There were a small group of elite skateboarders who got together on January 13, 2018 to test their unique abilities at South Mountain Park (SoMo) in Phoenix, Arizona.
According to common lore statistics, many skateboarders are fully content maintaining daily life in transit to their destinations, be it atop a short deck rolling briskly along the sidewalk. Meanwhile there exists core groups of riders taking the term ‘shred’ to a whole new level. Downhillers quietly advance an industry within their own cutting-edge niche. Whilst to those involved, the notion of a cutting-edge niche simply does not apply. Truth be told, downhill riding can be dangerous. Amidst the risks and armed with fundamental skills, everyone comfortingly has each other’s backs. Cutting edge friendships, for lack of a better term, may ensue over time. These guys endlessly test and tune their beloved setups and accompanying gear, on into the future.
I like to akin downhill riding to a figurative dance with the notion of fear and physical limitation, while having little to no intention of impressing bystanders. While some might be found pouring their morning java to the same-old Sunday morning routine, these guys might be found somewhere on the mountain spraying a rooster tail of dust at 30+ mph. They might then be found beaming down over the crest; transitioning from full race tuck to pre-drift stance.
Under helmet at these immense speeds, riders must squint out to discern the horizon from a hazy guardrail while holding statuesque forms to maintain serious levels of balance. Riders must focus to uphold their balance throughout their run to attain max levels of grip. Somewhere in this duality of high-speed and high-intensity… the upper limits of joy are elevated once more. A sport and its legends live on, albeit *rashed up* but intact, nonetheless.
But enough corny skate poetry. Ever hit 45mph in the world’s largest city park, in 75 degree weather beneath bluebird skies….?
The race was announced in early January, and was hosted by Valley of the Downhill. Tom McCarthy and Joe Lupia called the race and ensured traffic conditions were safe for racers. Valley of the Downhill put together another epic cutthroat one vs. one single elimination race day. We started with our first warm up run at 11:00 a.m. with OG rider Lonnie Leonelli leading the pack complete with follow-cams, sponsored riders, a shuttle bus, and morning heats. At that moment, I knew Arizona was in for a treat.
An assortment of riders of all ages from all walks of life began to ascend upon the twists, turns, and sweeping corners up the moderately graded pavement bypassing the ‘Scenic Lookout’ signs that highlighted the birds eye view of the Phoenix skyline. They knew they were in the right place. A solid attendance was in check at fourteen riders deep. Everyone was properly equipped with a helmet and slide gloves. Some even brought out their full race leathers for the occasion.
The first heat consisted of Hooligan-sponsored rider Austin Cole rocking his new high fiber Yellow Jacket against Ryan C. The second heat consisted of Advance Slide Labs-sponsored rider Jason Pool and Seth S. This was a close race as both riders were inches from one another throughout each corner of the run. With some close calls coming into the final corner, Jason Pool and his Rastafarian style triumphed. The third heat was an epic battle between Alex Dunning and Colton D., with Colton taking lead into the first corner. The first fall of the race occurred during this heat as Dunning passed Colton coming into the second switchback.
The fourth heat consisted of Jafet Ramirez and Ryan LeSueur. This was a close race but with the steadfast hours of practice LeSueur has been dedicating to the sport, he took the heat as he is improving exponentially. Overall excitement continued to build as the race progressed. Dylan Skaggs and Matt rounded out the younger age bracket of the crew with Matt winning the fifth heat, but not without a toughly-fought battle from Skaggs. William Wright took on Connor S. with William taking the sixth and final heat of the first round. After many adrenaline-scooting runs and a few minor pavement-kissers later, a winner for the early-morning heats was established.
Moving along from the first portion of the race onto the later-morning cooldown runs, slide shenanigans and fresh urethane lines were thoroughly established. With the cooldown runs following the first round concluded, the first heat of the second round was ready to commence.
Jason Pool and Austin Cole lined up for what would become one of the closest races I have personally ever witnessed. Joe Lupia waited at the finish line. The race turned out to be a draw as Joe made the executive decision as he was present on the finish line. The second heat of the second round consisted of Ryan LeSueur and Alex Dunning. With Alex Dunning’s explosive muscle strength from playing college hockey and extensive running background, he took the holeshot off the line leading into the first curve. Upon corner entry, LeSueur drafted off Dunning’s tuck followed by a tactical shake-and-bake-like pass leading onto the second straightaway. Dunning attempted to catch LeSueur on the outside throughout the last two corners, but LeSueur tactfully defended his position taking a close win. The third heat of the second round was one of the wildest heats of the day between thirteen-year-old Matt and William Wright. This race was sweat-inducingly close with every approaching turn. These guys certifiably pushed their urethane-clad wheels to their limits. Coming into the final toeside corner, Wright’s wheels eventually gave out resulting in some gnarly road rash along his left side as he managed to miss the 15mph street turn sign by mere inches. I would not put it past Wright to hold back in a race situation scenario. He doubtlessly brings the term “go big or go home” to a whole new level.
Concluding the event, the final heat consisted of three riders going head to head with Jason Pool, Ryan Lesueur and Matt. This was a downright epic battle fought between the best riders of the day with Jason Pool taking home the cash prize along with a brand new deck generously donated for the race by local Arizona company Black Longboards.
At the end of the day, something becomes increasing clear. Together, these guys aid in the acceleration of a sport into a new perspective; a new age of skating. An age of dudes who know how to shred pavement; who also collaborate utilizing social media technology tailored to the skateboarding community. With technology comes the ability to share timeless memories of skating across generations- something we as a community should continue to strive for. That is, doing our individual part toward building a larger skate community, not only here in the valleys and foothills of Phoenix, but in unsung portions of the Southwest.
Big thanks goes out to the organizers of this downhill race event and their sponsors. Check out the photos, and be sure to check out Everything Skateboarding for the up and coming local events here in Phoenix!