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Fledgling sport gains speed

By Martha Irvine
Saturday October 19, 2002


SAN FRANCISCO — It’s nearing 11 p.m. as six guys hop on a city bus, each of them toting a wheeled contraption that looks like the monster truck of skateboards. 

The men, mostly young professionals in their 20s, have already spent years looking to ride the perfect ocean wave or carve into an untouched mountainside of powder snow. But those aren’t options right now. 

Tonight, the moon is out, the fog uncharacteristically absent and traffic scant — ideal conditions for a sport that combines techniques used in skateboarding, snowboarding and even surfing. Some call it carveboarding or flowboarding, names derived from the brand of boards they ride. 

In rougher terrain, with no asphalt and wheeled boards that have bindings, it’s commonly known as mountainboarding. 

“Final destination,” driver Roy Flugence says over the bus loudspeaker, drawing a chorus of laughter and cheers as the group exits at the top of a steep hill. 

The next few hours are a flurry of wild rides and commentary — “Nice one!” and “Watch the wall!” — through San Francisco’s Sunset district, a residential neighborhood with Pacific Ocean views. 

Fueled by a steady intake of doughnuts, candy and the occasional beer, the riders race down the hills, one after the other, making quick, zigzagging turns. Along the way, they scope out driveways that make good ramps for fancy turns and a little added excitement. 

Beginners are advised to start with deeply carved, slower turns. And even the most experienced riders adjust their wheel pressure to the incline (softer tires have more grip on steep hills). 

“Ohhhhh, man,” Josiah Bunting said as he got up after a too-close encounter with a telephone pole. 

Even he admits that falling is “unnerving” — and he won on the reality TV show “Fear Factor,” a gig that included jumping from a moving vehicle. 

“All you can do is dig in your wheels, lower your center of gravity and hope for the best,” said Bunting, who sells ads for a high-tech magazine by day. 

He and the others choose not to wear helmets or other protective gear. But most board makers recommend otherwise. 

On their Web site, for example, the makers of Mongoose All-Terrain Boards advise wearing “a helmet, protective eye wear, wrist guards, leather gloves, elbow pads, knee pads, sturdy athletic shoes, long pants and long sleeves.” 

The boards themselves are often well over 3 feet long and generally cost $200 to $300.