Pete Connolly - No One Faster!

Today is Word Record Day so what better day for sharing how UK's Pete Connolly became the fastest guy on a skateboard - 91.17mph (146.73kph) and new world record holder after completing this year's L'Ultime Descente in Canada. We also hear from Aaron Skippings, first timer to L'Ultime Decente, who reached just over 78mph (126.16kph)...

Descent banner

L'Ultime Descente is where the top athletes from around the world attempt to break the world speed record in their gravity sports category; including stand-up longboard, street luge, gravity car, gravity bike and rollerblade.

Organised by Charles-Antoine Lavoie, it is held yearly in the Les Èboulements in the Charlevoix au Quebec, Canada. 

A quick history of speed records: Mischo Erban set the bar with a speed of 80.83mph about 4 years back in America. Erik Lundberg then came along in 2016 and hit 81.16 mph. A few weeks before the first l’Ultime Descente event was supposed to happen Kyle Wester busted out a video of himself reaching 89.41mph at the same location Mischo used in his record attempt.

L'Ultime Descente 2017

In the stand-up longboard category, the UK was well represented by Pete and fellow downhill skater Aaron Skippings for the UK, with our adopted kin, Gael (Kami San) Desfontaine repping for France.

LUltime Decente 2017 times

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When considering the speeds these guys are reaching, our first thoughts were how do their partners and families feel about them attempting such a dangerous act? It was our first question to them ...

Pete: Zoe, my wife was here at L'Ultime Decente with me! She loves watching me skate and is a huge support! Zoe often runs me up hills for training back home and gets as stoked as me on a good run. I wouldn’t have been able to do this without her epic support!  She always says she worries about me more when I go out cycling on the road than when I skate.
 
Pete goes to tell us about his L'Ultime journey... 
 
"I first attended L'Ultime Descente in 2016 and got the bug big time! I have been in preparation for the event all year. My main limiter in 2016 was the tuck that I used. I have spent the past year focusing on retraining my front foot position to get my body more inline and reducing my frontal area - it's been a great challenge for me. Another major part of my preparation was the creation of a leather speed suit. Leathers are mandatory, but also bulky, I knew if I could create a streamline leather suit I would see improvements in my top end speed. I worked with a specialist and together we designed patterns and prototypes from scratch. This took about 8 months to come to fruition and became quite an undertaking! The suit itself is an achievement I am proud of and I hope the concepts filter down into our standard skating suits, maybe making the whole “speed-suit” debate irrelevant, as the margin of advantage gained by wearing speed-suits over leathers diminishes to a nominal amount. I also invested a lot of my board time this year into “robot skating”, just repeating runs and recording data with a GPS to try and gain knowledge on what equipment choices to make. I have lots of thoughts on what I will be doing for the next L’Ultime Descente, although I will be keeping them to myself for now!

Pete on the hillPete Connolly - Photo Credit: Louis Liberté Photographie

I did tune my equipment for the event, although the essence of my board is the same as I always skate. My deck is my Lush Speedbyrd and my trucks are Sabre CF38 with 170mm hangers that I have been skating on for the last 20 months or so. I skate with my back truck de-wedged to 33 degrees, regardless of the hill, I just like that nose leading feel and my speed board is not for skating switch! This year I have been on Venom bushings and put double pink barrels (97a) in cup washers in the back and double white (95a) in the front, barrel roadside, freeride board side with the fat end on the baseplate, both in cup washers.  As the event went on I beefed it up a bit more, putting a 97a freeride in the back and front board side, both fat side to the hangers.

The biggest modification to my board for the event is the addition of lead as a ballast. My board weighed in at 7kg total and it takes some time practicing getting used to a board that feels like a missile! Ultimately, the additional mass feels good, it makes the board more stable and reduces the impact that uneven road surface can have on your board. Small cracks and variations just get steam-rolled over, it’s a great feeling - unless you need to stop or go around a corner….

Harfang Decente PC TimePete's world breaking speed caught on camera - Photo credit: Harfang Wheels

As I mentioned, Zoe came with me to L’Ultime Descente this year and we treated it as our holiday too, adding on an extra week to travel around and see that part of Canada.  For the event, we stayed in a little log cabin near the event's main location and close to where the other English skaters were staying. The hospitality of the locals in the area and the event organisers were great and the area really seems to enjoy having the riders around.

The L’Ultime Descente is structured as an “Invite Only” event and mainly arranged on a closed group on Facebook. Effectively anyone in the group can add anyone else, thereby vouching for them. Alternatively, you can contact the event organiser and put themselves forward.

The race is run in a time trial fashion, with riders in a set order running one at a time in sequence. You leave as much space as you want between yourself and the previous rider, around 30-40 seconds is enough. If there is a crash, you get red flagged in the top part of the course and need to come to a stop. As your run would be messed up, the organisers are very good at giving you a re-run at some point in the day, ensuring all riders get all their timed runs.

Between runs, the riders normally spend the time adjusting or inspecting their kit, to make sure everything is on point for the next run or doing the same for a friend and helping them out. There is a great sense of community at L’Ultime Decente, with people lending each other equipment to try, everyone wanting their friends to do their best and get a personal Top Speed!

For me, I remain relaxed and don’t really get anxious. Having said that, I maintain a strong level of will, I had been training and preparing for a year, each run mattered and every run down the hill I had a plan for and needed to commit fully. I do all my thinking and planning in between run, and I let it all go and relax by the time it’s my run. I try to ignore everything going on in the event around me and just listen to the wind or something simple when I’m at the start line. Being relaxed for the run is key. After the run is when I reflect on what just happened and start thinking about what I had just tried and what to do with my next run to improve. This is when most of the emotion and adrenalin hits and forms the moments that drive me to do it all again.

Pete Connolly by A SkippingsSuits you, Sir - Photo credit: Aaron Skippings

The vibe is unique here. Unlike racing, no one is eliminated and you all get the same amount of runs as the day progresses. As such, although the event is a competition, you are not competing against each other, but against your best run so far. Riders lend riders wheels, speed suits and aero helmets for runs to give them an opportunity to improve, you don’t get that at an IDF World Cup! This is Speedboard, not racing, it has its own atmosphere and it’s great! A niche within a niche. The call of speed doesn’t extend to everyone who skates hills, but everyone at L’Ultime Descente wants one thing, to skate as fast as they possibly can! For me, the hardest thing is to maintain a high level of focus. Even when I race, I always place enjoying myself at the event above winning; if I don’t have a smile on my face, I question why I’m there at all. This year I had set some goals and I needed to push myself beyond my comfort zone. I couldn’t afford to be chilled and just enjoy this event, every single run counted! Mind you, I still had a huge grin on my face after every run. :-)

If you are thinking about doing this event and like the thought of doing 80mph+ on your board, then you probably belong! It’s a self-editing environment really, you either think “I can’t wait!” or “Sod that!” My advice would be to get some training in, it’s most likely that your standard setup may need tweaking into more of a tank. You need to be comfortable riding with ballast and harder bushings before you get to the hill so that, on every run at the event, you can work on your line and performance instead of trying to get used to equipment changes. The event is 3 days long and you get about 5-6 runs a day; maybe one day it rains, maybe one day there is a headwind, maybe the first run on the first day is the best conditions of the whole event, so you have to be ready to send it off the bat!

Aaron and Pete   HarfangAaron and Pete - Photo Credit: Harfang Wheels

Aaron Skippings was a first timer to L'Ultime Descente this year. We threw him the same question ... What on earth did Charlotte think about it all?

Aaron: "Ha-ha! Charlotte does think I’m crazy but she knows I enjoy it and I can handle my own when it comes to skating. She has been incredibly supportive of my hobby since we met and knows I’m passionate about it. She puts up with a lot - not to mention the ever ever-increasing helmet collection…heh...oops." 

So tell us more ... 

"I know for a fact Pete trained seriously hard this year and recorded everything he did analysing his data results again and again so he knew the right equipment to use. That’s why he deserved the world record so much - I’m sure no one else put in as much time, effort and money as he did. Well worth it.

Aaron Skippings 1

I didn’t really train much but, usually, I’m ok at high speeds. I’ve always been a speed boarder. Nothing else. I did, however, put on much more weight. I’d say it helped me. Apparently, the event is going to be on every 2 years so will have to wait and see. My plan for next time is to add weight to my board. Maybe work on my tuck and become a bit more flexible!

My equipment was pretty standard at the event. I was running 154mm Ronin trucks with a 45/20 degree split. A.O.B Fussion deck with the W concave sanded out. Riptide KRANK bushings & Riptide Proto grip tape, EOS footstop which was like a skyhook. I did, however, have some big 81mm Sector 9 wheels with a thin contact patch given to me by Emily Pross. They worked so well. Finally, for bearings, I had something special. They were a custom set I did at work. The process is secret but let’s just say Pete was running them when he got the world record….

My trip was generously part-funded by A.O.B. Longboards. The rest was all me. We stayed in a place called Auberge de la Rive Charlevoix at the bottom of the hill which was a prime spot. The views were amazing and the hospitality even better. I stayed with Kami San, Alex Frischauf and Beni Weber. The owner Lyne really looked after us well. Lyne is a lovely person and will go out of her way for you. I believe she even provided food at the top of the hill while the event was running.

Aaron   Marc VivierAaron keeping it chill - Photo credit: Mark Vivier Vincent

We did have a bit of chill time between runs and lunchtime was nice and long to eat some food and think about ways to go faster. I was pretty nervous when I arrived. The first time I saw the hill it was nothing like the photos. It was way steeper. After the first run, I settled into it more and more and became comfortable. Not much goes through my mind when I’m about to skate the run, I need to be 100% focused and start thinking again only when my run is over. The point between start and finish is silent.

The vibe is very different to other events. Everyone has come to go fast and test out all there equipment. It’s a very focused vibe but still a friendly vibe. I knew a few of the competitors so it was nice to see old friends. Speed is my favourite and I love to see what equipment people have and especially the aerolids!

Aaron   LibertePhoto credit: Louis Liberté Photographie

I think the hardest thing to get your head around is the speed and wind. You are going seriously fast and cannot move at all. Staying in your tuck is almost safer as you are locked in. At these speeds, the wind plays a serious role and affects everything. 70mph+ it actually starts to almost lift you up and off your board. Stay low, stay in your tuck and smash through. Just YOLO it. Of course, the toilet just before the run is a godsend. There was one close."

:-)

Finally, Aaron, what would be your advice to anyone thinking of giving L'Ultime Decente a go? 

My advice would be to train for this as much as you can. If you haven’t been over 50mph or 60mph this event is not for you. The jump in speed is fairly large. It might not seem like much skating 10, 20, 30mph more than you’re used too but you really notice it. More than usual. Get comfortable at speed then hit this event up!"

Aaron and Pete   Helmets

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Website: Ultime Descent 

Facebook: L'Ultime Descente - Top Speed Challenge

Pictures: Feature image by Emily Pross, other photos by Louis Liberté Photographie, Harfang Wheels, Frederic Chan, Mark Vanier Vincent and riders own.

Words: Pete Connolly, Aaron Skippings

Editor: Sabina Edwards

 

 

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