Off duty

Johnnie Walker Grad IOSH, QHSE adviser, Ricardo Global Automotive (EMEA)

We had quite an “active” scene at work, with a few of us mountain biking and doing other sports. A colleague who was into mountain boarding said that if I enjoyed mountain biking and skateboarding, why didn’t I try it? So I tried it, I enjoyed it, and I’m still doing it.

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A mountain board is a plank of wood (or, in my case, carbon fibre), skateboard trucks (the steering mechanisms) and four pneumatic wheels – and that’s it. That simplicity makes it joyous. I spend a lot of time distance running and mountain biking on the hills near where I live in Lancing, West Sussex. But what’s good about mountain boarding is that you can walk up hills with your board over your shoulder and ride down – or you can just find a good slope and go for it.

If you’re looking for a comparison, mountain boarding is most similar to snowboarding. On a snowboard there are no brakes: you use the board to slow down. It’s the same with a mountain board. It’s hazardous because you don’t have brakes so, when you’re learning, the starting point is to practise how to slow down and stop. On snow, you naturally slide, so to slow down you turn across heel. On a mountain board, you have to use your balance and your legs to skid the board. You have to crouch right down and make the wheels go sideways to the direction of travel. That’s the key, getting your centre of gravity low in your body and skidding the board round.

If I took a beginner to the top of a slope and just let them have a go, there’s a good chance it wouldn’t end well

Off-duty-Johnnie Walker-Grad-IOSH-mountain-boardingThe key safety equipment includes a helmet, wrist protectors – which are key for board sports and came into their own with snowboarding – and padded shorts. I also wear kneepads and a back protector, so I’m heavily armoured, more like a motorcyclist. Some of the younger guys don’t wear as much safety kit as me, but I’m 45, I’ve crashed a few times doing different sports and I’ve got enough surgical steel and titanium holding me together! It also hurts a lot less when you crash if you’re wearing more protection. I wear helmets for everything: skateboarding, cycling and mountain boarding; it’s crazy not to.

As a risk professional, I’m always looking at the cost-benefit trade-off: weighing up how much fun something is against how much of a risk it is. On the face of it, mountain boarding is dangerous, but it’s a good opportunity to take the tenets of safety management and apply them. If I took a beginner to the top of a slope and just let them have a go, there’s a good chance it wouldn’t end well. So, it’s about developing competence; having the right training; building skills; having the right personal protective equipment (PPE); and ensuring you have the right knowledge. As you walk up a slope, you carry out a risk assessment. For example, I’ll be thinking: where can I get off the path? I’ve had some spectacular crashes but I haven’t been hurt because I’ve got really good PPE. These measures don’t eliminate risk, but they do reduce it.

I once had a crash when I did a full flip in the air and ended up landing on my back. I was in the hills above Lancing going down a slope with long grass on either side of the path. Usually long grass is a good thing because it’s useful when you want to slow down. On this day, though, there was a small dog – which I couldn’t see – running in the grass, with no owner in sight. It came out of nowhere and then suddenly was there in front of me, with the classic rabbit-in-the-headlights look on its face. I did a skid turn to avoid it and there was so much momentum in the board I ended up in the air. I was winded but I was fine. It shows why you need to know how to bring the board to an abrupt halt.

I don’t know how fast I travel. It’s one of those things that probably feels faster than it is. I don’t like speed-measuring devices because they encourage unhealthy behaviour. It’s not about speed for me; it’s about having fun.

The time I spend boarding depends on the conditions. When it’s dry, the trails are absolutely awesome – I keep my tyres soft so I don’t go too fast. When it’s wet I put more pressure in the tyres. It can be too wet to mountain board; some people will go out anyway, but for me it’s a dry sport. In summer, I go mountain boarding; in winter, I go biking.

Mountain boarding is a really physical sport. If you’re thinking of trying it, you need to be able to bounce! If you’re into mountain biking, kitesurfing or snowboarding, definitely give it a try. If you haven’t done anything like those sports before, but you’re physically fit and healthy, you could go to a centre and give it a go.

 

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