Have you ever had that dream where you're pretty sure you can fly? Where you know that all you got to do is get a running start, and do a diving layout about a foot above the ground? If all goes as planned, you'll take off and rip through the sky. But if you have even the slightest bit of doubt, it's all over. I had that dream all the time as a kid. And just last week, I had it again. But early this morning, it all kind of came together. I can't say that I actually was flying, but I can truly say it was a close call.

Call me crazy, but I've got my own little method for determining my flight. Traditionally, my thinking was that flight was just the separation of my body from the ground. If my body wasn't touching the ground, I figured that could somehow be called flying. But when I started to think about it, that didn't really do the trick. If I was falling off a cliff or something, I wouldn't call that flying. I'd call it falling. Opposite concepts there. And opposites have always attracted me.

I was out for a skate this summer when I saw a bunch of Canadian geese take off out of the Sammamish River. At the time, I was in a pretty good groove on my board, but was running out of gas pretty quickly. All my forms had been focused on the motion of my legs, and my arches and calves were killin' me. When I saw the geese take off, I took a shot at mimicking their motion, and I slowly realized this was just what my form was needing: vertical gears! By raising my center of balance, the gears available to me multiplied exponentially. This moment really changed my ideas on approaching hills.

For the past few years, I've been working on cracking some tough-guy inclines on Seattle's Burke Gilman trail. I had previously thought the only way up these inclines was through changes to the board or the trucks. When I discovered the vertical gears, I realized the only changes I needed to make were with my style.

The key to traveling up a hill is best demonstrated by natural masters. Birds, bugs, and all things that can fly have an interesting approach to their method of travel. They withdraw from the battle against friction on the ground, and focus all their energy on the issue of gravity. By switching my riding approach on the hills, I was able to find new gears to make hills a little bit easier. "A little bit easier" can go a long way.

It took me a while to take this style to the flats. After all, the flats are a great place to accelerate, and acceleration is partially fueled by friction. But only in the past several months have I been exploring the idea of vertical gears on flat surfaces. I have been shifting my focus from top speed friction-based horizontal gears to top speed gravity-based vertical gears. The difference here is that the friction gears are centered below your center of balance (since the friction is gathered from where the wheels meet the ground), and the gravity gears are above it (since height increases potential energy). If you can raise your center of balance above and beyond the front balance point on the board, you can put the board in an energy-conserving state of perpetual falling forward, balanced by your ability to keep catching yourself before you smack the pavement. It's the same thing when the space shuttle orbits the earth. The "orbit" is a state of perpetually falling forward. As far as I can tell, it requires substantially less energy to maintain this momentum, and provides the added benefit of giving your legs a nice break from all the work. No kidding dude.

It was this morning that I actually had my first real live experience with self-generated flight. With my board slightly behind me, and my arms rotating high in front of me, I was able to find that place of balance/imbalance, and able to alternate the experience of these two extremes with rhythmic clarity. As I did it, I felt my center of balance slowly rise up, through my torso, beyond my heart and up past my shoulders. As I followed the energy of my motion, I found myself at that magic place- it was time for me to take my running, diving leap of faith. And when I took it, I didn't come crashing to the ground. It might not have taken me to JFK international airport. You might not call it flying at all. But I have no doubt in my mind that for several minutes early this morning, I was not producing the burden of weight that our planet has grown to expect from me. For several minutes early this morning, the world was a little bit lighter.

©Oct .2004, derek munson