JEROME -- Two skateboarders zoom down a switchback on Mingus Mountain over the Labor Day Weekend. It happens so fast, motorists wonder what they just witnessed.
They dip their bodies and bend their knees as they maneuver the twisting switchbacks leading into Jerome.
The daring duo is on SR89A near the Jerome overlook and an SUV is following them.
Several hours later that same day, two skateboarders descend from the top of Mingus Mountain toward Prescott wearing helmets with no other protective equipment other than gloves.
They disappear down the twisting road emitting a scraping sound as they slow themselves down on the hairpin turns.
To document their accomplishment of conquering the steep curves of Mingus Mountain or Oak Creek Canyon, numerous skateboarders have posted their videos on YouTube.
Right to Skateboard
“It is legal” to skateboard or longboard on SR89A on the switchbacks on Mingus Mountain, according to Lt. Russell San Felice of the Jerome Police Department.
But once the skateboarders reach the Town of Jerome, “it’s not legal,” because the town has passed an ordinance against it in its business district, the officer said.
However, the skateboarders and the vehicle behind them cannot impede traffic or the highway, explained San Felice. They have to abide by bicycle rules, travel on the right side of the road and provide room for vehicles to pass them.
“It is lawful, but it is very dangerous and we don’t recommend it,” explained the lieutenant. There are blind curves on those switchbacks and police have seen a lot of aggressive driving behavior by motorists on the Mingus switchbacks that makes it even more dangerous for the skateboarders, he added.
In the five years that San Felice has worked in Jerome, there has not been an accident involving a skateboarder on Mingus Mountain, but he said there have been many involving vehicles, motorcycles and bicycles.
“We get complaints about the skateboarders all the time,” he said, adding that each time that they get a complaint they go up and address the issue. It may involve skateboarders crossing the yellow line or impeding traffic, he said.
Jon Paxton, public information officer for the Coconino County Sheriff’s Office, said he has run into skateboarders on the switchbacks in Oak Creek Canyon himself and even talked to them.
“It is legal,” Paxton said, referring to skateboarding down Oak Creek Canyon. It’s just like walking or bicycling, skateboarders have to stay on the side of the roadway, Paxton said
“What you can’t do is you can’t impede traffic,” he stressed.
In 23 years, Paxton said he’s never received any complaints about skateboarders or heard of any injuries from skateboarding the steep switchbacks in Oak Creek Canyon.
Sensational Adrenaline Pump
Skateboarder/longboarder Dion Heimink Jr, who was contacted by the Verde Independent through Facebook after he posted his Oak Creek Canyon skateboarding on YouTube, explained that he has ridden the switchbacks in the canyon about a dozen times.
“The experience as a whole is incredibly exhilarating,” Heimink said. “I love the feeling of shredding down the highway at high speeds.”
“The sensational adrenaline pump that comes with this style of long boarding combined with the spectacular views along this strip of Oak Creek Canyon are practically one of a kind,” Heimink said.
He estimates that he reaches about 45 mph in the straights at the beginning of his video and is going about 25-35 mph in the winding turns, but he said the exact speed was “tricky” to determine.
The skateboarder says he uses a longboard setup and the right protective equipment. He said he has had several “good wipeouts” on the switchbacks in the canyon, but injuries can be “mitigated” with the use of the right protective equipment such as a full-faced downhill helmet, slide gloves to protect hands, elbow and knee pads, padded compression shorts and even a segmented spine protector with padded chest plate.
“Safety must always come first,” he said, adding that he doesn’t recommend other people do it unless they are first capable of riding at higher speeds and able to use slide gloves in order to stop.
Police concerned about skateboarders
The Public Information Officer, Paxton, said one morning he was working an early-morning shift and he saw some skateboarders come down the switchbacks in Oak Creek Canyon outside of Sedona.
He said he got out and talked to them and told them to be “safe” and watch out for traffic.
“I was more concerned for their safety,” he said because of vehicles that race up and down that section of highway.
They were being safe and they were not impeding traffic so he let them on their way, he said.
It’s not a violation of any Arizona law or a traffic violation, and that’s what law enforcement follows, but a city or a town can pass an ordinance that makes it a violation, he said.
But it isn’t a violation for a bicyclist or a skateboarder to be on the roadway as long as they are conducting themselves in a safe manner and “not impeding traffic,” Paxton said.
Bart Graves, Public Information Officer for the Department of Public Safety, which also investigates accidents on Mingus and Oak Creek Canyon, said he did know of any reports of accidents involving skateboarders on those two switchbacks.
The skateboarders seem to be going fast, but Jerome Lt. San Felice does not think they are exceeding the speed limit. “It looks like they are moving faster, but generally they usually they aren’t.”
“No, it’s definitely not safe,” the lieutenant added.