Some thoughts on learning how to mountainboard

I spent the past few days working on updating the ATBA-UK Instructor Training Programme. It’s brought a lot of my more unorthodox thoughts on teaching mountainboarding to the forefront of my brain.

Powerslides Vs. Emergency Stops

Traditionally, most mountainboard lessons have included learning to powerslide. Some instructors even teach it before turns. I have a few problems with powerslides for beginners. Firstly, doing powerslides well requires a certain amount of board control, which most beginners don’t have, and so often go wrong, or at least take some of the fun out of the lesson.

Secondly, if they are taught as a way to avoid hitting something or someone, then what a powerslide actually does is take away the riders ability to steer and keep them heading towards the thing they are trying to avoid in an uncontrollable manner.

My third issue with powerslides is the safety/legal aspect. If a person suffered spinal injuries from a powerslide that went wrong, I can just imagine the lawyer questioning the instructor with something like, ‘So, you gave the client helmet, wristguards, elbow pads, and knee pads, and then told them to put the part of their body that isn’t protected on the ground at speed?’ The instructor might as well hand over their wallet there and then.

So, what’s the alternative? I think J-turns should be the main stopping technique taught to beginners. Taught properly, J-turns can be used to stop safely at any speed, and the rider remains upright and away from the ground.

And if the rider needs to learn an Emergency Stop (not a powerslide, which I think is actually an intermediate technique), then they should be taught to get low and pull a hard backside turn so they steer away from the obstacle.

Heel straps

Don’t think I’ve ever seen a beginners board used for teaching at a centre with heel straps. Why not? Most regular riders use heel straps because we recognise how much more control we have over the board, and yet centres/board manufacturers/instructors/whoever still seem to to like to make it as difficult as possible for beginners to control their board.

I realise there is an extra expense associated with heel straps on a fleet of beginners boards, but part of that cost would be offset by not having to buy leashes, and the heel straps don’t have to be proper ratchet heel straps. A few metres of seatbelt material would make an entire fleet of heel straps.

Giving a beginner a better, and more realistic, experience of mountainboarding would surely help to get them coming back. It’s also got to be safer as it prevents them from taking a foot off the board whilst they’re going along and twisting an ankle or doing the splits.

Using brakes

Just about anyone I mention this to says, ‘Oh no, bad idea.’, but I’m not put off the idea. I think teaching people to mountainboard with brakes has two big advantages. Number 1 is image. If more mountainboards had brakes, and people didn’t have to look quizzically at them and ask ‘How do you stop?’, the boards would look safer. They’d fit into people’s preconceived ideas about things with wheels having brakes (i.e. bikes). If people saw that they could have a go at mountainboarding without the risk that comes from slides and putting various parts of your body on the ground at high speed, then more of them might give it a try.

Number 2 is a equality. Tackling the safe/dangerous image would get more people to have a go. But with slides as the main stopping technique, the rider needs to be of a certain physique, fitness, and flexibility. With brakes more different types of people can not only have a go, but stick at it. I’ve seen loads of people hobble away from mountainboard lessons with a bruised behind, never to return. Take away the need for slides and a person can ride all day without ever getting muddy (I’m reminded of the scene in Riding Giants where they are talking about the revelation of tow-in surfing and how they could ride all day without getting their hair wet) or getting any bruises.

The argument against brakes is that reduces the skills a rider learns, but I’m not so sure about this. They may learn different skills, but riding well with a brakes takes skills too. And what’s better; fewer highly skilled riders or more less skilled riders?

I realise these are unorthodox and even unpopular ideas, but sometimes steps forward come from the out-of-the-box thinking, and without considering new ways we’ll be stuck doing things the same old way forever, even if it’s not the best way.