King of the Fort - Schanskop Downhill Challenge 2011

Words: Massimo Bastiotto, First Nature | Photos: Tim Moolman

The first gravity race on the Fort Schanskop road, in Gauteng, took place back in 2004, but it was poorly recorded and not much is known about it. Since then, and for some unknown reason, gravity racing in our province took a hiatus. In fact there have been no races held since 2004 outside of the Western Cape, undoubtedly the heart of gravity racing in South Africa. But it didn’t take long for extreme enthusiasts visiting our fairest Cape to meet one or two of the crazy guys that take part in gravity sports and bring it back to their city.

Photo credit: Tim Moolman

This is exactly what happened to my partner in crime, Lloyd Clark, and I. In December 2008 we met Mike Zietsman, a Hout Bay local rider ranked fourth in the world at that point, and we were hooked. When we expressed interest in hosting gravity racing in Jozi, Mike was pretty sceptical about its viability due to the type of hills on offer in Jo’burg. But we were keen to find out and to our surprise we found some great sites. One in particular was the access road to Fort Schanskop, located inside the Voortrekker Monument Nature Reserve, and home to the 2004 race. It was perfect; steep at the beginning, technical the rest of the way down and most importantly, safe. There is only one access into the Fort so we could control car access in and out, thus removing the risk of serious collisions. Needless to say, we were amped to host a race there and challenge the Western Cape’s dominance of this sport.

In 2010, our dream was made possible when the South African Gravity Racing Association (SAGRA) helped First Nature to bring gravity racing back to Gauteng and stage the very first non-Western Cape race in years. As the road was on the Fort Schanskop hill, the name of the race ‘KING OF THE FORT’ was born. The turn out at the 2010 event was great and attracted a lot of Gauteng riders, who appeared out of the cracks and gave the visitors a good run for their money. Overall, it was a fantastic event and there was much anticipation around what would happen in 2011.

In January 2011, First Nature announced that the KING OF THE FORT Schanskop Downhill Challenge was going to take place on the weekend of 18 and 19 June. To our amazement, the hype started immediately and expectations grew rapidly. Various sponsors were locked down early and they were just as excited about the challenge as we were. With such a positive response and following on last year’s success, we knew this year’s event was going to be awesome. Naturally, the excitement grew as we approached race weekend.

With First Nature hosting the event, SAGRA was in charge of the actual racing, enforcing rules and regulations and making sure that the race was run in as safe a manner as possible. Points would count towards the SAGRA National Championship and national level points counted towards the International Gravity Racing Association (IGSA) World Cup.

There are many disciplines in gravity racing and The KING OF THE FORT Schanskop Downhill Challenge offered three of them. There was Downhill Skateboard (Open, Junior and, for the first time ever in South Africa, a Women’s category), Street Luge and Classic Luge, which is also known as butt board. Classic Luge is based more on the old-school style of Luging, with different techniques, rules and regulations to that of Street Luge.

Photo credit: Tim Moolman

Riders started arriving from the Wednesday, as Thursday was Youth Day. To ease everyone into the race vibe of the weekend to come, riders got together for a free ride session at Steepways. This consisted of a short course with five hairpins and, as the name implies, a very steep gradient. With skaters from all over the country showing off their different styles and phenomenal moves, it was a superb afternoon and everyone left with fat smiles on their faces, as is always the case at Steepways.

A braai was held on Friday night and all the riders got a chance to relax and hang out with their mates from across the land. Some of the riders were new to the hill and some experienced, and the stories from last year provided much needed information for riders pondering the final chicane.

Saturday morning saw a chilly wind blowing up the course, which was not welcomed by the riders or marshals. In spite of the cold the excitement remained high, as we had made sure that everyone was entertained with music and there was also a First Nature stall, which attracted a lot of attention from riders looking to upgrade equipment and spectators curious to find out more about the sport they were about to witness. Once registration and the technical inspections were completed, it was time for the first practice runs. After lunch more spectators and media arrived, and we even had a local TV news channel interview us for the weekend bulletin. As organisers, we were very proud of our achievement and the recognition gravity racing was receiving because of our event.

Just prior to the qualifying rounds a junior downhill skateboard rider took a nasty fall, but our fantastic medical team responded quickly to stablise and transport him to hospital. Although this crash put a slight damper on the mood of the qualifiers, everyone managed to remain focused despite their concern for a fellow rider. Spirits were raised considerably when Stellenbosch rider Paul du Plessis set a new record in the Downhill Skateboard category, beating last year’s time by two seconds. After such an exhilarating and eventful day the anticipation of what Sunday held in store reached fever pitch, as the sun set behind the majestic Voortrekker Monument.

The weather gods blessed us on race day with a clear sky and no wind. More good news was that the rider who had crashed was going to be ok. This announcement was made to all the riders, which immediately spurred on a huge cheer and defined the optimistic mood for the rest of the day. By 10h30 everyone was in place and ready to get the last of the practice runs underway. The spectator section at the final chicane was full of camping chairs, shaded gazebos, camera lenses, media and adrenaline junkies, creating an electric vibe that the riders feed off as they approached the finish line.

With the racing scheduled to start at 14h00, competitors put on their race faces, wheels were carefully selected, nuts and bolts tightened and leathers taped up. The racing was intense, as was expected, with the final chicane deciding the winner more often than not. In the end, it was the Western Cape athletes who took a clean sweep of all the top prizes despite the best efforts of our Jo’burg boys, who came in close behind. Paul du Plessis was crowned King of the Fort 2011 in the Open Downhill Skateboard category after proving unbeatable on the Fort Schanskop hill where he dominated in qualifying and won every one of his race heats. Russell Naude reigned supreme in the Luge categories to claim both the Street and Classic Luge titles. Nick Hook took the Junior title and Gabi Murray-Roberts won the Women’s Downhill Skateboard category.

The event attracted over 200 spectators, 50 riders, of which eight were first time racers, three women, eight non racers who came out to test their bravery and the balance was made up of local athletes representing Gauteng, the Eastern Cape and Western Cape, as well as a lone rider from Colombia.

A huge thank you to the medical team, marshals, riders, sponsors and everyone that lent a helping hand to make this race such a huge success. You can be sure to see the KING OF THE FORT Schanskop Downhill Challenge on the 2012 South African race calendar!


For more information and photos of the race, the South African racing calendar or any gravity sport, visit