Gabrielle Murray-Roberts

How to bomb downhill

Photo (above): Gabriella Achadinha

Gabrielle Murray-Roberts is South Africa’s No.1 female downhill skater. She’s done the hard yards, and come out on top. This is her advice for those sizing up that slope

1. Easy does it

WHY: Curb your enthusiasm, or the curb will hurt you. It’s not just a matter of hopping on a board and bombing the first hill you come across. You’ll need to take some time to get comfortable first. 

Murray-Roberts says: “I’ve seen guys who want to get their girlfriends skating and they put them on a skateboard, put a helmet on their heads, push them down a hill. The girl falls, face-plants, roastie…. never wants to get back on a board again.”

Murray-Roberts has felt the pressure herself. “I’ve always had people pushing me, but I was adamant, I didn’t cave in to the pressure. I was, like, screw that. You have to take your time. And it paid off.”

2. Fall, learn, repeat

WHY: All good things come to those who put in the work. How to stand on a skateboard, where your feet should go, how to control the board, where your center of gravity is – these will gradually become second nature if you commit to the task at hand. 

HOW? “Just do it and do it and do it,” says Murray-Roberts. “Eventually that muscle memory will start to kick in, and that’s when you start to progress. But to get there you just need to do it.”

Gabrielle Murray-Roberts

3. Get protected

WHY: Helmet and gloves are standard, but why cut corners? “I feel naked without knee pads,” says Murray-Roberts. “Knee roasties suck. They don’t heal. So if you want to be cool and skate without knee pads, you can deal with your knee roasties. But they’re terrible.”

Eventually you will need to get a puck (basically a plastic brake-pad on the palm of a glove). “In the old days it was just a section of kitchen chopping board attached to a gardening glove,” laughs Murray-Roberts, “or a piece of license plate.” This isn’t just for radical maneuvers; if you fall, you can slide on the palms of your hands.

“Knee roasties suck. They don’t heal”
Gabrielle Murray-Roberts

4. Halt!

WHY: It’s not just a matter of coming to a complete stop at the end of a run, but also of modulating your speed at necessary sections. There are several techniques to slowing down: sliding (turning your board sideways), air braking (standing up, arms outstretched, to create maximum wind resistance), and foot braking (dragging the sole of one foot along the ground). 

“The first big hill I skated down I just foot-braked the whole way down,” says Murray-Roberts, “and wore through an entire shoe in one run.” Unlike shoes, your wheels are made of urethane, so they’re designed to wear down.

Gabrielle Murray-Roberts

5. Don’t cause a scene

WHY: Road safety is inextricably linked with courtesy, and knowing how to conduct yourself on the road. Murray-Roberts points out that some of the younger skaters have never driven car so they’re not familiar with the rules of the road. It’s a legitimate concern. 

“If you’re going to skate down a public road, you have to do so as if you’re a car,” she says. “So you have to stay in your lane, even indicate where necessary. As a motorist, you don’t drive on the wrong side of the road. So you don’t skate on the wrong side of the road. Have respect for the fact that you’re skating on a public road. If you get stopped by a motorist and they’re having a melt-down, you apologize and you move on. You don’t respond with rudeness or aggression.”

“The first big hill I skated down I just foot-braked the whole way down”
Gabrielle Murray-Roberts

6. The bottom of the hill gives you wings

WHY: Adrenalin is one hell of a drug. Throw in a few good friends and you have memories of a lifetime being made and friendships being forged – where fear becomes focus and survival becomes conquest.

“You should see how guys react at the bottom of a hill,” says Murray-Roberts. “It’s high fives and fist bumps and hugs and a feeling of ‘We did it’, and ‘We did it together’, and ‘We made it down alive, now let’s do it again’! It’s deeply personal.”

Read more
01 2016

Next story