The gravity discipline, known as Street Luge, has not always been the polished form it appears as now. Since the first time someone laid down on a "skateboard", the rudimentary form of Street Luge began, evolving into the professional discipline which currently exists.
Although the progression and development of Street Luge and Street Luge Racing has it's "Founding Fathers", it should also be remembered that if it wasn't for the first riders laying down on their skateboards, Street Luge would not exist.
Even with the invention of the Internet and video sharing sites, You Tube & Vimeo, people are still 'discovering' Street Luge everyday. In fact, nearly everyone has dabbled in a little in Street Luge at some point in their life. All it takes is for someone to sit on a skateboard and realise 'Hey, I can go faster if I take this up a hill and lay down'. And another luger is born.
Here though, we are talking about the organised history of Street Luge and that all started in the time of the skateboarding craze of the 1970's at an event called Signal Hill. This event was all about speed, it didn't matter what you were riding, the aim was just get to the bottom as fast as possible. In those days 'Street Luge' was known as 'lay down' skateboarding to differentiate it between skateboarding which it seemed like every kid in America was doing. 'Lay Down' skateboarders were joined with skateboarders, skate cars (billy carts shaped like missles), kneeboards, head first laydown skateboarding, 2 X 4's with skate trucks screwed to the bottom. It was crazy, Safety requirements were virtually non-existant with many guys riding without helmets, in singlets and shorts. But it was the start of something, and everyone knew it.
After the skateboarding craze of the 1970's the sport was built, honed, crafted, shaped, created by the true godfathers of Street Luge. Men like Roger Hickey, Bob Pereyra, Bob Gilbertson, Marcus Rietema (IGSA Founder), Bob Ozman, Darren Lott. The sport was kept alive though the dark ages of the 80's but it was due to come back with a vengeance in the early 90's after a series of small races were set up all through the US.
Media and sponsors were starting to take notice as more and more riders with high profiles started coming out of the woodwork. In 1995, ESPN picked up the new sport with its new name of Street Luge. A much sexier version then the commonly used "Laydown skateboarding" of the time. The ESPN Extreme Games were the catalyst that set off an explosion of growth in the sport.
While all this was going on the first seeds of growth were already planted in Europe. Street Luge here was growing from the very different roots of Ice Luge. 'Luge', of course being the French word for sled, has been part of the Winter Olympics since 1964 and where the term Street Luge is derived. So, with the development of skateboard wheels and trucks it wasn't long before Ice Luge athletes found that by putting skateboard trucks on their sleds they could enjoy their sport in a different way during the summer months. The ESPN Extreme Games drew the attention of some of the Euorpean founding fathers of the more modern version of classic luge, Stephan Wagner, Gerhard Lanz & Frank Vogelsang who travelled over to pit their skill against their American counterparts.
Being a televised event the ESPN Extreme Games sent vision of this great sport across the globe, all of a sudden new riders were taking up the sport and those already riding now had a name for it. New associations and events started springing up everywhere and it wasn't long before hundreds of Street Lugers were vying for entry into events.
It was the ESPN Extreme Games that snared Australian Andrew Smith (BSL Rep, GSE.Ltd Consultant, Tech Inspector). Andrew was immediately hooked by the sport and he started work on his first board merely days after seeing it.
In 1996 Marcus Rietema and a group of other riders sat down at his kitchen table and the IGSA (International Gravity Sports Association) was born.
Also in 1996, ESPN renamed the Extreme Games to the X-Games and commissioned Marcus and the IGSA to organise it. Australian Andrew Smith travelled to California to compete, bringing a wealth of information back with him.
Andrew, along with other influential figures in the sport such as Pat Brennan, Andre Weber, Richard Powers and underground rider Darryl Fellows helped to progress the sport in Australia. The ESPN X-Games continued to expose the rest of the world to Street Luge via it's staged events in California and Rhode Island.
In 1998, Sony Play Station in conjunction with Channel 10 bought a version of the X-games to Australia. The X-games showcased Street Luge in the U.S. & Australia, and pushed Street Luge, as well as some of the other "Summer" gravity disciplines into the new millennium. There were other events like Hot Heels which had been running for many years too. The San Francisco Big Air was another spectacular event which showcased the "extreme" aspect of Street Luge. When most people hear about Street Luge, it's usually the images from these events they think of.
In those days there were so many Street Luge racers that whole events needed to be set up just to qualify riders before they could be eligible to enter the big events. Street Luge was expanding across the face of the globe, enjoying greater exposure than other gravity disciplines at that time.
In 2001, ESPN dropped Street Luge from the X-Games and from the Australian X-Games. Street Luge was going through a tumultuous time, with the direction the sport being a subject of discussion amongst all the then Global Organisers The sport plateaued in many areas and declined in others, like Australia.
Thanks to the work of the IGSA and other groups of people the sport was keep alive through the 2000's. Street Luge in Australia though was very quiet, many athletes retired & many went underground. Numerous events were planned but failed due to lack of community and governmental support.
In 2008, the IGSA returned to Australia and with the help of ASRA (the Australian Skateboard Racing Association) Newtons Playground was created. This event show cased a number of extreme sports at Mt Panorama in Bathurst including Street Luge & Downhill Skateboarding. The hill has been home to the Australian leg of the IGSA World Cup ever since.
In 2009, Australia's first Charity freeride was started in Townsville and has quickly become known as Australia's best gravity event. These events have started a new Golden Age of this sport which has shown official Australian Street Luge numbers triple in just 3 years.
In 2010, the SL network was created by Phil Champion, Darryl Fellows & Tyler Johnson. The network became a hub for new riders to obtain information, videos and news about the sport, promoting it in a safe and professional manner to the public.
The network is more then just a one stop shop for Street Luge information; new riders can find local representatives to help them get into the sport. These same representatives also meet on a regular basis to discuss issues and ways to develop the sport, giving riders in all main Street Luge groups an equal voice on a national level.
Also in 2010, Gravity Sport Events, Ltd, a not-for-profit company was formed to help organisers, as well as themselves, stage legitimate events in Australia. Airwalls from the motor-racing industry were purchased, as well as a new form of extensive insurance being designed to support the development of all gravity disciplines in Australia.
Legitimately organised Street Luge training days were also created, with the help of Brisbane Street Luge (part of the SL Network), utilising both the airwalls and insurance to teach new riders how to ride safely. For the first time anyone from the public could come and try out the sport legally with the protection of insurance, learning from professionals with all safety gear and boards provided.
Since 2008 there have been more gravity events in Australia than ever before with more and more people wanting to get involved. Never before has Street Luge had such a bright future ahead.