Cornwall and Mountain Boarding go together like… umm… gravity and a grazed knee. Adventure Cornwall explores the Cornish roots of the modern, super cool board sport.
What’s that coming over the hill? Is it a monster, is it a monster?
Well, if it’s a hill in Cornwall it might be the beast of Bodmin Moor. But it’s more than likely to be a mountain boarder, because the popularity of this exciting and rapidly growing extreme sport is exploding all over the county right now.
And the reason why? Well, we have hills and woodland descents aplenty, not to mention mountain bike trails and skate parks, which amount to perfect terrain for the mountain border.
But what exactly is mountain boarding? What’s the difference between a mountain board and a skateboard? And where can you catch an eyeful of freestyling and downhill mountain board action?
Find out below as we give you a fast tracked explanation of this monstrously popular extreme sport and speak to Tom Kirkman – Cornwall’s very own World Champion Mountain Boarder!
The Story So Far
Mountain Boarding, also known as All-Terrain Boarding, Off Road Boarding and Dirt Boarding, is one of the fastest growing extreme sports in the world. It’s pretty young too, if you compare it to surfing or mountain biking, and its roots can be traced back to the 1970s.
Mountain boarding was originally intended to keep snowboarders happy in the absence of the fluffy white stuff during warm months. It also allowed skateboarders the opportunity to try out some off-road action when they got bored of skate parks, shopping malls and multi-storey car parks.
Today there are over one million mountain boarders worldwide, with an estimated 6,000 participants in the UK alone. As with skateboarding, there has always been a competitive element to all-terrain boarding. Competitions have been running in the US since 1994, with the UK closely following in 1997.
Such is the growing popularity of mountain boarding that the sport is getting a lot of cross marketing with other products. Ford recently used the boards in their advertising about the Ford Edge, and Nissan in the marketing for the X-Terra.
Mountain boarding in Cornwall takes advantage of the county's abundantly hilly off-road terrain. Often the mountain boarders share the hills and dirt tracks with mountain bikers and other dirty downward thinking outdoor adventurers.
More and more dedicated centres are being opened around Cornwall for mountain board tuition and practice. The Ivyleaf Mountain Boarding Centre near Bude and the Extreme Academy at Watergate Bay are just a few examples. Just across the border in Bideford is the South West Mountain Board Centre – considered one of the UK’s best. More will undoubtedly follow.
A cross between a snowboard and a skateboard, the mountain board is designed for some serious grass and dirt sloped action. In the 1970s the mountain board was nothing more than an overweight skateboard with wheels nicked from prams and shopping trolleys. Today, your average mountain board is about one metre in length and packed with almost as much 21st century technology as a NASA rocket.
The latest mountain boards incorporate complex suspension systems, advanced steering mechanisms, revolutionary brake technology and are made from the very best composite materials that meet the demands of the job.
A typical mountain board has four oversized plastic wheels, wrapped in beefy rubber tyres allowing endless flexibility when it comes to terrain choice. The wheels stick out from the side, unlike a conventional skateboard where the wheels are hidden underneath the board.
There are also three wheeled boards such as the Outback, as well as two wheeled Dirtsurfer and Surfari boards, which use small spoked BMX type wheels.
Many mountain boards come with foot straps, similar in appearance to those found on snowboards. Their sole purpose is to ensure that both user and board are rarely separated.
An all-terrain board also sports channel trucks as part of the suspension system, which are spring loaded so that when you return to the ground after an impressive airborne manoeuvre, your feet don’t disappear up your backside.
There are over twenty-five all-terrain board manufacturers in the UK today, so choose wisely. See our Gear Guide to Mountain Boards for a small selection.
There are two main types of all-terrain boarding: Freestyle and Downhill.
Freestyle mountain boarding involves lots of jumping, flipping and grabbing, using ramps and other extreme launching devices to aid airborne trickery. Freestylers perform dizzying 180 and 360 degree turns and awesome back flips, front flips and super finger flips.
Every year the best of the best in the world of competitive freestyle boarding develop new air grabbing tricks that threaten to defy the law of physics and break new records.
Freeriding or Downhill mountain boarding essentially 'does what it says on the tin' and consists of downhill races using mountain bike courses, snowless ski resorts and woodland descents. Some downhill riders have been known to exceed speeds of 50mph!
Racing is either slalom, where two riders weave between poles, or boarder cross, a style of racing that is similar to BMX courses, with lots of jumps and other aerial launching devices.
Some mountain boarders even combine board with kite in a bid to generate more power for that added airlift. But kite boarding is a whole other sport entirely!
With its rugged terrain and surplus of board crazed youngsters, Cornwall produces the best mountain boarders in the country and the world. In fact, the current World Champion mountain boarder is none other than Tom Kirkman – a Cornish lad from Calstock! Check out our exclusive interview with the Champ in our Tom Kirkman profile.
Tom’s legacy continues in the form of Gunnislake youngster Joel Treliving, who is the under 14 UK champion and has been for the last 3 years!
The All-Terrain Boarding Association UK (ATBA UK) is the national body for the sport and organises a series of freestyle and freeride mountain boarding events across the UK called the ABTA UK National Series.
There are loads of great places to ride in Cornwall. Beginners should get some lessons at a dedicated centre. See our Mountain Boarding listings in the Adventure Directory.
Words: Robin Fuller