THE tireless work of Ironsides Mountainboarding Centre supremo Raphael La Roche looks like turning Herefordshire’s bouncing hills and countryside into a mountainboard mecca.
The dedicated teacher and competitor first got into mountainboarding when he was 30 years old.
“My brother and I saw someone using one while operating a power-kite on a beach,” said La Roche, who is now 42.
“So we bought a mountainboard and a magazine, and soon we were off to the nearest woods, where we started trying to dodge trees.”
The sport began in 1992 as an alternative to surfing and snowboarding and involves riding a board with four wheels on different terrains (usually steeper gradients).
The sport is still relatively unheard of and La Roche said: “Participation is down to people’s individual outlook.
“The hardest thing is getting parents to allow children to do it.
“I’m friends with many parents as they know my partner Lorna and I run the centre safe and well.
“Because I ride and compete, they know I wouldn’t ask the kids to do anything I wouldn’t. If the kids are riding in torrential rain, I pad up and join them.
“I have three seven-year-olds on the team who are all competing at national levels, and one lad will be out there in the mud enjoying himself, even if it’s chucking down.”
The Tillington centre takes on a number of schools, parties and first-timers and La Roche insists: “They all leave having enjoyed it. We encourage everyone to get involved.
“We have nearly 20 people on our team, we’re the biggest in the country and have won the last two Best Regional Mountainboard Team awards.”
The enthusiastic instructor volunteered to become the sport’s governing body (ATBA) chairman in 2008 and explained: “When I took over, there weren’t enough volunteers, so I dragged my friends into the association.
“Now there are about 20 people on the committee doing different jobs and promoting the sport."
La Roche moved to Hereford in 2010 after learning that the Court Farm Centre was available.
After having taken over the centre in a one-year-contract, he admitted: “I was nervous and I put a business plan together to show how I would put things right for the second year.
“But the first thing the owners said was ‘Please say you’re staying’.
“And three years on, we’re still here.”
The mountainboard legend confirmed that having two jobs is exhausting.
“Sometimes I finish at 9pm, I’ll sit down and then the phone will ring and it’s the vice-chairman about rescheduling an event,”
However, he believes that being able to mountainboard in his backyard is a dream come true.
“We couldn’t do it if we lived off site but we’ve sacrificed normal living to be in a mobile home,”
“This way we can keep Ironsides open for the people that love and depend on it.”
La Roche added: “I can never give up boarding. I know a 52- year-old that quit and I thought I could go on to be the oldest boarder.
“But he picked his board back up and he’s still going.
“Even if I have to give it up for health reasons, I’ll still instruct, push the sport and get people into it.”
With London 2012 under way, the UK Masters Overall Champion has some Olympic targets of his own.
“It’s frustrating when you tell people your profession and they don’t know what it is,” he said.
“I want mountainboarding in the Olympics and even those that aren’t participating to know what it is.
“The struggle is to get recognised by Sport England. We need ‘x’ amount of membership on the ATBA’s books.
“Mountainboarding grew fast when it began, then it died quickly but people like me stayed in it and, slowly, it is rebuilding.
“I have thousands of friends worldwide on Facebook, so there are boarders everywhere out there.
“It’s just bringing us together to get recognised as a legitimate sport and I think we are just around the corner.”
Anyone interested in trying mountainboarding should contact La Roche at Ironsides on 07766 693829.