how to snakeboard

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The Independent Culture
Over the years, tarmac has been put to some pretty creative uses. Skateboarding, BMXing, and recently in-line skating have all reclaimed the roads from those noxious hunks of steel that people innocently call cars, for the sublime twin purposes of looking cool and terrifying old ladies. Well, the next big thing is called snakeboarding and, to use the sport's own parlance, it's rad.

To the uninitiated, a snakeboard looks much like a skateboard. It was invented five years ago in South Africa by Roger Anderson and James Fisher, two young snowboarding enthusiasts who were frustrated by the lack of snow in their part of the world, and wanted to create a street equivalent. By a miraculous accident of design, they came up with something which, unlike a regular skateboard, is self-propelled. That means that, not only can you pull ludicrous upside-down spins off fearsome ramps like your snowboarding cousins, but in theory you could cruise into the office on a snakeboard every morning. Certainly easier, and cooler, than going to work on an egg.

The basic design consists of two pivoting wheeled footplates, connected by an extremely strong crossbar. Locomotion is achieved by a coordination of two basic foot and upper-body movements, so that you swing one way (toes out) and then the other (toes in). The path you follow is meandering and twisty - a bit like a snake's - but it's by no means slow: a good rider will clock 20mph on the flat, and over 40mph downhill. Protective gear, like wristguards and kneepads, becomes a must when you get good enough to strap your feet onto the board and start bouncing off stair rails.

Like anything worth doing, snakeboarding isn't easy. You'll have a head start if you already know how to surf, or to skateboard. Still, on a visit to the offices of SBUK, the British importers of snakeboarding, your intrepid reporter managed a good few centimetres of movement in either direction. Andrew Jennings, of SBUK, explained: "The shops we distribute to have demo boards and someone to explain the principle of riding; after that it's a pretty slow learning curve for about a week. Then you've got it." That very afternoon, as if to prove the potential of the sport, a rider called Gadget had snaked into the Ladbroke Grove offices all the way from West Hampstead.

So, we want to know, is snakeboarding any more than a style fad, the in-line skating for the baggy shorts brigade? An emphatic "no" from Jennings: "In-line skating in this country is very much a 20-year-old plus, ABC market - there isn't really a culture behind it. Whereas snakeboarders are people who live it and dream it and don't do anything else." Your average snakeboarder is about 16, listens to Green Day and Offspring, and doesn't care what bones get broken in pursuit of the ultimate stunt. It's amazing to slam on one of SBUK's "Totally Committed" videos and see them flying down flights of stairs or casually executing 360 spins while leaping over rubbish bins in their vast urban playground. You'll believe people were born to have funny wheeled things strapped to their feet.

The hi-tech aspect of snakeboarding is obviously attractive. The boards themselves are made from a nylon compound called Zytel, which has a 2,000lb breaking strain, and the protective gear makes you look like a 21st-century road warrior, rather than a dork. It's probably no coincidence that in Neal Stephenson's cult cyberpunk novel, Snow Crash, the couriers of the near future all ride modified skateboards. Whatever, snakeboarding isn't going to be just an underground thing for much longer. Big name sponsors are already muscling in - for last month's UK Championships at Wakefield, Sharp gave away pounds 4,000 worth of hi-fi equipment in prizes. And the World Championships, which start in Munich on Thursday, will play host to 3,000 snakeboarders from all over the world. As rider Marc Churchill says: "Once bitten, there's no anaesthetic."

For more information and a list of suppliers, contact SBUK on 0181- 960 0555