Last week I sat down with Henry Brydon from ‘We Are Explorers’ to chat about downhill and it’s inherently exploratory nature. I’ve included a transcript below but I suggest reading it on the site, it’s all dolled up and has a bunch of pictures -> check it out here.
H: So firstly, how did you get into longboarding?
J: I’ve spent most of my life skating a traditional skateboard but it wasn’t until mid 2008 that I first started noticing the downhill stuff. At the time I worked at a rad surf/skate shop in the Gabba and we started seeing some interest in the gear and by the time we were getting in stock I was totally hooked.
Billy Bones, Troy Grenier and Dillon Stephens dropping into the most novelty of Transalpina’s countless sections.
H: What do you love so much about this hobby?
J: There’s a lot of intense feelings involved with riding a board down a mountain and I feel the adrenaline was what got me initially, but as i started to ride more and in different locations my joy shifted towards faster lines, better style and a mentality that is best said as ‘skate to skate tomorrow’ and it was then that I truly began to love it. The notion that you’re battling gravity and if you can control it, you win, gives me a very holistic sense of reward, contentedness and stoke. Here you’ve got gravity and a skateboard without a brake and if you send yourself down a hill without the ability to control your speed you will maybe die in the first corner, but getting to the point where you know (even without seeing the hill) you can roll down it and, short of unforeseeable disaster you’re going to make it down safely is an incredibly empowering feeling. It took skating a 33 hairpin, 20 minute run in the Italian Alps to first really understand that feeling. However, I definitely do not recommend blind runs, you never know if there’s gonna be a wet patch in a corner that’ll send you off a cliff, or a pack of tree loppers felling logs on the road, like in Korea one time D:
H: Where are some of the best spots you’ve skated in Australia?
J: That’s a tough one. The most memorable spots are generally so because of the scenario, not just the road itself, but if i had to say it’d be Kangaroo Valley south of Sydney. The Snowy Mountains [both NSW and VIC] have some epic roads but they pale in comparison to the surrounding scenery!! Brisbane city and it’s surrounding coasts have some of the gnarlier roads around but it’s situational, lots of driveways and blind corners. It’s danger riding so the adrenaline runs thick.
H: And internationally?
J: I can narrow down it to 2 roads. The first is a road deep in the wild wild west- about 4 hrs from Seattle or 2 from Portland- along the Columbia river in Washington State called Maryhill Loops Road. Most of us may recognise the road through car adverts but this road is so much more than a picturesque piece of bitumen. The road was built in 1912, it was the first road built west of the Mississippi and an experiment into construction mountain passes. The road has 3 brief straights but apart from that it’s seemingly infinite corners, with perfect camber and apices, it’s gradient varies barely +/- 1º and there’s not a downhill skater that could’ve dreamt something radder. It’s truly special, and it’s a museum so it’s shut to the public!
Although Maryhill may be the perfect downhill road i was lucky to travel through Romania last year and there we found the Transalpina, not to be mistaken with Top Gear’s favourite road [the Transfăgărășan]. The Transalpina is essentially 6 different runs on the one road, it winds up from forested valley until well above the tree-line in the depths of Carapathian Mountains. Picture lunar like landscapes, endless peaks, wolf packs and a road so perfect I’d be happy to skate nothing else.
H: Any dream locations on the hit list?
J: There’s a road in Japan, it prompted myself and 3 others to go hunting for it in 2013 but we were hoaxed due to residual winter but it’s the most novelty looking stretch of switchbacks ever (it’s got about 40 repeating switchbacks and a Shinto Shrine on top). Although we didn’t get to ride that one, we did get to skate the Initial-D road, Irohazaka, but it was wet and the potential to slide under a guard rail and off the cliff was pretty real. We ended up waiting 3 days for the rain to pass, but it never did.
H: So what’s the fastest you’ve travelled on a longboard?
J: It’s hard to tell and generally it feels like you’re doing about 30kms more than you actually are but i’ve skated some hills in the states with reported speeds of over 100kms/h. There’s a couple around Brisbane and the GC too.
H: Which leads me to my next question: wipeouts. You must have had a fair few over the years?
J: Oh yeah, it’s the nature of the beast really. Of course none of us actually wanna crash but it’s this thought that sits in the back of your head which makes bombing hills on skateboards produce such crazy elation. Narrowly avoiding a crash is kinda the best bit because at the end of the day we’re all adrenaline junkies.
I’ve been exceptionally lucky in my time; i’ve stacked a bunch, fractured a few fingers, maybe an ankle and i’ve hit a few cars but never gone under them or had a serious injury. I started riding in 2008 and it was between then and 2013 that i bricked myself most regularly. In 2013 I began to take the photo side seriously and since then i’ve regained some notions of self-preservation. Moving into the photo side of things was a major power play because I realised that being the photographer meant I got to go on all the trips! Instead of having to battle with riders that are better than me, plus it meant i got paid!!
H: Any standouts?!
J: I used to live on an insanely steep street, about 30% and the 4th steepest street in Brisbane – it was were I started to really get into doing skids and began to understand the stopping component. Living on it and skating it most days lead me to get pretty complacent, perhaps too comfortable and on one occasion I tried to do just one skid, normally I took 3 or 4, and upon kicking it out [about 55-65kms] I high-sided and flew forward. I managed to get a foot on the ground before hitting the road which helped me position myself to fall properly (we wear gloves with chopping board on the palms so if you manage to fall in a ‘push-up’ position you can take most of the friction on your shoes and gloves, not your skin). I managed to get in that pushup position but the camber of the road pushed me over to the gutter, as my hand entered the gutter it was ripped from underneath me and I flipped onto my back, in the gutter.
This is were it got nasty. The gutter was heavily leaf littered so there was no friction, which was great for my back but the lateral force had me grinding my side against the gutter and I slide down said gutter for about 25 meters, with the coarse concrete gutter taking the skin off most of my side, about 12% of my total skin (your palm equals roughly 1%). My leg, arms and chest were all torched but the worst part was the internal bruising around my heel from getting that foot on the ground before I fell over. I was bed ridden for a week and for the next year, maybe more, I couldn’t jump onto it -> I had to say goodbye to skating transition for 8 month :S
H: Bloody hell, that sounds horrific. If someone still wants to get into this as a hobby, do you have 3 tips!?
J: get a helmet, get gloves & learn to stop!!!
H: Any recommended gear and brands?
J: I ride for landyachtz longboards, bear trucks and hawgs wheels so I’m biased but there are some rad new brands popping up too. Perhaps I’m cynical but this is how i consider componentry. The board doesn’t really matter so long as your feet feel good, i’ve ridden boards from over a meter to bombing hills on a 35cm plank of wood but i only managed to do so because of the trucks. The trucks are the entirety of the setup IMO, they define stability and agility, the two factors which actually matter. As for wheels personal preference! There are good wheels and bad wheels, most wheels are good and in order to love them you just gotta learn how they ride, for about 2 years i didn’t ride the same wheel twice and each new wheel was better than the last, but i realised it had nothing to do with the wheels themselves.