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Imagine “boarding” without the skate, the boogie, the snow, the wake or the kite. It would be easy to get bored with that board.

Now try to imagine it made of air …

Airboarding, the newest winter sport out of Switzerland, has sport enthusiasts flat on their bellies and flying down slopes.

It is high-speed, low-skill fun that is developing a following in Europe and the States. It won a “Best of What’s New” award from Popular Science magazine in 2003. And its proponents are eager to get more people involved.

The Airboard, introduced three years ago by a Swiss engineer, is inflatable and works like a sled, except with more control. This control comes from a ribbed undercarriage that allows the rider to change direction by shifting top body weight while holding on to side handles.

Airboarders wear hip silver helmets, with matching jump suits, and can easily tote their gear around since it folds up into a square small enough to fit in a backpack. Jumps are cushioned, downhill sledding feels much faster and tricks are pretty easy to pick up.

The only real move to learn is how to apply the brakes. The ribbed undercarriage acts like a brake when the board is picked up and placed perpendicular to the body. Basically, the grooves stick in the snow, stopping the momentum.

The only problem: It’s a new sport.

“Many ski areas do not allow the airboard in the area because they don’t think there is full control,” said Tom Kaules, who works and distributes Airboards with Outdoor Freaks at the Blaumburgbahn in Bad Tölz, Germany.

“They have not been introduced to the board yet and do not know steering is just as easy on the Airboard as with skis and snowboards.”

Kaules and a group of outdoor enthusiasts are taking the sport to the people, introducing it by way of showing what it could do on the slopes that allow them in.

Joe Steiner of Zug, Switzerland, began working on the Airboard 10 years ago, after riding on disappointing inflatable sleds that only broke, according to Kaules. Steiner made the Airboard with the latest technology allowing for maximum speed on the slopes and easy movement on the half-pipe.

Kaules recently set a record at the European X Games with the Airboard for going 126.42 kilometers per hour in Austria in February

The Airboard was released to the Swiss public three years ago. Now, it’s out in the United States, the rest of Europe and is moving in to the rest of the world.

“It will need some years, but I think the Airboard will be just as big as snowboarding is,” Kaules said. “The fun factor is very high. It feels like you’re flying. And, it’s very easy to learn.”

For more information, log on to www.airboard.com, call Outdoor Freaks in Germany at (+49) (0)89- 60-01-98-98, or e-mail e.kaules@outdoor-freaks.de.

About Airboards ...

¶ Only official distributors are selling the Airboard. In the States they cost about $270 for the classic (adult) size and about $160 for the children’s size.

¶ In Europe, Airboards can cost up to 280 euros. Airboards are also sold over the Internet at www.airboard.com.

¶ It costs between 5 and 17 euros to rent an Airboard from European distributors.

¶ The German adventure group called Outdoor Freak distributes, teaches, rents and sells Airboards. Get more info at www.outdoor-freaks. de.

¶ The Armed Forces Recreation Center and Outdoor Recreation offices are looking into the new sport for possible addition to the military sports activities available.

— Jessica Inigo

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