The skateboarder Zane Timpson glides down a residential street on one of San Francisco’s iconic steep hills, the sun seeming to balance on the horizon. He extends a hand backward toward the camera that follows him—for balance, maybe, or perhaps as if inviting viewers to come along for the ride. Timpson is hill-bombing—high-speed skating along vertiginous routes—and the latest New Yorker video follows him, his fellow-skater Adam Anorga, and other members of their crew as they sail downhill like a rolling tableau, alternately crouched low to the asphalt and leaning impossibly tall into bends of road, arms outstretched like surfing Christ the Redeemers.
Bombing hills requires a different skill than traditional flat-ground street skating or skating a bowl. “Essentially, all you have to do is just stand there, and make sure you don’t fall off,” Anorga told me. Instead of working out technical tricks, bombers rely on serenity in the face of adrenaline. He said that some of the most fleet-footed skaters he knows “just know how to hang on and trust themselves and trust their intuition.” He continued, “I mean, if you can do that bombing a hill, I’m sure you could . . . apply that to all other aspects of your life, which . . . can be profound if you use it in the right ways.”
The precipitous drops, presence of traffic, high speeds—Timpson estimates travelling at twenty or thirty miles per hour on a typical hill—can be a dangerous combination. People have died while hill-bombing. “It’s not a joke. It’s not something to take lightly,” Timpson says in the video. In 2019, the pro skater Pablo (P-Spliff) Ramirez, who is featured in Anorga and Timpson’s videos “Awaysted” and “Fffurther,” died while skating in traffic in San Francisco’s SoMa neighborhood. The lauded GX1000 skater was not bombing but, rather, skitching—holding on to the bumper of a moving vehicle—when the accident occurred. Anorga, who had met with a doctor on the same day as his friend’s accident, about getting reconstructive surgery for a torn A.C.L., remembers it as a turning point. “Wow, here I am barely walking, and my best friend is no longer here,” he recalled thinking. He saw it as an opportunity to make a commitment to himself, saying it made him want to take care of his body so that he could continue to skate for as long as possible. Anorga takes a philosophical view of the risks of extreme downhill skating: “We use our bodies to their absolute limit and to their absolute potential. We don’t just waste our body away as we get older,” Anorga told me. “A lot of times that means that we’re gonna go past our threshold and get injured.”
Timpson and Anorga both moved to San Francisco for its gnarly hills and tight-knit skateboarding community, and they credit that community with keeping them safe. “If you’ve got a full squad,” Timpson explains in the video, motorists will pay more attention, and are more likely to treat the crew as they would another vehicle. When filming, the skaters go with a group and employ spotters at intersections to make sure cars won’t interrupt the bomber’s path. “Ask yourself . . . do you have supportive friends who are gonna be there for you when you need them?” Anorga said. “That’s something that is very important,” he said, then paused and added, “Although, some of the funnest times I’ve ever had is without that. . . . It is that risk, that adrenaline rush that kind of, like, pushes you in another direction. But, yeah, that’s a whole other story.”