The last day of September, on a secret, two-lane county road in northern Colorado, downhill skateboarder Mischo Erban was clocked bombing a hill at 80.83 mph, the highest recorded speed on a skateboard in history.
The news and corresponding YouTube video spread like poison ivy among the downhill community but made little impact beyond — a fitting response for a sport that, in cases like this, can best be compared to drag racing.
Erban, 27, the reigning World Cup downhill champion, was aided by three visual spotters who used hand signals (not radios) to warn of a car driving uphill and thus alert Erban to stay in his lane on the twisting mountain course, which started at 8,000 feet and dropped 670 feet in a mile. Its average grade, 12.7 percent, was steeper than most Tour de France climbs.
“The stars really did align with how this road was built,” allowed Erban, though he wouldn’t disclose its specific location. “It’s like a marble countertop; perfect for what we do.”
Erban hit 80.83 mph on his 19th of 20 runs, clocked by a Tag Heuer timing system known as a “speed trap” that he borrowed from the president of the International Gravity Sports Association. The system measured Erban’s time between two photo cells 100 feet apart, then converted that to a speed more precise than those recorded by GPS units or radar guns.
The world governing body had a representative in attendance, Gary Fluitt, and recognized Erban’s speed as a new world record. Whether Guinness will is still in question.
Initially, Erban — who flew from his home in Vernon, British Columbia, to bomb the hill — took some heat from local downhillers who were angry he didn’t alert them of his runs in advance. So he declined to pursue the Guinness distinction. He also wasn’t sure what he needed to do to get it.
But according to Guinness spokeswoman Sara Wilcox, Erban’s timing system and witnesses meet the standards required for a world record. When notified of this Tuesday, Erban said he’d submit a claim to Guinness after all. The current record is held by Brazilian Douglas da Silva, who was clocked more than 10 mph slower (70.21 mph) in October 2007.
Erban already makes an unlikely world record holder. Born in Prague, he lived there until he was 2, when his parents fled “the strict control of communism,” he said. “There wasn’t much freedom.” They settled in British Columbia and Erban now lives halfway up the twisting road to Silver Star Mountain Resort.
He won his first downhill race in 2005, two years after he picked up the sport. Now, at 6-foot-2 and 190 pounds, he competes on a World Cup circuit that stops in 10 countries. “People fear him on a race course,” IGSA president Marcus Rietema said.
Even among top racers, downhill skateboarding still operates largely underground. Take the secret site in Colorado: A few years back, some locals bombed it and posted on the Internet speeds in the mid-to-upper 70s (mph), much faster than the official world record. As Erban tells it, one of those locals soon asked some pros if they’d like to come run the hill, and its reputation grew.
Erban got his first shot last year (or the year before; he can’t recall), recording a speed of 74.5 mph but narrowly avoiding a head-on collision with a police car that pulled out of a vacant parking lot. The cop turned into the uphill lane as Erban blew by in the downhill lane, causing the incensed officer to U-turn and chase Erban to his stopping point.
“He said if he caught us idiots again he’d charge us with reckless endangerment,” recalled Erban, who once splatted onto the pavement at 57 mph.
Undeterred, Erban returned in September to do some test runs with his sponsor, Boulder, Colo.-based Seismic Wheels, in front of eight people. After whizzing through the speed trap on his 40 ½-inch, self-designed GMR board, he’d stand up from his tuck and hold out his arms for four-tenths of a mile on flat asphalt, eventually stepping off at a near stop.
The day wasn’t without a close call, however. Not long after Erban set the record, a cop showed up. “He’d gotten the call about us earlier in the day but he was busy with something else,” Erban said. “We got lucky.”
Asked what it feels like to go that fast on a skateboard, Erban replied: “It’s surreal. I know I’m in control the whole way, so you have, like, this calm; and you also have this raw power pushing you down the hill at 80 mph. But it’s so smooth that you could be thinking about what you’re going to have for lunch.”