For the past year, legendary Dogtown protégés
Steve Olson and Dave Hackett have been squaring off
against each other almost every month, competing
head-to-head for $1,000 pro purses. No, it's not an
Old School pool contest series. It's the renaissance
of slalom skateboarding, and these Grand Masters of
cool are way into it - together with dedicated pro
competitors, amateur enthusiasts of all ages and
both genders, and racing legends from previous eras
such as Tommy Ryan, Henry Hester and John Hutson.
Veteran racer and former standup speed record-holder
Jack Smith, one of the key players in the current
movement, distinguished slalom from aggressive
skating as follows:
"The main difference is you turn. You don't
ollie. You do it on hills. It's
very equipment-oriented. You have to have equipment
that works. All the image in the world will not win
you a slalom race. You have to beat your competitor
based on performance, not on a judge's whim."
The mainstream skateboard press offers little
indication yet, but
slalom-specific gear is now available from a
surprising number of U.S.
companies - decks by Bahne, Comet, Ick, Pocket
Pistol, Roe and Turner; trucks from Seismic, Tracker
and Turner; wheels from ABEC-11, Bahne and Turner.
European brands include Airflow, Indiana and Summit.
Slalom decks typically have no nose or tail and
include a flexible camber
that racers work like a spring to propel themselves
out of turns. Trucks are
engineered for quicker, more powerful steering,
while wheels are designed to optimize both speed and
According to Turner Downhill head Howard Gordon, who
is carrying the torch
lit by the late legendary deck craftsman Bob Turner,
"Slalom is a considerably different sport, a
lot closer in its roots to the
carving of skiing or snowboarding or, for that
matter, surfing. It's all
about speed and long lines and the excitement of
powering down the hill."
Along with flatland freestyle, slalom was one of
disciplines, taking obvious inspiration from slalom
skiing. Virtually all
major competitions in the 1960s and mid-70s featured
a slalom event,
including a famous show-down between Hester and Tony
Alva televised on ABC Wide World of Sports as part
of the 1976 Carlsbad Hang Ten World
Slalom was prime fodder for network sports
television as late as 1978, when
CBS Sports Spectacular broadcast the FreeFormer
World Championships in Akron, Ohio. But momentum in
the late 70s shifted decisively to aggressive
styles, and by the early 80s the U.S. slalom scene
had mostly dissipated.
Things were different in Europe. During the late 80s
and early 90s, slalom
blossomed there thanks in large measure to
multi-time Swedish and European champion Jani
Soderhall. He published a 'zine (Slalom!) and ran an
international organization (ISSA) that sanctioned
throughout the continent, occasionally drawing top
racers from the U.S.
The 1993 Jeux de Pyrenées, an alternative-sport
Olympiad sanctioned by the
French and Spanish Olympic Committees, included
slalom and standup downhill skateboarding, and also
helped inspire the X-Games. But slalom momentum
never carried from Europe to the American skate
scene, which likes to start its own trends.
European slalom lulled a few years later, but
American interest began
regrouping in the late 90s with crossover energy
from longboard and downhill enthusiasts, pollinated
internationally via the vigorous discussion forums
on Adam Nathanson's highly-influential website at www.ncdsa.com.
Scott Peer, head of the Westwood Ski Club,
kick-started the renaissance in
2000 by including slalom in his series of luge,
standup skateboard and inline
races at West LA College.
The most significant turning point came in May 2001,
when Jack Smith boldly
staged the World Championships in his hometown Morro
Bay. First conceived as a national championship,
interest from foreign racers prompted Smith to
recast the event as an international showdown. Comet
racer Gary Cross took first place in the pro class,
with Swiss racer Maurus Strobel, representing
Indiana, finishing a close second.
The success of the Morro Bay and subsequent events
encouraged Smith and 1970s slalom competitors John
Krisik and Don O'Shei to organize the FCR (Fat City
Racing) series. It consists of eight races with both
pro and open divisions, and it culminates this
October in Morro Bay with the 2002 Worlds. The fifth
FCR contest, held in July on the historic slalom
hills of La Costa, was
broadcast several times in mid-August on the Fox
Gordon has observed steady growth in the number of
participants at the
"The World Championships drew 70 racers from
around the world. By the end of last year, we had 80
or 90 just from the U.S. competing at La Costa. This
year the FCR pro series has definitely helped move
the sport forward.
"A lot of the participants are coming from
snowboarding, skiing or surfing.
So we're tapping a different group of folks. That's
exciting for traditional
skate shops who're looking to develop new
Said FCR series cofounder Krisik, who also heads
Life-Link Int'l (parent
company of Croakies and Daggers), "Here's the
deal. On a slalom board, you can carve like you're
on a snowboard. That's the big discovery all the
kids make. Unfortunately, that also indicates that
the modern streetboard can't turn."
Smith listed other factors that contributed to the
"You had this age group of guys who still
wanted to skate but not necessarily
ramp, vertical or street. Slalom is something they
could still do with a
great deal of skill. And they now have the time and
the money to travel.
"There's also the high school reunion factor.
The World Championships last
year were similar to a high school reunion. An
interesting part of racing
today is, you've got guys who grew up reading about
legends like Henry Hester and John Hutson. Now they
get to race against their old idols and afterwards
drink beer together and listen to great stories.
"A lot of the guys who're racing have children,
too, and this is a way for them to enjoy
skating with their kids. They can show little Johnny
that Daddy used to rip and he can still rip."
The American revival may spark renewed developments
overseas, with plans already underway to stage a
major event next year in Soderhall's adopted
hometown of Paris.
As gear offerings multiply and past enthusiasts
return in expanding numbers,
the main question is: Will slalom catch on among
younger skaters? Increasing numbers of regional
contests, such as the Grass Roots series, suggest
solid potential for the future.
Said Gordon, "Definitely what powered the
resurgence was the return of racers from 25 years
ago, but a lot of participants are new. My kids
(Lauren, age 13, and Dylan, age 10) and I discovered
slalom only a year ago, and now we all compete in
the FCR races. My daughter gets to race against
other girls as well as ladies who raced pro in the
70s, and my son has become great friends with other
kid racers as well as pros like Hackett, Hester,
Richy Carrasco, Brad Edwards and many others. It's
been a super experience."
Smith added, "Many of the current contenders
raced back in the day, but at
every event we're getting more and more younger
competitors - both boys and girls. When they try it,
kids enjoy it. They can measure their improvement.
It's a work-reward program. They begin running a
course at the start of the
day, and by the end of the day they've shaved off
But Smith suggested that a Catch-22 has previously
limited opportunities to
expose younger skaters to slalom through mainstream
'In the past when I've approached the skateboard
media about slalom, editors have told me that kids
aren't interested in it. My comment to them is,
"How would you know? You've never shown slalom
to the kids." '
A sea change is clearly underway. Said FCR series
points leader and Turner Team captain Paul Dunn,
"We're all here to celebrate the spirit of
racing using skateboards. Racing
improves the breed. There's no subjectivity to it.
It's all timed events. You
are forced to make yourself faster with technique
and equipment. All you need are a stack of cones and
an empty parking lot.
"Slalom gear is an easy sale once you have a
few participants, and it's
self-perpetuating because people need to move up on
equipment levels as they get better. Granted, slalom
decks will outlast your average street board by
years, but there will eventually be a need for any
serious rider to own many different decks."