Matthew Brace test-drives the mountain-board - the latest, fastest way for the intrepid to travel
THE ADRENALIN junkies at the Board X show in London last weekend were in search of a new fix. They trawled the stands in the trade tent wearing their designer-labelled fleece jackets, baggy jeans and patterned bobble caps.

They were a young, discerning bunch and were carefully picking their sports for 1999. They watched the dare-devil acrobatics of the snowboarders on the artificial ski run and raised the occasional eyebrow. Snowboarding? Done that. Paragliding? Been there. Among the Board X crowds were some older, die-hard surfers with salt-caked hair and bloodshot eyes for whom nothing will ever replace the buzz of catching a wave, but the kids were hungry for more.

Neil Godbold and Henry Stark might just have what they are looking for. The two men from Wessex have come up with an adrenalin-charging yet easy- to-master device that allows people to land-surf pretty much anywhere with great excitement and relative safety.

Neil (mountain-boarder) and Henry (surfer) were excited about their pet project and so were the crowds who were thronging around their stand and stripping them of their information leaflets.

"It is called mountain-boarding," said Neil, handing me a muddy, handmade contraption comprising a three-wheeled chassis with a large skateboard fixed to it, and encouraging me to watch their demonstration video.

"And it is the next Big Thing," added Henry with a gleam in his eye.

A mountain-board is closest in design to a skateboard, the main difference being that it has two wheels at the front (the kind you would find on a young child's bicycle) and one at the back. The front wheels are attached to the board via a tough steel axle, so when you lean left or right on the board, the wheels turn with you, giving you frighteningly accurate control. A far cry from my wooden pounds 3.99 skateboard which refused to alter from its straight course no matter how much I urged it and with which, aged 12, I did considerable and permanent damage to my knees. The mountain board is also extremely comfortable and flexible. Some commercial versions, Henry assured me, are like riding on air.

They can be used on tarmac or grass and your ride is as long as the slope will allow. If you are keen to ride in the Lake District, you are in for a faster, shorter and more hair-raising ride than if you opt for the more gentle hills of the unfailingly beautiful county of Dorset where the lads have been testing their boards. If you choose East Anglia, you might be in for a rather dull day.

I only had the man-made slopes of Battersea Park, south London, on which to try out the machine. I slid my left foot into the front strap on the board while gripping Henry's shoulder, and let the right foot loiter, unfettered, at the back of the board which felt playful under my feet and slid a few inches on the autumn mud. Henry moved his protective shoulder away without warning and I shot off down the hill, leaves flying in my wake.

The board picked up speed fast, so much so that my vision was blurred after just a few seconds and it took all my concentration to stay upright. It was a tiny slope compared to what these boards can deal with and to what Neil and Henry are used to, yet the ride was thrilling. I was surfing on land - there was no other way of describing it. So this is why the first motor car was so revolutionary, I thought, because humans longed for a means of self-propulsion. The mountain board would have been a cheaper and far more environmentally friendly option had it been around at the time. And it would have kept us fit, too.

A birch sapling approached rapidly, like a rock through the surf, so I tried a right turn by pressing down with my toes, much as if riding a wave. The mountain board responded instantly and lurched me to one side of the tree and out of danger, but there was a tarmac path ahead. I pressed down hard with my right foot, tilting the front of the board up and clearing the divide between the mud and the hard surface.

I clambered back up the incline with a childlike grin on my face and returned the board to Henry who carried it over to another bank and showed me how the professionals do it. He pushed the board out ahead of him, sprinted to catch it and leapt on before careering down a one-in-three slope, his back wheel skidding wildly behind him as he "yahoo-ed" into the distance, weaving between the trees.

"If this was Dorset, you could ride for ages," he said when he had scrambled back up the slope, slightly out of breath. "That's the only problem with mountain-boarding - once you've gone down the hill, there's a lot of climbing back up again."

FACT FILE

Mountain-Boarding

Launching off

You will need: one mountain board (currently retailing at around pounds 250); various crash pads for elbows, knees and head; one long slope. Also, mountain- boarders are lost without a "buff" - a magical piece of head or neckwear which acts as bandana, sun-guard, thermal scarf or hat, muffler and dust screen. Essential and ultra trendy.

Getting the knowledge

For more information on mountain-boarding, contact Neil Goldbold at Cunning Stunts Ltd, 45-47 Fisherton Street, Salisbury, Wiltshire (tel: 01722 410588). He can also be contacted by e-mail on: power@cunningstunts.co.uk; alternatively, check out the website at www.cunnignstunts.co.uk.

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