It goes by many names: Speed Wobble, Death Wobble, The Wobs, The Dreaded “Warbles” (as my dad likes to call it), or even “Self-Exciting Oscillation” if you’re not into the whole brevity thing. Whatever you call it, if you downhill skateboard, you know what it is I am talking about.
We see a lot of riders asserting that the equipment, specifically the trucks and bushings, are the silver bullet when it comes to preventing the wobble. Of course this is true to an extent, but in my opinion good technique will outperform precision trucks any day of the week. Today I want to focus on the many outside factors that can contribute to speed wobble - a sharp gust of wind, inconsistencies in the road, a rock/twig/rogue squirrel coming into your path - the list goes on.
So let's assume for the sake of argument you’ve got everything dialed down just the way you like it on the equipment side of things, but for whatever reason you still find yourself feeling the telltale signs of the wobble coming on. It’s happened to everyone who pushes their personal limits of speed.
So what do you do? You have a split second to act which will determine whether or not you end up covered in road rash, or riding it out like a pro. Here are four fundamentals you need to understand, and make reflexive, in order to make the most of that split second:
1. Get Forward
You should already know that you want the majority of your weight to be over the front axle. This provides all the stability and control over the trucks, and keeps your center of gravity right where it needs to be. Lead the board, don’t let the board lead you. If you were not already, make sure you get your weight all the way forward when you start to wobble. This will retake control of the steering and allow you to do the next step which is...
2. Initiate a Turn
By this I do not mean to get way over on your rail and cut across the hill quickly, just the opposite in fact; Start a smooth and very gradual carve. Diving quickly one way or the other will put your wobbles over the edge and toss your board right out from under you, however a shallow turn will take all of that wild out of control energy and guide it in the direction of your choosing. Wobbles are about the trucks struggling to get back to equilibrium and overcompensating each time. By gradually turning, you force the trucks back to equilibrium without the risk of overcompensation.
3. Stay Low
Some people have the tendency (myself included) to reflexively stand up and airbrake when we feel the wobbles coming on. Fight the urge! Getting up out of your tuck, or any other sudden movements for that matter, will only further throw off your equilibrium. Think of the wobbles like an angry snake. No sudden movements, or you will get bit.
As hard as this seems, it is probably the most important item on this list. When you are skating, you become a part of the board from a physics standpoint. A loose body, just like a rubber riser pad, will dampen the vibrations coming from the board and allow that energy to be dispersed without being forced right back into the system. Neil Carver over at Concrete wave did the most detailed analysis of the speed wobble I have seen to date back in 2011. Here is what he had to say about staying relaxed:
“What a looseness of body can do, for example, is separate the oscillating board from the mass of the rider so that we don’t feed the oscillation any further, and may even dampen it. Because when we add our body weight to the oscillating system, we provide a lot of mass for the oscillation loop to feed off of". - Neil Carver, Concrete Wave 2011
In simple terms, this means that a stiff knees and ankles can amplify the wobble, and a loose joints can reduce it. Keep it loosey goosey to prevent the oscillation from getting any worse.
This is more a test of confidence than technique, and can be one of the hardest things to remember when feeling out of control at 30, 40, or 50+ miles per hour. You will only reach this level of confidence through many many hours on the hill, so get out there and push yourself to the limit every time you skate!
I’ll leave you with this bit of inspiration from Teutonia 2010. Watch as Douglas Dalua (one of the best downhill skateboarders of all time) gets a hint of speed wobble at ~19 seconds. What does he do? He holds is shallow line, stays low and forward, and keeps his cool.