When most people think of skateboarding, they think of tricks, flips and skate parks. But what about going fast? And I mean really fast!
Hitting speeds of up to 100km per hour, downhill skateboard racing is quickly stealing the Hong Kong sports scene. While it might not get as much attention as its street-skating cousin yet, it’s a growing international sport with a fan base that’s getting bigger and bigger.
Europe and North America still dominates most of the competitions, but Hong Kong is finding its place in the sport as well. After a series of races in Europe last summer, Harry Clarke, 17 and a year 12 student at King George V School, was ranked the number two junior skateboarder in the world by the International Downhill Federation.
Heading to Europe to compete was an eye-opening experience for Harry, who practices his downhill skating in the hills of Sai Kung. At races in Germany, the Czech Republic and France in July, he got a crash course in the global downhill racing scene.
“The Asian scene is a lot smaller than it is in Europe,” Harry explains. “You don’t really see people pushing around in the streets, because no one really knows about it.” Most people he encounters don’t know much about his sport. But he wants to change that.
“[In Europe,] everyone skates,” he says. “It’s more exposed, the sport is bigger. And there’s better skaters as well, because they’ve been doing it for longer. It’s where we want to get the Asian scene to be.”
Skateboard racing is a lot different from the skateboarding most people are familiar with. The racing boards are much larger, with bigger and stronger wheels, because when racers are hitting top speeds, the stability of the board is crucial. “You can’t hit those speeds on a street deck,” Harry says. “You go a lot faster on a good long board. You can hit about 100km per hour.” But it’s not just about the board, Harry also wears a full-face helmet and a leather racing suit to protect himself. At those speeds, a crash can be deadly, and races are competitive.
“In the races, you aren’t just skating the hill, you have to race the hill as well,” Harry explains. “You have to have tactics.” Just like auto racing, there are a lot of elements for the racers to consider, like acceleration, the incline of the hill, any bends or dips in the road, and other racing tricks like drafting. The biggest concern for Harry and other downhill skaters in Hong Kong is avoiding the occasional cow on the Sai Kung roads. “It’s really complex,” Harry says, “it’s a lot more than just skating down hills.”
While he was worried at first that the mountainous terrain of Europe would be too different from what he’d practiced on in Hong Kong, Harry found that his work here had paid off. “If you can do everything in Hong Kong, you can handle yourself in Europe,” he says.
The Hong Kong scene for downhill skating is still quite small, with only about 50 participants. But for Harry, that’s part of the appeal. “It’s like a family,” he says, “it’s really special. You don’t get that in many other sports.” And the tight-knit nature of the group not only helps support its members, but also welcomes newcomers.
New races happen every few months, and the points are recalculated. According to the latest rankings, Harry is now fifth after missing the most recent round of races. But that’s part of the sport as well. “It’s not really about the ranking at the end of the day,” Harry says. “It’s about being with your friends and skating down the hill.”
Harry is studying Sport Science in school and has big plans for both his own skating career and promoting the scene in Hong Kong. “I’ll never stop skateboarding,” he says. “I won’t stop until I’m forced to stop, I’ll never stop by choice.” While being a professional skateboarder can be hard, especially in a sport that’s still quite underground, Harry’s main goal is to promote downhill skating in Hong Kong.
“I want more people to do it, and for people to understand,” Harry explains. “I want people to know that when they see kids coming down the hill on these skateboards, that we’re actually in control and we know what we’re doing. We’re not just crazy people with a death wish!”