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On The Sideline: Street Luge

Street luge, like many other extreme sports, was born in Southern California. The sport began in the 1970s with riders using modified skateboards to race down steep roadways. In the early days, there were no organized rules, so riders were permitted to use anything from regular skateboards to custom-built vehicles. The sport died down in the late ’70s and early ’80s as injuries to riders and spectators became more common and severe.

Street luge surged back onto the scene in the mid-1990s with the advent of the extreme sports craze. Events like the X-Games and Gravity Games breathed new life into the sport by televising races. This new era featured set rules regarding board, or deck, construction and rider safety equipment.

Unfortunately, the spotlight moved away from street luge as the hype over extreme sports waned. The X-Games began focusing on stadium-based sports and the Gravity Games disappeared all together. Even so, street luge is now a growing sport in many countries including Australia, the U.K., Germany and Switzerland.

Today, decks are mostly custom made, although a few commercially-built models are available. Because the rules regarding deck construction are relatively open, they are made of a variety of materials, including wood, steel, aluminum and even carbon fiber.

There are two main organizations that govern street luge: Gravity Sports International and the International Gravity Sports Association. Each group has different overall regulations, but they both have similar requirements. Riders are required to wear a full-face helmet, a full-body racing suit, racing gloves, elbow and knee pads and very sturdy shoes. Likewise, decks cannot have mechanical brakes, must feature padding at the front and rear and can only be steered by shifting the rider’s weight. In addition, decks cannot exceed certain a length, width and weight.

Races take place on very steep roadways with several sharp turns. The courses are usually lined with bales of hay to keep both riders and spectators safe in case of a crash. There are several different types of races, including tournament-style elimination, time trials and simple events where the first rider down wins. The number of riders in each race also varies. While 2-, 4-, and 6- riders per race are the most common, some races feature up to 20 riders at a time.

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