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the Street

The Speed Racer of Street Luging

March 28, 1999|DUANE NORIYUKI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It was one of those slow days of childhood in Lavallette, N.J. Typically Michael Sherlock and his crew would be seeking dirt bike adventures involving hills, horsepower, ramps and, on one occasion, a cement wall and fractured skull.

But on this day, their attention shifted to "Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory," which included a character called Mike Teevee--Mike because that was his name and Teevee because he spent most of his time watching television.

"Man that's you, except you're Mike Bike," noted one of the buddies.

And so it was settled. Sherlock became known as Mike Bike. In high school, it was abbreviated to Biker, a fitting name for one so consumed by motocross and whose well ran deep with adrenaline.

Exploring the various genres of speed and adventure, his passion, in time, turned to surfing. He also took up snowboarding and skateboarding. In 1990, he moved to Pacific Beach near La Jolla, where more than 20 of his Jersey buddies have since ended up, drawn by the weather and the waves.

Four years ago, Sherlock tried downhill skateboarding. In his first race, wearing the wrong kind of helmet and having donned skater's pads rather than the full leathers worn by the other racers, he finished second.

Then a friend suggested street luge, also known as land luge and road luge. That it involved a party crowd caught his attention. That it also involved speed made it essential. After two weeks of practice, he won a pro event, and four months later he competed in the 1996 X Games, an international extreme sport competition. Turns out he was one of the fastest street luge riders in the world and didn't even know it. He won a gold medal.

"My first love is surfing," he says. "That's the source, but when I won the gold medal in '96, we decided to start a skateboard company because of the publicity we were getting."

The result was Dregs, which offers long skateboards, accessories and a luge board designed by "a space engineer dude" for Sherlock. It runs about $1,800.

The business, he says, is just beginning to come into its own, and is supported by his other enterprises. He is a partner in a company that manufactures water pipes. Yep, bongs, and he owns a wholesale business that distributes them to retailers.

"I work hard at what I do," says Sherlock, 31, a business-marketing graduate of Seton Hall University. "This allows me to maintain control over my life so I don't have to be in an office all day."

Sherlock also owns Extreme Downhill International, a governing body for downhill skateboarding and street luge. This year's EDI series of races will conclude with the Gravity Games, Sept. 8-12, in Providence, R.I. The event is scheduled for broadcast by NBC on five consecutive weekends beginning in October.

The street luge competition is split into heats of four and six racers, which means that using other racers to reduce wind resistance and build momentum figures heavily into strategy. There often is contact as racers jockey for position.

Sherlock says there are about 100 people competing, including some 35 die-hards.

"It's not just skaters and surfers," he says. "It's firemen, lawyers, police. The age range is probably around 20 to 50."

One of the difficulties of luging is finding a street--steep enough for speed and offering curves and a smooth surface--where police won't run the lugers off. Sherlock is always looking for a good hill, and a new way to get down it. He plans to try his hand soon at ice luge and downhill mountain bike racing.

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