Once a year, from 1975 to 1978, skateboarders in pursuit of speed and recognition gathered in Signal Hill, California, to race down a roughly 30-degree slope. Actually, after the first couple of years, contestants in the annual Signal Hill Speed Run weren't so much skateboarders as speed junkies in small-wheeled crafts of variable designs bombing down a road surrounded by thousands of spectators. The event began after a producer for The Guinness Book of World Records television show called the head of the U.S. Skateboard Association and asked for a competition fit for television. As one can imagine, a large number of unqualified contestants pushing the boundaries of design and speed in proximity to a large crowd led to plenty of record runs, a wild party, and a whole lot of accidents.
In a 2007 article for the Los Angeles Times, Mike Horelick listed more than a few of the race's memorable moments. In the first year, only two of the six competitors who showed up went down the hill. One of them, Guy Grundy, clocked a world record speed of 50.25 miles per hour on a skateboard. The number contestants increased in the second year, and so did the crafts. One person grabbed a big wheel from the crowd and bombed down the hill at 36 miles per hour—not close to good enough for the podium. Another contestant on an aluminum board fell. His craft shot out from under him and hit a boy in the crowd and stuck in the side of a car. The boy went to the hospital in an ambulance—such trips increased as the race grew more popular. In 1977, contestants started entering futuristic covered "skate cars," which flew down the hill at close to 60 miles per our. At least one was shaped by a world-renowned motorcycle designer. One car went through the hay bails at the finish line, continued into a busy intersection, was clipped by a car, and went spinning under a pick-up truck, where it finally came to stop. The contestant survived with broken ribs.
Want more? Horelick is the co-director of The Signal Hill Speed Run, a 90-minute documentary that chronicles the rise and fall of the race. The movie, which is narrated by Ben Harper, premieres on January 25 at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival.