simple words, usually meant to comfort the listener at the end of a
hard journey, can strike terror in the mind of a novice skater. A hill
notice on foot can look like a black diamond ski run when you're on
I vividly remember the scene outside of Skates on Haight, a popular
rental shop near San Francisco's Golden Gate Park. It was my second time
on rental in-lines. The first time, we'd skated in an almost perfectly
flat area. This time, my first downhill challenge awaited. Just outside
the Haight Street shop, the sidewalk gently declines toward the busy
intersection with Stanyan Street. To reach the park, we had to negotiate
the sidewalk and cross the intersection.
With more machismo than skill, I ventured out the shop door and pointed
my skates down the crowded sidewalk. Quickly, we (my skates and I) started
to accelerate toward what I was sure was approaching light speed. I sped
by an amused audience of street people, me trying to look like I'd done
this a thousand times before. Down the street, the "Don't Walk" sign
turned red and the heavy cross traffic started to roll.
Sure doom loomed ahead. Then it dawned on me, "Use your heel brake,
you fool!" Gingerly at first, but with growing force, I tagged the sidewalk
with the black streak that saved my...skin. "Wow, it worked!" I was sure
glad we had practiced using the heel brake on the flats, my first day
Over the next few minutes, while I waited for Liz to peddle her new
book to Lee Cole, the shop owner, I watched other skaters, singly or
in groups, recreate my experience with many variations. Some of the more
amusing methods included struggling hand-over-hand along the walls and
windows of the businesses lining the street; bouncing from light pole
to fender to bench struggling to stay upright at each collision.
My favorite group was the threesome who zoomed straight down the sidewalk
picking up speed until, at the last moment the man grabbed for an overhead
tree branch--swinging to a halt in classic slapstick style. His speeding
wife desparately grabbed him and was followed closely by the daughter,
who completed the family get-together. Each good attempt brought hoots
and cheers from the crowd in the cheap seats.
Since that experience, in-line skating has become a big part of my fun
and fitness repertoire and I've learned how to actually enjoy skating
downhill. Of all the aspects of in-line skating, hills are the most fun
for me. Being a downhill ski nut and former instructor probably helps,
but I think anyone can learn the basics of downhill skating and live
to enjoy it.
Over the next few issues, I'll share my insights into skills required
to conquer those daunting hills and provide drills designed to help you
safely learn them. I'll also provide tips on where to practice and the
best equipment to use.
Downhill skating will add another dimension to your skating fun and
open up play areas you've been avoiding because of the hills. Before
you know it, your life will be going downhill, too! In the meantime,
if you're headed out to do some hill skating, be sure to wear your protective
See you next issue.