The Return of the Dragon

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After four years of slumber, the Dragon was awoken. Will Stephenson’s Ride the Dragon Freeride, Race and Taster Day stirred up a weekend of spills and thrills and a fair amount of gnar.

It’s a little under 5 hours to Pontrhydfendigaid from Hampshire, three of which were through some of Wales’ most incredible landscapes. In the weeks leading up to the event, I read everything I could about the hill and watched all the videos I could, in order to find some angle that would allay my growing concerns about whether or not I could even attempt this iconic hill. At various breaks en route, I caught up with posts that did nothing to help either. Images of potholes with grass growing out of them, damp and greasy surfaces and comments that even the stand-up guys were reverting to butt boarding confirmed my decision to stick to the luge – even though this would only be my second time in this category, on a secondhand luge thanks to Andy Speight of SP8 Boards – which I’d never ridden before!

Photo credit: Dilys Richardson

One of the things I love about the UKDH community is regardless of surface or weather conditions, it seems you can’t extinguish the vibe! True to form, I arrived to smiles and laughter and a great sense of fun – already riders had had a great time on the hill and were stoked and ready for Saturday. I found a piece of ground and, with grateful help from Jamie and Mo, had the tent up and was making myself at home in no time. Later on that evening, we all decamped to the Black Lion, just a short walk thru the farm, for food and beverage. For me, it was an early night; for others not so much. With the gentle lowing of cattle lulling me to sleep, I drifted into a slumber which I hoped would refresh me for the day ahead.

Waking up to the smell of bacon butties is a beautiful thing. This really ought to be a requirement for all events sanctioned by the BDSL.  Gradually we all mustered ourselves ready for the uplift and so began the day’s riding. Those on the streetluge Taster Day were dropped off at the first hairpin and progressed throughout the day, working their way up the hill, until finally riding from the top.

Most importantly, the weather had sorted itself out and the surface had dried up beautifully! There was still one spot mid-way which had a small thread of water coursing across it but that, thankfully, didn’t prove a problem.

Photo credit: Daniel Shinnie/Boardlogic

With 20-odd riders, a fast hill and uplifts we were each able to get loads of runs in.  Learning more about the lay of the land and quirks of the hill on each run and improving technique, the speeds increased. Michael Stride (Octane Sports) brought along his speed camera and clocked top speeds of around 40mph.  Myself, I cleared 31mph but as I tried to go faster I started clipping the corners and getting a couple of wheels in the dirt and gravel. Having the ability to put my feet down to brake is still novel but did allow me to take on this hill without baling and remaining totally unscathed!

Photo credit: Henry Bradley

The weather for the weekend was causing some concern with storms being forecast for Sunday, which was race day. I knew that if it rained my boots were not going to work brake-wise so was anxious about that. Saturday continued dried and, after discussion with Will and the BDSL committee, checking that all who had registered had arrived, it was decided to bring the races forward. So, after lunch – more burgers and bacon rolls from Non in the van – the ’round-robin’ style racing began.

First off, the stand-up guys raced against each other.

Here is Jonathan Braund’s video from his run against Aaron Skippings. A gale was blowing at the top of the hill and, with clouds closing in, we were on tenterhooks, hoping to all get our races done before the weather turned.  Jon and Aaron push off fast and gather speed, bearing slightly left before the first main straight where they reach speeds of up to 43mph.  They close in on the first right-hander, shutting down enough to get around – though for Jon, he wasn’t so lucky.  Sliding off into the dirt and haybales, giving Aaron the edge and losing vital seconds, Jon’s annoyance can be clearly heard! The push off from that point takes him onto the slight uphill so he has to put in some effort before gravity takes over again, sweeping gently left before he rebuilds his speed into the second right-hander, over the damp spot and into the left hairpin. Gliding round and into the second main straight, Jon tucks down, reaching 40mph before braking into the gentle right and shutting down in preparation for the tight right-left chicane. Then on towards to the finish line – one race over, another seven to go! Jonathan made it successfully down on his other runs to take overall 2nd place on the podium! Well deserved!

 

The streetlugers continued freeriding after the stand-ups as we had to wait for Aaron who was also competing in this category.  After seven races already under his belt, he was feeling pretty tired as he joined us – could that mean a level playing field, giving another luger a chance to win – hahaha! Of course not!  Another seven races in the round-robin style saw Aaron take double firsts for both stand-up and streetluge! That man is a beast!

Photo Credit - BoardLogic
Chasing Roadkill – Photo: Boardlogic/Daniel Shinnie

A couple of my own runs in the streetluge heats were fun – racing against Robbie, I tried really hard to catch him. With Mark, I managed to get away from the start line and kept ahead until I had to brake for the first right-hander and, as we went round, he whizzed by like a streak of lightning! I had braked so hard that I didn’t have to speed to get up the little hill and saw Mark already on the final straight whilst I was still high up the hill. Both Aaron and Gareth gave me a tad leeway from the start line – oh, you are such jesters! – but still, they whooshed past and disappeared into the horizon. At least in my race against Andy Speight, I was able to take second place on an SP8 Board 🙂  Odd Steinar Syversen, who has only been lugeing for a year or so, travelled over from Norway making this now an international event! 🙂 He did really well and said how much he had learned from this event alone – with that, I must agree.  

The turtle races ran before each luge heat. Only three of the five took part as Dilys Richardson took a hit to her ankle in practise runs and Michael Stride was in for the fun only.

Results

Standup
1st Aaron Skippings
2nd Jonathan Braund
3rd Bodhi Keen
4th Oliver Slaughter
5th Ben Stainer and Edward Carter
7th LJ and Jamie Griffiths

Streetluge
1st Aaron Skippings
2nd Martin Hull
3rd Gareth Chamberlain
4th Andy Speight
5th Odd and Mark Fleetwood
7th Robbie Stevens
8th Sabina Edwards

Street Turtle
1st Jason Absalom
2nd Ian Richardson
3rd Jason Fry

Taster day – – Helen, Beki, Cliff, Jason, Jonny

Thanks also went to Tom, Alex, Dale, Bodhi, Nat, Cat, Murph and Martin for Marshalling/driving. Matt and Oli for the first aid cover and patching everyone up. Non for letting us use his track and cooking burgers ‘n’ bacon butties, Ben for bringing cake.  Thrill Magazine helped up the prize fund.

Words by Sabina Edwards

Images by Daniel Shinnie, Dilys Richardson and Henry Bradley – more on Flickr (see sidebar)