He’s the junior world titleholder in stand-up downhill skateboarding. He has been clocked at a top speed of 71 mph. Yet there’s a spot on Black’s Beach Road where La Jolla High School sophomore Nick Broms always slows down. Five years after this steeply sloping beach access tore most of the skin off his shin as he learned to downhill-skateboard, the pain is burned into his memory like it was into his flesh.
“I’ve never really had anything that painful,” Broms says. “There’s definitely still a mental block there. I just flew onto this curb, grinded my shin for 15 or 20 feet and then had to walk up the hill after that.”
Downhill skateboarding — also called downhill longboarding because the high speeds involved require a longer board than traditional speed and park skateboarding — got its informal start in the 1970s in hilly pockets across Southern California. But the official competitive sport — where skaters race downhill on ribbons of asphalt four or six at a time, in standup or luge formation — actually has La Jolla roots.
In 1993, a time when skateboards and their wheels had shrunken greatly in size to better accommodate tricks, skateboarder and Bird Rock resident Dennis Telfer was visiting a friend in Utah who fixed up trashed snowboards.
“I noticed one on his balcony with holes cut in it,” Telfer recalls. “He told I could take it if I promised to set it up like a skateboard and ride it.”
The sight of Telfer screaming down Bird Rock hills on a wheeled snowboard turned heads and spurred other homemade copycats. (In addition to the longer board, Telfer attached bigger axles for wider turns, and bigger and softer polyurethane wheels to absorb the shock of bumps and pebbles.)
Telfer and some skating buddies saw the glaring niche and co-founded Sector 9, a downhill-dedicated skateboard manufacturer that was acquired in 2008 by Billabong International, and then eight years later by Bravo Corp. for $12 million. (Telfer no longer is associated with the company.)
At just 15, Broms earns money from the sport, too — in monthly payments from his sponsors, including GMR, which makes the 31-inch board he’s riding today.
Last year, Broms toured all over the U.S., Canada, Italy, Romania, Austria and the Czech Republic, skating in the International Downhill Federation (IDF) competitions that landed him on top of the heap. (This year, he’s hoping to defend his title and the first proving ground is Australia in April.)
“To me, it’s the most fun thing I can do, ever,” Broms says. “You’re so focused on what you’re doing, you can’t think about anything else and there’s something really peaceful about that.”
Nick’s obsession began when he was a fourth-grader at Bird Rock Elementary and got a skateboard for Christmas.“He just went twice as fast downhill as everybody else,” says his father, Mike Broms, a mortgage-loan consultant. “I mean, I used to skate, too, but not like he can.”
Downhill is not yet as respected as traditional skateboarding. It was introduced but later discontinued in the X-Games, for example, and it will not be one of the categories when skateboarding makes its Olympics debut in Tokyo in 2020.
“We must remain realistic,” reads a statement on IDF’s website. “There is still a long way to go before downhill is included in the Olympics, and it will probably take eight, or maybe 12 years to make it happen, and only if Tokyo 2020 is a success.”
When Nick is asked if he plans to pursue a standard grown-up career in addition to downhill skateboarding, Mike interrupts — just like you would expect a concerned father to.
“He’s a straight-A student at La Jolla High, and he’s had four jobs so far,” Mike says. “This is not the only thing he’s going to be doing.”