Wednesday, October 24, 2007

eXtreme Sports Physics Gift List, Part 1

The holiday season is rapidly approaching. It won't be long before your folks will start asking what you want this year, and you're going to have to start thinking about what to give others. That means there's trouble a brewin'.

Those of us who practice eXtreme sports tend to be pretty picky about equipment. It can be so awkward when Uncle Bob beams and hands a skateboard with wheels that barely turn and a deck made out of something that looks like high grade cardboard (lovingly selected from the rack at a big box department store) to his skater nephew or niece. The same goes for Aunt Esther's choice of inline skates, or Cousin Frank's best guess in plywood skimboards.

So if you're reading this, Bob and Esther and Frank: don't even try to buy eXtreme sports equipment for someone unless you happen to participate that particular sport too. Instead, take a look at the list below to get some ideas for gear that most eXtreme sports folks could really use, regardless of their particular choice of discipline.

On the other hand, if you've been a victim of a well-meaning relative's generosity in the past, just send them a link to this post (and the forthcoming eXtreme Sports Physics Gift List, Part 2). Or print out the stuff that you like and leave copies lying around the house at the family's Thanksgiving dinner. They'll get the idea.

Protect Your Head

The physics of what happens to your skull and brain on sudden impact is fascinating in theory, but the experiments are harsh. Believe me, head protection is vital in just about any sport worthy of the eXtreme category.

Unfortunately, it can be tough convincing teens in particular to wear helmets. Besides, the kids are sometimes right: full-on head protection is a little more than necessary when it come to casual cruising on a bike, board, or blades.

The Swiss have come up with a physics-based solution for times when you need a little head protection without looking like a dork. Ribcap is a company that makes hats with a material that's soft and flexible until impact, at which point it rapidly changes into a rigid structure to dissipate the blow.

The magic material in Ribcaps is a non-newtonian fluid. That means its viscosity (the fluid's thickness) changes depending on how much stress you put on it. You can experiment with your own non-newtonian fluid by mixing cornstarch into water to make a goop that's runny and nasty until you thump it, then it becomes rock hard.

To show you how it works, here's a video of a couple of guys running on top of a pool of cornstarch goop.

Ribcap is new to the states and doesn't seem to have a US distributor, but their hats are available on Amazon for about $90 to $125. Now that you know the secret, I guess you could make your own hats filled with non-newtonian fluid, but I think it's worth a c-note to get one that won't start dribbling goop down your neck as you try to look cool in your stealthy head protection.

Ribcap - protect your head without losing your steeze
$89.99 to $124.99

Rugged Phone

I know . . . you want an iPhone for Christmas. What are you gonna do with it when you hit the water for some skimboarding, surfing, or whitewater kayaking? Hide it in your shoe and leave it on the shore with your towel? That'll keep it safe.

Seriously, the iPhone is the hot wireless device of the moment, but the true eXtreme athlete needs a phone that can take the water, mud, and impacts of hardcore fun. That's why I'm going to drop my wireless provider and pick up the G'zOne (despite the lousy name).

The G'zOne is a military spec rugged phone that can take serious abuse and handle dunking in water down to a meter. That's good enough for most eXtreme water sports and great for those warmer days on the slopes when you get soaked with sweat and slush. It's just at the hairy edge of what you need in order to slip one into your surf trunks and paddle out to the line up. (I'll give it a shot next summer and let you know how it holds up at the beach.)

Even better, it's an older cell phone so it's comparatively cheap ($99 from Verizon with a two year contract), especially for the G'zOne type-V edition. You could pay a bit more for the newer type-S, if you really need Bluetooth and a few other bells and whistles, but you will have to make do with a low resolution camera.

I prefer the type-V (just in case you're reading this, mom) because I'll gladly trade gimmicks that come with the type-S for the 2-megapixel snapshots of the type-V.

G'zOne - a rugged phone for rugged sports
$99 through Verizon

Tune Your Senses with a Balance Board

When it's too cold to surf, or too warm to hit the slopes, or too wet to skate, or too . . . you get my drift . . . you gotta find something to do to keep your panther-like reflexes in tip top shape.

That's when it's time to break out the Indo Board. There are other balance boards on the market, but Indo Boards are my favorite. They come in lots of sizes and have flat bottoms so you can do more than just balance. (Second-rate balance boards come with a rail that runs down the middle, which does nothing but limit your options.) My son pulls shove-its and ollies on ours, and I can do a kick turn (sometimes).

This video could use some music, but the tricks are cool and the toy bunny seems pretty impressed.

Balance boards may look dangerous, but they're actually pretty safe so long as no one is dimwitted enough to stand next to one in use (a lesson our cat hasn't picked up on just yet). They're also great for developing your intuitive feel for the physics of balance and the mechanical feedback that keeps you stable.

My favorites are the small, skateboard-like versions. Surfers, wakeboarders, skimboarders and snowboarders might get more out of the longer ones.

Once you've used one for a while, it becomes second nature. I like to ride my Indo Board when I watch TV or talk on the phone, then I try learning a new move or two until the cat gets in the way.

Indo Board - keep those reflexes sharp even when you're stuck inside - $59 and up

Document Your Secret Spot

You should thank Einstein every time you fire up a GPS device. Both special relativity and general relativity are vital to calculating your precise position based on signals your GPS receiver collects from an orbiting phalanx of satellites. So the next time you hear someone doubt Albert's brilliance, just wave your Magellan Triton 2000 in their face.

Of course, you won't be carrying the Triton around just to verify modern astrophysics, you'll have it handy so that you can make a record of that new skate/surf/bike/free climbing spot you just found.

Any GPS receiver can help you find your way there and back. Only the Triton includes both a built-in voice recorder and a 2-megapixel camera that lets you save geo-stamped proof and memories of your eXtreme sports adventures.

It has other nice features (it's waterproof, includes a flashlight, and touch screen, lots of maps, etc.), but you can get all that with cheaper GPS receivers too.

Magellan Triton 2000 - saving memories in all four dimensions of spacetime

Give the Gift of Skate

It's the season of giving, and who's more deserving that those up-and-coming eXtreme athletes in your life?

The Yo Baby Action Board is a plastic skateboard without trucks and wheels. It's designed for the young 'uns who lack developed motor skills just yet, but want to follow in the footsteps of their ultra-cool sisters, brothers, uncles, aunts, and parents.

Lots of skaters and other board-sport types give their kids plain old skateboard decks to play with on the carpet. Leaving off the trucks and wheels makes it safe for the tots and gets them used to standing on a board (perhaps the most important lesson of their young lives).

But when they slip and shoot one of those things across the room, the wooden decks are murder on table legs, sliding glass doors, your ankles, and the neighbor kid you're supposed to be keeping an eye on for the afternoon.

The Yo Baby solves all the nagging little safety issues that come with a wooden board, and at $10 each they're way cheaper than buying a real deck for your baby bro or sis to drool on.

Check out the Yo Baby promo on YouTube for the rest of the story.

Yo Baby Action Board - for the eXtreme athletes of tomorrow
$10 from

That's it for now. I should have the eXtreme Sports Physics Gift List, Part 2 done in a few days, so stop by again for some more holiday gift ideas for eXtreme sports addicts.

If you know of any cool stuff that I should add to the list, drop me a note at