Imagine being 3 inches off the ground, laying on your back while careening down a hill at nearly 60 mph.
You may think a person would have to be under the influence or have a death wish to try this, but four guys in Coeur d’ Alene think it’s the dawn of a new frontier in sports.
It is street lugeing and it’s the newest edition to the extreme sports that seem to be popping up everywhere.
“It is definitely a sport of the ‘90s,” said Troy Murphy, the Lake City’s pioneer street luger. “Sports as we know them are changing.”
Street luges locally are 6 to 8 feet long and made out of steel, although the professionals who originated the sport in California use aluminum. All luge’s use skateboard wheels and trucks and the only brakes are your shoes, which actually stop you in 20 feet - if the soles hold up that far.
Murphy, 31, also an avid mountain bike racer and longtime skateboarder whose first job was delivering pizzas on his skateboard in Sandpoint, saw street lugeing for the first time on television last winter. By early spring, Murphy had built himself a sled out of steel, custom fitted to his 6-foot, 7-inch body.
For the first month and a half, the account executive at KEZE radio in Spokane rode his luge alone. Through the grapevine, he heard that a few other guys in Coeur d’ Alene had also built luges.
Enter Tobin Hammock, 22, his brother, Keith, 19, and John White, 22. Tobin Hammock first saw street lugeing on ESPN’s Extreme Games in June and became an immediate fan. He convinced his brother and White to try it and soon they had three new sleds.
“Street lugeing’s rush is a combination of speed and a floating feeling,” Tobin Hammock said. “It’s an incredible feeling.”
The lugers ride almost anyplace they can find a somewhat controllable hill, since they have to battle traffic in many cases. Some of the hills they have conquered include I-90 coming into Spokane from the west, French Gulch in Coeur d’Alene and the Centennial Trail near Coeur d’ Alene, which Murphy calls “the best place to ride because it’s safe and there is no traffic to fight.”
Their dream hill: Grand Boulevard in Spokane.
“It would be really cool because of the sweeping curves and the all-out speed,” Murphy said.
Police in Spokane and Coeur d’ Alene report that there is no law that prohibits street lugeing, but are worried about the dangers of the riders mixing with traffic.
“The problem is the speeds and lack of control,” Coeur d’ Alene police officer Jason MacNeil said. “They can’t obstruct traffic.”
Spokane Police Department traffic sergeant, Anthony Giannetto, said, “Their not considered vehicles or bicycles so, technically, they do not have a legal right to be on the road. A driver at a stop sign may not see them when pulling out into traffic because they are so low to ground.”
The best thing about the sport, though, according to Tobin Hammock, is the cost. An average street luge can be built for less than $100, depending mostly on the types of wheels and trucks used. And the maintenance is easy and cheap - usually new wheels and bearings are the only parts that need to be replaced.
“Street lugeing is the ultimate high you can get for the least amount of money,” said Tobin Hammock, also a motorcycle hill climb racer. “All you have to do is put about a $100 in a sled and then it’s up to you to find the hill.”
For now, the group is content riding for fun and trying to get people interested in the sport, but as more people become involved, Murphy would like to form some sort of loose organization and sanction races.
“For us to put on races, we would have to get the city to close off roads like they do for the bike races,” Murphy said. “That’s a long ways off.”
The hardest thing the lugers face is acceptance by the public.
“Some people think it’s the neatest, coolest thing in the world and they’ve seen it on TV,” Murphy said. “Other people just drive by and scowl at you.”
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: Sport’s roots in skateboarding Street lugeing’s roots date back to the early 1960s, when teenagers across the United States would lay on their skateboards and rocket down a hill. In the mid-‘70s, Bob Pereyra, an early disciple of street lugeing and president and founder of Road Racers Association of International Lugers (RAIL), the sport’s sanctioning body, built a wooden luge 4 feet long. Pereyra got the idea after his car ran out of gas on top of a hill in California. He grabbed his skateboard out of the car and rode 2 miles down the hill on his back to get gas. From there, many different forms of the wooden board were tried until an aluminum luge made its debut in the early ‘80s. Aluminum is still used and preferred today, although advancements in the design have increased the speed drastically. The unofficial street luge world speed record was set on Mt. Rainier at more than 85 mph. “(Street lugeing) has come a long way,” Pereyra said. “But equipment-wise it is still primitive.” To contact RAIL, write 18734 Kenya St., Northridge, Calif., 91326, or call (818) 368-6826.