August 8, 2017
min read

Travelling around the world on a skateboard, tearing down hills at over 100KMPH. Sounds pretty normal right? BLOCKHEAD caught up with one of the very few Woman's Street Luge Racers in-between work, studying, and living life in the fast lane.

Tell us about yourself? What do you do?

Well, I suppose I should start with my name. It's Jennifer Butler, but I like to go by Jenn. I'm 22, I used to live in San Jose, California, but I moved down to Southern California for school. Currently, I work at a pizza shop across the street. Very glamorous, I know, but it pays the bills. When school is in session, I tutor all ages and almost all subjects except for physics. I've been studying genetics at uni, but at this time, I'm taking some time off from school. I started college when I was 16 and decided I deserved a break after 6 straight years of college! I plan to begin again in spring.


Street luge in a countryside setting.


Not many people know about Street Luge, can you explain the essence of it?

Most people are familiar with ice luge because it is in the Olympics. Street luge is quite literally the form of ice luge but on the street. So your gear is going to be different, you're going to be using skateboard trucks and wheels, and you'll be on asphalt, but the idea is the same; to go downhill very fast, with excellent form.

Jen Butler zooming down a hill.


If you've ever ridden a skateboard sitting down instead of standing on the board, you've actually had some experience yourself. We call this butt-boarding - quite literally going down a hill while sitting on a skateboard. Think of it as the prelude to street luge. Now make this board metal, big enough to lay down on, add handlebars, put on a bunch of safety gear, find a really big hill, and you're now ready to luge (if you're willing to try it). 

You steer the board by sliding your torso across the board, using your shoulder blades to push down on one or the other side, like you would with your back foot on a skateboard. You slow down (we call it breaking) with your feet. We glue tire tread to the bottom of our shoes and when we want to slow down, we simply put our feet down. Want to kill a little speed? You can gently touch your feet to the ground for a second or two. Want to come to a complete stop as fast as possible? Put your feet down and apply as much pressure as you can while pulling up on the handlebars. You'll usually experience really hot feet and smoke billowing from your shoes. Kind of cool, definitely smelly. 


Jen Butler firing down a hill so fast the background is blurry.

Where did your passion for this sport start?

I decided to try skateboarding after meeting a guy. Typical, I know. He was into skating and I loved sports, so I thought it would be nice if we could share it. He helped me put together my first skateboard and I quickly fell in love with the challenge and the fun it gave me. I worked on stand-up (we refer to street luge as lay down skating sometimes so to differentiate, we talk about normal skateboarding where you're standing on the skateboard as stand-up) for a few months before trying out his luge on a hill that was just a little beyond my stand up skills. 

So really, the typical situation of girl meets guy, girl then learns how to skate sparked an interest but the passion arose from flying down that hill on the luge. When you're going that fast, the only thing(s) you can think about are the instantaneous calculations of how far you from the next turn, how fast you're going, whether you need to brake for the turn, etc. This effectively clears your mind and a deep calm settles over you. At least, this is what happens to me. As soon as the wheels start rolling and I start picking up speed, my mind clears completely no matter what else is going on in my life. All my problems melt away and the only thought in my head isn't even really a thought. It's just my instincts, my breathing, the wind rushing by me, and the road. 

Most people call me crazy, a thrill-seeker, or ask where this 'need for speed' comes from. But really the speed is just a small fraction of the sport for me. The speed forces my mind to completely focus on the road, my form, and the perfect line to take through that next turn. I have participated in many sports in my life, but never have I experienced such a deep feeling of tranquillity directly linked to the sport. I believe that what most people delve from meditation is what I get from street luge. I walk away after a few runs with the biggest smile on my face and my mind, body, and spirit if you believe in such a thing are completely relaxed.

Is this a full-time profession?

I don't know of anyone who solely luges and can live off of it. Everyone that rides also works. Most of us don't just work to pay the bills, we also work to ride. To pay for gas for more runs, to pay for better gear, to pay for this way of life. 

I think it could possibly become a full-time profession if street luge got extended into the Olympics which in recent years, hasn't been such a far-off dream as it once was.

Jen Butler taking a corner with a mossy hill behind her.

How do you train for this? Do you have to shut roads off?

We train by riding. Usually, training ensures a goal but there are more skaters I know of that don't race but rather skate just to skate. This includes stand up and street luge. I know many stand up skaters that enjoy taking a run or two on my luge but would not want to race. We ride because we love to ride, we race because of our love to ride- it's another opportunity to ride with others who love what we love.


Jen Butler and competitor sliding round a corner.

But to answer the training question better- I work out my core and my upper body more than anything else. The best way to train is just to ride- I can't find an ab workout that makes me sore anymore. The only thing that makes my abs sore is riding for long periods of time. So basically riding on really long hills. I do different types of push-ups and weighted workouts for my upper body because while your core is used when you're going down the hill, you have to actually get going right? Well if you were standing on a skateboard, you'd push with your foot. Since you're essentially sitting on a really big skateboard, you have to improvise. So we push with our hands. At the start line, everyone sits with their feet behind the line, and knuckles to the ground. When we hear the word 'GO!' we push as hard as we can with our arms, almost paddling forward to gain momentum. If your arms aren't strong, your push isn't strong. If you can push to the front, then you can usually hold off other racers by taking fast lines but blocking lines. This inhibits other racers from passing you, ensuring your first place. If you don't push in front, then you must rely on your skill to take the perfect line, to draft other riders, and to make smart moves to pass the person in front. However, just because you push in front doesn't mean you'll stay in front. So a strong core and a strong push in conjunction are vital.

What do you do when you’re not hurtling down a hill at 100kmph?

When I'm not flying down a hill at 100kmph, I'm usually flying down a hill over 100kmph. Haha. To answer the real question, in my spare time, I like to do quite a wide range of activities. Working is a necessity but I actually really enjoy working at the pizza shop. I also love road trips, school (believe it or not- my love for learning is probably what has helped me advance so quickly in the sport), reading Michael Crichton, eating mac n' cheese, swing dancing, watching Clint Eastwood movies, playing pool, ruining my friends' selfies, watching the sun rise over the mountains, and waiting for that perfect moment to drop in for the first run of the day.

What opportunities arise because of Street Luge? Have you been able to travel?

My family really only travelled for sports when I was younger- soccer tournaments, volleyball tournaments, basketball championships, you name it. Because of that, I'd only ever been out of California about 5 times, and never out of the country. I've travelled more in the past year than I have in my entire life. I also have the opportunity to travel to South America, Canada, Europe and Asia for street luge. Because women's street luge is such a small scene, events are just now starting to hold a separate class for us. I'm hoping to travel to any race that is willing to hold a class just for us to help support the scene and my sport.


An aerial shot of Jenn Butler on the road.

Where did you see yourself when you were 10 years old? Would you ever imagine that you would be travelling the World racing Street Luge?

I saw myself doing research in a lab with genetics or proteomics. Yes, that is really what I thought I was going to do at 10 years old. I fell in love with genetics when I was 8 and it's still a large focus of mine to this day. I have actually gotten to do some research, but the internships showed me that I just don't enjoy as many aspects of the science that I thought I did when I was younger. I never EVER imagined I'd be travelling to other countries, especially to race in a sport I hadn't even heard of until about a little over a year ago. I think my 10-year-old self would have been incredibly stoked for my current 22-year-old self. I think she would have thought I was the coolest person ever. 


Age: 22

Nationality: American

Hometown: South California

Profession on an ordinary day: Genetics student and pizza waitress.

What do you do on an extraordinary day: I am a street luge racer.

Have you ever sat still whilst travelling over 100kmph? Of course, you have, we all the safety of your own car! However, our Jenn not only serves a tasty Pizza, she travels the speed of a car on a board just a pizza slice away from the tarmac.  

Jennifer Butler is one of the few female athletes in her respected and fast growing discipline whilst simultaneously juggling work, studies in genetics, tutoring as well as travelling the world for street luge competitions.  


A portrait of Jen Butler holding her board.
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