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Downhill longboarding is frightening, but there’s one place that tests even the very best in the world. Scenic but intensely steep, The Bear’s Guts mountain hosts Red Bull No Paws Down – one of the toughest races for skaters in the world.
Downhill longboarding is not for the timid. It requires skill, athleticism and tremendous balance, but it is the sheer speed riders reach that induces genuine fear. One mistake means hitting the asphalt at 80kph (50mph), breaking some bones and leaving the top layer of your skin somewhere halfway up the road you’ve just come down from.
One spot where you can see this frightening talent on show is the appropriately named Bear’s Guts in Osilnica, Slovenia. It is made up of nearly 20 hairpin turns that snake down 4km (2mi) of mountainside and is home to the annual KnK Longboard Camp.
The highlight of the camp is Red Bull No Paws Down. The event sees 64 riders compete in an elimination-type race: four riders race at a time, with the fastest two going through to the next round. The process is repeated until just four are left to compete for the prize. The race gets its name from the rule that riders are not allowed to put their hands on the ground.
The inability to use your hands for balance is crucial. Traditionally, riders gain extra stability round tight corners by placing their hands on the ground (while wearing specially designed gloves), but those looking to win races are putting speed ahead of safety and flying through as fast as possible. Go over the edge at a corner, however, and you only have the mountainside to to greet you.
While most forms of skateboarding focus on tricks and jumps, longboarding is a race to the bottom. The boards themselves are long, narrow and made of either wood or carbon fibre. There are four small wheels and no brakes; the only way of stopping, or at least slowing down, is by sliding the board sideways. Staying on the board and away from the gravel below requires a mix of courage and control – getting to the bottom with your limbs intact is one thing, beating the best in the world is quite another. For those who want to see them in action, you have to go to the Guts.