Banana board racing is still around – and it’s thriving |

Banana board racing is still around – and it’s thriving

Devon O'Neil
Summit Daily/Reid Williams Josh Byrd, 13, of Madison, Miss., keeps his eyes on the cones Saturday during his qualifying run at the U.S. Skateboard Championships held on King's Crown Road in Breckenridge.

BRECKENRIDGE – A blast from skateboarding’s past – downhill slalom racing – continued its climb back into the sport’s overall picture Saturday, at a venue that was only fitting.The streets of Breckenridge, which hosted downhill races regularly in the sport’s 1970s heyday, were the site for this year’s U.S. Skateboard Racing Championships, chosen to welcome the niche discipline’s elite for the third consecutive year. (The last two years the race had been called the High Peaks Drifter, and did not serve as the national championships.) Saturday the weekend-long event sent racers down King’s Crown Road in the giant slalom race. And although Mother Nature cooperated about as much as a newborn (her intermittent tears of joy forced organizers to postpone the action a number of times), racers made the most of their trips down the road.With their arms outstretched for balance, they snaked back and forth through a tight and challenging slalom course while reaching speeds of nearly 30 miles per hour on their old-school banana boards. Most arrived safely at the bottom, though a few enjoyed spectacular falls.

“It’s very scary,” said Aki Von Glasow, 18, of Zurich, Switzerland. “You have the part up top to pick up the speed, then you hold the speed through the tight turns down below, which is the tough part. It’s all about rhythm.”When it comes to slalom skateboard racing, Von Glasow would know. He won Friday’s 1.5-mile downhill competition on the west side of Vail Pass, where he nearly broke 50 mph on a stretch he later called a “baby hill,” compared to the ones he grew up racing on in Europe.On Saturday, the Swiss speedster – who is touring America this summer by following the broadly organized racing series which includes Breckenridge – had a bit more trouble taming the course. He knocked over a few cones on his afternoon qualifying run (each dislodged cone cost a racer three tenths of a second) and didn’t quite make the same impression he had the day before.One who had no such problems was 13-year-old Josh Byrd, of Madison, Miss. He laid down one of the cleanest runs of the day, regardless of age, finishing the 100-yard, 40-cone course without a blemish, in 23 seconds flat.

According to many in attendance, Byrd is one of the sport’s up-and-comers, a future star who will likely help determine whether skateboard racing continues its surge back to notoriety.”I have a few friends I do this with in Mississippi,” said Byrd, whose dad Ricky grew up skating in the ’70s and also competed Saturday. “We just like the speed and how technical it is.”Announcing Saturday’s competition on the microphone was Henry Hester. Hester won four straight slalom world championships, from 1974-77, and said it’s been the elder racers that have brought the discipline back from its doldrum years of the ’80s and ’90s.”It does tend to come and go,” he said, dodging rain drops during a break in the action. “In the last four years there’s been a strong comeback of slalom racing, and it’s been a lot of the guys who were racing strong in the ’70s, guys maybe 38, 40 years old. The average age is probably 38.”

According to Hester, Breckenridge was a regular stop on the Another Roadside Attraction (ARA) tour nearly 30 years ago – a series put on by well-known Colorado skier and skateboarder Peter Kamen.Just as it was then, downhill racing is still a sport for athletes of all kinds. “You really don’t have to be a 25-year-old stud to do well,” said Hester. Added David Hackett, who races for Black Leather Racing out of San Diego, “It’s a thinking man’s game.”Notes: Although there are more than a few Colorado racers competing this weekend, event organizer Gary Fluitt said he received no entries from Summit County skaters – even after offering them free registration. … Fluitt also said equipment prices for slalom racing can get pricey; some racers on Saturday were using boards that, trucks and wheels included, cost them more than $700. … The action wraps up today with the tight slalom race, which begins this morning at the corner of Adams and French in downtown Breckenridge.

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