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Skateboarders rock physics

Experienced riders show gut knowledge of slope speeds

By
3:25pm, November 7, 2011

SEATTLE — Skateboard freaks know some righteous physics, dude. That’s because their hair-raising rides provide body-based insights into slope speeds that often elude those without a need for thrills and spills.

A ball travels faster down a relatively long incline that angles steeply downward in two sections separated by a flat stretch compared with a shorter incline that angles downward modestly but without changing slope. People generally don’t realize this, but experienced skateboarders often do, said psychologist Michael McBeath of Arizona State University in Tempe. Skateboarders call on motor memory to determine intuitively that a sharp early descent creates a speed advantage, he reported November 5 at the annual meeting of the Psychonomic Society.

“This is a hard problem, even for physics professors that we quizzed, but skateboarding experience improves estimates of slope speeds,” McBeath said.

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