I don’t really know where to start as I feel like this rant could be as immense as the country itself.  Being the extreme industrialists they are it shouldn’t come as a surprise that they’ve got some of the best roads (rivalled only by Japan) & California is a novelty. 

Apparently the car industry were very much involved in the development of modern LA and this is perhaps why its so hostile towards pedestrians – it was the west coast version of Detroit. Although LA is basically entirely flat, it’s surrounding mountain ranges, Malibu in particular are riddled with some pretty insane roads – which are unfortunately degrading much faster than they’re being fixed.

But in the case of Tuna, the spiritual heard of contemporary downhill skating, this degradation worked out for us – half of the road collapsed into the ravine below so they made it a one-way downhill road/skater heaven.  Landyachtz have a hub there which has afforded me plenty of time in this city, and unless you’re into downhill, I’d probably recommend it to no tourist, but that might just be me. 

Luckily for me it mostly served as a launchpad for Landyachtz tours every winter – a requirement for Landy because it rains for entirety of winter, making it pretty hard to shoot downhill.  I’ve spent most of my time in the South West, except for two cross-country tours.  One was up to Canada, skirting the rockies, and the other out to Florida and back – along the highway 10.  If you’re after diversity, cultural intrigue and natural wonders then you’re gonna be pretty pressed to find somewhere as fun to travel through, with a skateboard or not.