Hawaii thrillseekers a YouTube hit
By Michael Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer
Fresher than the Dancing Cadet, only marginally less harrowing than Dynamite Surfing, a wave of downhill "bomb" videos posted by Hawai'i skateboarders is putting the plunging, winding roads of Pupukea, Tantalus and Maunawili on the YouTube map and shedding light on a flourishing if at times law-bending subculture of local thrillseekers.
The videos, which have been turning up with increasing frequency over the last couple of years, feature local amateur and professional skateboarders using high-tech longboards — and the occasional SUV tow — to speed down (bomb) steep, twisting roads around the state.
A cursory search of YouTube bears dozens of videos with titles like "Old Pali Bomb," "Speedboard Oahu" and "13 Turns and a Bucket of Burns" — many with hits numbering in the thousands. Many more are embedded on Facebook or other social media sites maintained by skaters and their friends.
While a few are professionally shot, the vast majority are captured on low-tech helmet-cams or camcorders mounted on monopods, which are held by the skaters themselves. And while a few feature the sort of spills and wipeouts typical of trick skating videos, more find artistic expression in the balance between the inherent danger of the sport (evident in the blur of passing scenery) and the smooth, sure movements of the expert riders.
"It's tight," said 17-year-old Devin Naito, who frequents the skateboarding facility at A'ala Park. "You have to be really ballsy to attempt something like that. Going mach 10 down some of those hills — that's gnarly."
Naito has friends who bomb, and he's seen a fair share of the strangely hypnotic videos that pop up on YouTube. He's even attempted a few lower-risk bombing runs himself.
"It's fun," Naito said. "You catch mad speed, but if you start to speed wobble it's really scary. It takes a lot of balance and you have to know how to take turns and how to power slide. You have to know a good amount to do it without getting hurt."
Extreme sports videos from Hawai'i are nothing new. In addition to the hundreds of North Shore surfing videos clogging surf, sport and general interest video dumps, Hawai'i has also provided a backdrop for widely viewed videos featuring a motorcyclist speeding along H-3 Freeway and a daring base jumper launching from a Waikíkí hotel.
And to be sure, skateboarders have attempted seemingly insane downhill runs for as long as there have been skateboards.
In recent years, however, the advancement of longboard design and technology — including thick, elongated decks; extra-wide, embedded trucks; and soft, oversized wheels — has allowed skilled skaters to attempt increasingly difficult — and dangerous — bombs and raids.
The burgeoning sport has found particular traction in Hawai'i, where outlaw events like the Tantalus 420 are captured and transmitted across the Pacific, where informal groups like 808 Bomberz of Maui bring together longboard enthusiasts of all stripe, and where skaters such as Ryan Lau have become local legends.
"They're their own subculture," said 18-year-old skateboarder Noil Buscaglia.
Buscaglia, who has taken on the long straightaways of Kaimukí for fun but does not consider himself a bomber, said longboarding will continue to grow in Hawai'i because of the wealth of attractive downhill roads and the state's well-established skateboarding scene.
Likewise, Buscaglia said, social networking sites like Facebook all but ensure that the exploits of Hawai'i's most daring skaters will continue their creep into mainstream consciousness.
Local skateboarders say that while most videos depict the exploits of the most skilled downhill skaters, similar attempts by skateboarders of lesser skill or more modest inclinations occur every day on public and private roads across the state.
Police are aware of the sport and have cautioned or cited skaters who violate laws, according to Honolulu Police Department spokeswoman Michelle Yu.
City and county ordinances prohibit skateboarders from entering roadways except to cross a street. The fine for violating the ordinance is $25, although skaters contacted by The Advertiser said they have also been cited under jaywalking laws, which carry a heavier fine.
'Aiea resident Antya Miller said he sees longboarders speeding down the 1.5-mile road known locally as "Cadillac Hill."
"There are some crazies who do that," he said. "I just hope they don't get hurt."
Still, Miller doesn't think that more police intervention is necessary.
"Do what you want to do as long as you accept whatever consequences you suffer," Miller said. "If a kid wants to go crazy down the hill, he just has to be aware of what could happen."
Michael Lyons, chairman of the North Shore Neighborhood Board, said the board has received many complaints about skateboarders racing down perilous Pupukea Road.
"It's dangerous," Lyons said. "If there's an obstruction on the road or an oncoming car, the kids won't be able to stop in time."
One of the most popular Hawai'i bomb videos, "Pupukea DownHill Longboard Raid," includes video of skaters crossing over medial lines and executing hairpin turns just before a line of cars passes in the opposite direction.
"Anytime the safety of the public is put at risk it's always a concern," Lyons said. "Just one incident can cause a lot of bad publicity."
Lyons said the situation is part of a larger problem facing the North Shore.
"We need more places for them to go out here," Lyons said. "We have skateboarders, bicyclists, walkers, and they all end up on the road because there are no sidewalks. We need more facilities so that they have an outlet."
However, skateboarders say that downhill longboarding has evolved into a unique sport, with alliances, protocols and culture all its own. And while many longboarders also enjoy trick skating at skate parks, they are unlikely to give up the thrill of the downhill raid, they say.
Buscaglia said most bombers are equipped with expensive safety gear and usually have a car following as a buffer.
"But sometimes the car can't keep up," he said. "I mean, it could accelerate, but you don't want to be driving 40 mph around some of those turns."
The state Department of Health's Injury Prevention and Control Program does not track skateboard injuries by specific activity or type of board. However, it has noted a general increase in emergency room visits and hospital admissions for skateboard-related accidents between 2003 and 2008, according to program epidemiologist Dan Galanis.
In 2008, injured skateboarders accounted for 906 emergency room visits and 70 hospital admissions.
Over the six-year period, 84 percent of those injured were between the ages of 5 and 25. Of the total number of injured skateboarders seeking treatment, 84 percent were male.
Galanis also reported that of the 89 patients entered into The Queen's Medical Center Trauma Registry from 2003 to 2008, at least 20 were injured while riding downhill. Also, from 1999 to 2008, there were 12 deaths from skateboard-related injuries; all were males between the ages of 17 and 34.