A street luge is essentially a specialized skateboard used for extreme downhill racing. When riding a street luge, the rider lies down on the board on his or her back, with the feet facing forward. The street luge can quite easily pass speeds of 70 mph (115 km/h) and can cause some vicious spills.
The street luge grew out of early downhill skateboarding races, most notably the Signal Hill races in the mid-1970s. In these skateboarding races, the winner was decided by top overall speed. Some enterprising riders realized that nothing in the rules prohibited them from sitting or lying down on their boards rather than standing, positions which gave them a distinct edge in speed. The riders who lay completely prone on their boards were described as riding luge, a reference to the winter luge sport.
Eventually, due to a number of serious accidents, the Signal Hill races were canceled, but the concept had already caught on. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, a number of different organizations sprang up to promote it as an underground extreme sport. The high speeds and relative lack of protection made the street luge a very attractive sport to a growing group of athletes looking for more and more extreme ways to prove their athletic mettle.
In the mid-90s, the sport hit the mainstream with the airing of ESPN’s X Games, which featured the street luge prominently. Soon after, the Gravity Games aired, also showcasing the street luge and some of the by now quite impressive riders. While the sport has since remained the province of a relatively small number of athletes — in no small part due to its danger factor — it has captured the hearts and minds of many extreme sports enthusiasts, who devoutly follow the various competitions now held throughout the world.
Many luges are simply modified skateboards, while others are built from scratch, and still others are professionally assembled. The price of a pre-built luge varies, depending on the materials and brand. Wood boards tend to be much cheaper than metal boards, but they are also much more prone to cracking and warping.
Depending on the circumstances, riding a street luge recreationally is often illegal. Riding faster than the posted speed limit, no matter the vehicle, is illegal, and since the luge can easily reach 70 mph (115 km/h), one would be speeding. Also, technically, the luger is a pedestrian, and so pedestrian laws — such as right of way and moving counter-traffic – apply. Many municipalities also have laws governing the use of skateboards, either prohibiting them outright or not allowing them to exceed certain speeds or grades – often as low as 10 mph (16 km/h). A street luge is, in the eyes of most law, simply a skateboard.
Because of the high speeds involved, and the potential for spilling onto hard asphalt, safety should never be taken lightly when riding the luge. A rigid helmet and goggles should be worn at all times, as should some sort of body suit made of a sturdy material such as Kevlar® or thick leather.