X-treme: Going by the board
Saturday 08 August 1998
North London's Primrose Hill cannot match the Alps, but it does have that certain something separating it from a host of other public commons... a hill.
I went to the park in the company of Dante Gray and Ned Conran and a range of contraptions which, they assured me, could finally bridge the "summer gap" for urban adrenaline junkies patiently waiting for winter snowboarding excursions.
Mountainboards, outbackboards and Grassboards may differ in design, but they all try to replicate the exciting feeling of snowboarding and surfing.
I began with a mountainboard. The fact that it had a break - similar to a bicycle break - did not influence my decision in the slightest - I just liked the red colour.
I picked a gentle descent and, as soon as gravity kicked in, knew I was in for a good afternoon. The riding sensation is somewhere between a loose skateboard and a snowboard. By keeping your weight on the front foot, it was easy to "carve" down the grassy hill.
"Mountainboarding has only been going for about two years in this country," explains Gray, the co-owner of the London Beach Store. In addition to other boards designed to provide adrenaline hits and small risk to your physical health, his store sells and rents out a range of mountainboards and Grassboards.
"The strange designs also attract other people who are into interesting and unusual machines, and designers are coming out with new innovations all the time," he adds.
Most of the materials used are similar to skateboards; basic plywood decks attached to various metal frames. The design differences mean that each board rides slightly differently, but the feeling on each is pretty addictive. If the terrain is wet, then you get the chance to slide the back wheels out - you may lose a bit of traction, but what a feeling!
Conran had been into snowboarding for around six years and was hooked on the new boards after one go. "It's the best buzz you can get without riding on snow or water," he says. "It hasn't really taken off yet in this country because so few people know about them, but they're going to be very popular."
Duncan McClaren, 25, has been importing Grassboards into the UK for a year. Designers use metal alloys and mountain- bike technology.
The boards may look simple, but there is a lot of hi-tech design behind them. They use in-line technology with a free-turning front wheel and the rear wheels set down the central axis of the board.
Things can feel very unstable when you first ride one of these boards, but once you know what you are doing, they give a fluid edge-to-edge feel that is similar to snowboarding.
Out of all the boards I tried, the grassboard offered the purest "carve". After trying it a few times my next question was "how much?".
The good news is that the prices are tumbling. Boards can cost between pounds 250 and pounds 400, but some mountainboards will retail at around pounds 200 from next month.
"When you have things under control it's very easy to turn and carve," says McClaren. "You can also put a handlebar on them and ride around town, or in a half-pipe.
"We've got some of the best US skateboarders riding them now with foot straps and freestyle snowboard bindings so you can land jumps and other aerial tricks."
For additional information call the London Beach Store: 178 Portobello Road, W11 (0171-243 2772). Mountainboards retail at around pounds 250-pounds 400 and can be rented for a weekend for pounds 50
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