How the powerslide became a power move.



When you think back to your humble beginnings as a skateboarder, before the ollie enters your trick repertoire, there are certain basic requirements you need to master when standing upright on your board. 

First, you must pick a stance: Goofy, Regular or Mongo. This is usually predetermined by whichever foot you step forward with if someone pushes you from behind. Once that is understood, you need to start rolling and learn how to maintain your balance by bending your knees slightly and centering yourself in motion. 

To avoid running into things, you learn to use your arms, shoulders, hips and knees and master carving and tic-taccing from left to right: frontside or backside. 

Now you are on your way. Adrenaline races through your system and a new world that feels like flying reveals itself to you. This is skateboarding!

Stacy Peralta coming in hot

One absolute truth about riding a skateboard is that it hurts. You fall. A lot. Especially in the beginning. 

A great way to avoid unnecessary injury is to learn how to stop before it’s too late. It is far easier to wobble out of control or crash and fall than it is to flow about and land tricks. Two obvious methods are to use your pushing foot as a brake. Or your tail. I refer to your pushing foot rather than your back foot because people push mongo, switch mongo or simply switchstance. 

Jamie Thomas stops just in time

The third method is the powerslide. A speed check of sorts that requires a heavy shift of the weight, starting with an opposite twist of the shoulders and hips combined with the straightening or pressuring of the rear leg. It’s a bit like slamming on the brake pedal and swerving to avoid collision. 

Sometimes a sharp slide outwards with your rear wheels is enough to get the control back and your ride on track. Other times a more sustained effort is needed and before you know it, with weight centering slightly behind your board, you find yourself sliding at a perpendicular angle to your approach. It’s a pretty cool feeling similar to gliding. 

Safety first

You don’t need to know how to jump to do a powerslide. You just need speed, balance and nerves. Mismanagement of momentum or timing can result in sliding out or sticking and getting pitched. 

For many years, the powerslide wasn’t really considered a trick. It was just a basic necessity that helped skaters control their speed. Powersliding was the closest thing a skateboard had to braking so the most common place to see a powerslide was on a steep incline. 

The Downhill Slide

In the Downhill Slide montage of Powell Peralta’s 1984 release, The Bones Brigade Video Show, Stacy Peralta incorporated a crouching style like that of a man riding a wave; undoubtedly influenced by his surfing roots. The speed increased as he pumped into each curve of the road. A pair of safety gloves came in handy to help slow things down where the spins and slides did not. 

The same year, Stacy filmed Tommy Guerrero for Powell Peralta’s next video, Future Primitive. Tommy’s opening part would serve as an obvious overture for street skateboarding. Tommy had not been brought up on beach breaks and empty pools. Instead, he stood upright and twisted his core to pull back on the speed and maintain control of his board as he raced down the rough asphalt streets and avenues of San Francisco and the Bay Area. 

Tommy Guerrero sharing his knowledge

Skateboarders burn urethane to keep control and keep rolling. San Francisco is the mecca for speed demons. The hills with mixed concrete surfaces shave millimetres off urethane wheels, wear plies off pressed maple and rip layers off bare epidermis. For some the pain of road rash is worth the rush of serotonin a hill bomb can provide. 

To divulge briefly on the hard goods needed to powerslide effectively, San Francisco based Spitfire pride themselves in moulding wheels that have just enough grip and softness to master the hellish descents their city offers. Dual durometers, core designs and other specs cannot compete with a brand that has the ultimate testing facilities on its doorstep. The Spitfire Formula Fours are currently some of the most popular wheels on the market due to their size, shape and compound potency that delivers a controlled slide as well as a smooth pop.

Bobby Puleo’s fateful hill bomb

Much like the technology and engineering involved in the production of skateboards, skate tricks evolved and so did the powerslide. Until the early 2000’s, powerslides were nothing more than speed checks and methods to slide to a halt after landing a dangerous trick at speed. The velocity and violence with which teams like Baker, Flip and Zero rode out of gaps and handrails meant that the powerslide was glorified as their only method to avoid smashing into walls, curbs or filthy spillways. As the need for speed increased, the powerslide started to reveal itself as an integral part of a demanding trick or line. 

The powerslide had become an extension of the general aesthetic of somebody skating and not just an emergency brake. Probably the finest example of this flourish is from style aficionado Kenny Anderson in Chocolate’s  Pretty Sweet. 

Kenny Anderson’s powerslide is a trick in itself

The location is a celebrated spot in the Barcelona suburbs: A steady descent offers gradient stairs and banks ad infinitum. Such a perfect architectural phenomenon lets Kenny begin his downhill line with a nose manual across the stairs to then increase speed by landing into the first bank. The acceleration is felt as Kenny pushes a relaxed powerslide to full frontside 180 degrees and finds himself now speeding towards his next trick backwards. Kenny knows that his next trick will not be done fakie or switch so he quickly makes an about turn but slightly over rotates, just enough to perform a quick backside powerslide – effectively a speed check – before pursuing his line with a backside 360 ollie on the next bank. 

That almost perpendicular seemingly impromptu backside powerslide is both intentional and unintentional. Kenny understands what looks good on a board but at the same time he needs to slow down to avoid losing control. Kenny doesn’t lose control. That powerslide he does is sublime, and it opened a lot of people’s eyes to the possibility of this baseline manoeuvre. 

Leo Valls’ powerslide that inspired this article

Even if Kenny Anderson’s moment of clarity brought the powerslide to the forefront, overshadowing the bookend tricks of his line, he was not the only person elaborating on the four wheel slide. One man from France, Leo Valls, was dissecting and rewiring the powerslide like Dr. Frankenstein curated his beast. Leo Valls is the reason I have written this article. His single line in Jimmy Lannon and Zach Lyons’ Spirit Quest Remix part, by Colin Read for Transworld Skateboarding Magazine, is the exact reason. When I witnessed the fluid motion with which he slowed himself down and managed to complete a 90 degree turn on a handicap ramp, starting forward, ending backwards and avoiding imminent impact with a wall at the abrupt turn, I had to rewind the clip and watch it again – and again – to check if he had touched with his hands or toes in any way. Leo is a martial artist with a black belt in speed checks and controlled slides.

Critics love to bite down on Leo’s pirouettes and skids. To them he is a charlatan who can’t ollie or flip his board. This Frenchman’s attachment to the asphalt and marble concourses he rides – preferably at night – are the kryptonite to how high he can ollie. 

Leo Valls sliding in and out of Bordeaux

Leo s’en fout as they say in France. If anything he just keeps adding on more variations and variables to his powerslides with each new part he puts out. What started as a two-footed four wheel slide became a one-footed skid similar to that of a skier twisting his ski to dig into the snow and deflect excess velocity. Then came his upright methods similar to blunt slides except without the pop or an edge to ride along. From there, Leo could throw in slides, grinds and rotations at his guise as he flowed upon ledges, down stairs and across banks with ease. The Bordeaux boulevards screech when Leo and his friends ride through town. For all the hate his critics have, little to none of them actually manage to replicate such stealthy moves. Or, perhaps they dare not try because they know what pain a mishandled powerslide can do. Bruised buns and bloody palms always feel worse the next day.

Skitch slide anyone?

As skateboarders seek new and creative ways to do tricks with their boards, it is interesting to see how re-visiting the basics of skateboarding, the foundations of what we undertake, has brought about an evolution and new path for people to pursue. However, this regressive approach to innovation may have its limits. There’s a reason skateboarders unlocked the ollie and the kickflip in order to open new doors and reach new heights. Casting yourself in a direction without such fundamental tricks is bound to end somewhere or at least lose its progressive momentum.

Leo Valls’ ski slide inspired by the chasse-neige

In the case of Leo Valls, has he boxed his skateboarding into a corner he cannot escape? The critics would think so but I know that Leo Valls has a much deeper bag of tricks than what he chooses to show. Take a look for his video parts in Magenta’s Microcosme or even his earlier work with Metropolitan Skateboards. Leo knows very well how to do a switch heelflip or hold a good manual. So what if his desire to pursue powerslides ends with him skidding to a halt? Leo can always find his way back in reverse.

Leo Valls isn’t a one trick pony

The following videos were sampled in chronological order:

  • Philosophy with Leo Valls – Theories of Atlantis / Josh Stewart – Leo Valls
  • Thrasher How To Skateboard – Tommy Guerrero
  • Police Academy 4 Citizens On Patrol – Warner Bros. Pictures
  • Thrasher How To Skateboard – Tommy Guerrero
  • Powell Peralta Bones Brigade Video Show – Future Primitive
  • Anti Hero Tent City – John Cardiel
  • BS with TG Episode 1 Frank Gerwer – Tommy Guerrero / Frank Gerwer
  • The Nine Club With Chris Roberts Episode 133 – Bobby Puleo
  • Zero Misled Youth – Jamie Thomas
  • Flip Really Sorry – Geoff Rowley
  • Chocolate Skateboards Pretty Sweet – Kenny Anderson featuring Chris Roberts, Gino Iannucci, Daniel Castillo, Justin Eldridge
  • Spirit Quest Remix – Jimmy Lannon Zach Lyons – Transworld Skateboarding Magazine
  • The Nine Club with Chris Roberts Episode 80 – Bill Strobeck
  • Magenta Skateboards Microcosme – Leo Valls
  • Metropolitan Skateboards Leo Valls Turns Pro
  • Philosophy with Leo Valls – Theories of Atlantis / Josh Stewart – Leo Valls

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