WORDS & PHOTO Marcus Bandy
I’ve been involved with skateboard competitions for over 25 years now—anything and everything from small skate shop contests and regional amateur leagues to Word Cup street skating circuits and currently professional downhill racing. During these same years, and concurrent throughout my involvement in the traditional sporting side of skateboarding, I’ve also been equally involved with the more abstract and free flowing contingency of skateboarding culture where the focus is on artistic interpretation, a strong drive to push things forward technically & physically via competition with one’s self rather than against other opponents. It’s important to note that I also just use my skateboard to exercise my dog, go grab beers with my homies, and to commute around the city. Skateboarding is most importantly FUN to me, and I celebrate all of its facets. For this particular Action Now column the focus is on the written and unwritten rules of sanctioned downhill skateboard racing, and specifically that of the IDF organization. Above, I purposely mention the simple joys of “fun” as well as the “artistic side” of skateboarding culture as a very important reminder to us all that it is connected—what we do in one corner of skateboarding affects and reflects the other corners. Basically, I believe we need to think about skateboard racing specifically with this connectivity in mind. As I’ve seen things become more competitive over the years and focused on traditional sports models via downhill racing, I can’t help but think that we might benefit from further critical though and collective scrutiny of the present written and unwritten racing regulations in downhill specifically, as well as take a look at and better understand the enforcement of such regulations. Specifically, I’m looking to further the open discussion on the current IDF rules focused on contact and passing between riders, the enforcement of the penalties associated with these rules, as well as touch on some of the unwritten (yet equally important) rules of our current racing community. Lastly, my plan is to end this week’s column with an attempt to “tie the room together” as they say via some ponderings on how our current choices reflect on skateboarding culture as a whole and it’s legacy in the future. My ultimate goal is to foster a dynamic skateboarding community that stays true to it’s legacy of Individuality, Creativity, Freedom, and Exploration. Enough of the dilly-dallying though; let me begin:
First and foremost, it is important to agree on the unwritten rule that the instant you sign up to race a skateboard against others you are formally stating your intent to try and beat the other skaters racing with you. If this were not the case then you’d just be mobbing runs in a pack. Therefore, any and all actions you take on the racecourse as a racer, which negatively or positively affect another rider, must 100% be taken as purposeful and flagrant unless stated otherwise via any rules and regulation. In short, you came to win and you must be held accountable for all your actions. Now let’s get to what has been written as the current rules and then allow me to humbly present some thoughts I think might be beneficial to discuss further together:
“7.3 Contact: Racers who deliberately make contact in an effort to ‘steal speed’ from another racer will be issued a conduct penalty.”
As stated above, it is all deliberate—each rider has chosen to race and any action they take that negatively or positively affects another rider is therefore deliberate based on the competitive intent I mentioned above. As long as the cause of the contact is not equipment or roadway malfunction then the contact is the cause of the rider. I feel like, as written, this rule is currently too open to interpretation. It needs to be concrete and fixed as possibly as outlined here:
Proposed Update: 7.3.1 Contact: Racers who make contact that steals speed or that gives speed to another racer will be issued a conduct penalty. All contact will be considered intentional unless stated otherwise and provided for in these official rules specifically.
“7.4 Passing: Overtaking competitors assume the responsibility of avoiding the lead competitor. However, during a pass, the lead competitor may not take defensive measures such as moving in on the line of the passing competitor to prevent them from taking the lead. Meanwhile, the overtaking competitor is responsible for COMPLETELY clearing the other competitor before moving into their line. A racer who violates the passing protocol will be issued a conduct penalty.”
Like as in car racing, this could go even further to expressly agree on a stated position that denotes when a pass (that important “during a pass” part) has been officially initiated and thusly, distinctly marks the exact point at which the leading rider cannot adjust his line. For some car racing this moment is when the passing car’s front wheels are next to the driver’s seat of the leading racer. I’m not claiming this is an easy solution, but for the sake of fairness and the ability for riders and officials to make confident, correct choices, and for the latter to dole out appropriate penalties, the discussion should continue. I’ll pose my thoughts about exact penalties further below.
“7.5 Intentional Contact: Some contact in close racing is natural. Racers who purposely spin, block, or cause another racer to crash will be penalized. A rider is responsible for their own braking and must avoid transferring speed to another rider by touching or bumping the back of a rider on the approach to turns. Deliberate, aggressive or repeated contact is not allowed and will not be tolerated.”
What exactly is “natural contact”? We should all agree on what this natural contact is exactly so there is no room for confusion, then get it on paper via it’s own rule so it’s clear and understandable for everyone, riders and officials alike. Otherwise, this is an abstract section that will always be left to interpretation and thusly left vulnerable to misuse. I actually think this section should be replaced by “Unintentional Contact”—outline THAT specifically, and then just add anything left about intentional contact directly to “Contact 7.3” above.
“7.6 Intentional Blocking: Intentional blocking of another racer is prohibited.”
What if this were also added to Contact 7.3 above as a specific?
“7.7 Rough Riding: Overly aggressive, dangerous or rough riding is not allowed and the offending competitor will be penalized and/or disqualified.”
Examples? TI see a value in this being outlined with specifics so that riders know exactly what not to do. As it is now, it feels vulnerable to misused or disused via its baggy and nonspecific nature. Again, I’ll bring this penalty thing up more thoroughly in that section specifically, but these sections might benefit from clearly stating exactly what’s gonna happen to you as per offense and penalty, and it should be a harsh enough of a penalty to incentivize not playing such games. It should clearly state exactly what will get you disqualified and what will just get you a letter in the mail.
“7.11 Interference: If a competitor interferes with another racer while on course, the competitor committing the interference will be issued a conduct penalty.”
The penalty of a letter in the mail as outlined below does not seem to reflect the severity of compromising the outcome of an entire race or heat. Currently, it seems as if there is little penalty incentive not to interfere, but a lot of incentive to try it—you might win if you do it, and if they catch you all that happens is a letter, maybe. Or maybe disqualification . . . but also maybe you just win. The “maybe” being the emphasis.
“8.1 Powers Of The IDF Board: The IDF board has the power of suspension. Competitors who are placed on report and are found guilty by the IDF Board shall be subject to the following penalties.
- One (1) report: A warning letter will be sent.
- Two (2) reports: The competitor will be placed on probation for a period between 30 and 365 days at the discretion of the IDF Board.
- Three (3) reports: The competitor will be suspended for a period between 30 days and life at the discretion of the IDF Board.”
I have two concerns here: One is the very real conflict of interest caused by having actively competing racers and brand owners/affiliates making rules/rulings/interpretations of the regulations which affect the outcome of races they are racing in or their team riders are racing in. I’m not pointing fingers specifically, but on the surface this conflict of interest seems counterintuitive in the longterm to building a truly official and unbiased organizing body for downhill skateboarding. But honestly, who else could play this role though? It’s not like we have a bunch of retired racers waiting in the wings to step up to the plate . . . Anyway, secondly, I really believe the current penalties language might be reworked so as to be specific and concrete rather than “maybe possibilities” and thusly broadly open to interpretation as it sits now. I think the “13/13” rules in car racing would be a good place to look for inspiration in revising the current penalty rules and enforcement. The basic idea is that if you have an incident your membership is on probation for 13 months. If you have a second incident during that time, you are banned from competition for 13 months. If nothing else, it would be great to see specific offenses officially matched with specific penalties.
I just wanna see downhill skateboarding grow, and passing maneuvers and contact at races have caused quite a lot of contention recently as such contact has led to position changes, and skaters are sensitive to whether those position changes are fair. Passing is also where wheel-to-wheel contact occurs. Contact can also result in crashes and broken bones; thusly, riders are, at times, understandably unhappy about the results of such contact and thusly the risks to their wellbeing and finishing placements. Passing a fellow rider is where trust is built or broken, and trust makes racing more fun as well as supports the camaraderie of the tight DH community that many of us skateboarders and fans have grown to love. Make no mistake—I have serious respect for the dudes who have build the IDF and I know that they are working with limited resources and also that much of their job is a thankless one. In my above text I definitely pose some concerns as well as possible solutions to the current IDF rules, but it’s all born from a passion for the constant betterment of the community that many others and I have dedicated our life’s to. My interest with these weekly Action Now columns is in creating open conversations—conversations that I hope spark forward momentum. These weekly columns are, as is this one specifically, never meant to be taken as instruction, but rather taken as an impetus for community dialogue. As the saying goes: “change is the only constant”. I wholeheartedly agree and I also know that constructively questioning as well as posing thoughtful alternatives to the status quo is the only way to create healthy dialogue and change. That being said, I am just one inspired skater observing his right to a voice; this conversation needs much more than I have to offer it—it needs the entire community of downhill skateboarding to continue to revise the current written and unwritten rules of sanctioned downhill skateboard racing. Thanks for reading and please share this with your crew and leave your comments below by sharing your personal experience, insight, and ideas. Shredlove.
Also, please make sure to spread the word about this and add any comments ya have below in the comment section so that we can discuss them on-air tonight once we go live. Shredlove and thanks for checking out Wheelbase Magazine and my column!
I just want to reiterate that the comments and ideas presented above are published with the sole purpose to create dialogue, not as instruction. If any of these ideas get your panties in a bunch please first: relax, and then pluck and place said undergarments in a more comfortable position and let’s have a heathy skater-to-skater chat. The live streaming Periscope discussion for this week’s Action Now column begins at 5PM PST tonight (2/25/2016).