Putting on the brakes in Santa Barbara. Photo: Billy Smith, courtesy Sporting-Sails.

One afternoon, in the Spring 2006, Nick and Billy Smith were doing what young people do when they find themselves visiting their grandparents houses and with too much time on their hands — they were rummaging through the attic. The treasure in pursuit? Schnapps and fireworks. Instead, the brothers found something better — an old carton filled with what looked like colorful capes.

The discovery — an invention dreamed up by their grandfather to make skiing more fun — inspired the pair to develop a modern-day version of the sail.

Recent kite technology has allowed athletes to soar over the water and even helps ocean-going ships to transport goods more efficiently, but Nick and Billy’s grandfather had designed his kite to do the opposite. What the brothers found was that by using the chute to slow down their runs, they could control their adventures more skillfully, transforming the descent from “a rushed downward dash to a weightless, flight-like glide that allows one to explore the use of wind and air to control speed and stability,” according to their website.

Carving it out in Morocco. Photo: Adam Colton, courtesy Sporting-Sails.

Shifting gears from snow to asphalt in the Redwood groves surrounding Muir Woods (the company is based in Ventura, Calif.), the Smiths began to use what they were now calling “Sporting-Sails” to manage their downhill speed and increase stability and safety. With the colorful, spinnaker-like kites strapped to their wrists and ankles and billowing behind them to create drag, they began tackling steeper terrain on shorter skateboards and negotiating curves more easily.

The brothers and company in skateboarding action. Produced by Russel Albert Daniels for Mill Valley Patch, via You Tube.

The brothers — a business school grad and a wetsuit designer for Patagonia — compare using the Sporting-Sail to tow-in surfing: It allows users “to carve bigger and longer hills on smaller more playful set-ups.” But it also allows them to incorporate more of the elements into their sport, giving them the ability “harness new terrain depending on wind conditions that day.”

“Nobody goes skateboarding and says, ‘It’s a northwest wind coming in at 13 knots, I should go skate at Fort Cronkite Hill,’” said Nick in a video interview with Time, “but now we start to think that way.”

Today, the brothers’ modification of their grandfather’s original “Ski-Klipper” is made from military grade parachute fabric, and can be purchased from their site for $79, with a few upcoming designs (priced $39-$99) on the way. Whether the chutes become a commercial success or not is yet to be seen, but one thing is clear: Skiing, skateboarding, and even surfing with all of the elements fully in mind — and in hand — is a beautiful thing.

Cruising past Golden Gate. Photo: Jack Duysen, courtesy of Sporting-Sails.

Sporting-sailing tubes in Ventura, Calif. Photo: Tim Davis, courtesy Sporting-Sails.

Anti-spinnaker technology in action during a skiing demo.

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