Downhill longboarding comes to Whistler 

“Next level” competition to use sliding centre roads

The Whistler Sliding Centre is officially the fastest track in the world for bobsleigh, skeleton and luge, but if Lee Cation is successful it will be known for the top longboard downhill track in the world as well.

"It's the next level, that's the truth," said Cation, who is bringing the Whistler Longboarding Festival to Whistler on June 26.

"This road is so unbelievable that it could only be built for the Olympics. Nobody would build a road like this or access this kind of territory, they would go around it. They literally blasted out tonnes of rock on either side for the road... and it's just an unbelievable setting for photos and video."

Downhill longboarding is an offshoot of skateboarding where competitors start at the top of a steep hill and race two or three other skaters to the bottom. Riders stay low on their specially built boards and use their gloved hands and leather-suit protected bodies to steer their boards around corners, sliding out their rubber wheels to cut the steeper angles. They hit speeds over 100 km/h on faster sections.

The road that services the Whistler Sliding Centre is unique to the sport. From top to bottom there is about 330 metres of vertical over roughly 1.6 km - similar to the course that will be featured at the Britannia Classic this Sunday, May 29, but there are eight hairpin corners in Whistler versus three on Copper Drive in Britannia.

"You're turning for 90 per cent of the track," said Cation.

Cation said they've been trying to host an event in Whistler for years, but had to wait until after the Olympics. Now he's gratified that stakeholders are willing to give his event a chance to run.

"We're not big budget people, so they're really investing us and giving us a chance to get something new going in the summer," Cation said. "They really had to accommodate us. Ziptrek Ecotours, Canadian Snowmobile Adventures, Whistler Blackcomb Mountain Operations, the Whistler Sliding Centre - they all use that road, we're feeling very lucky to have two days on that road."

The Saturday training day is closed to the public, but spectators will be welcome to come out and watch the racing on Sunday.

Cation said his focus in the first year would be on the estimated 128 athletes that are expected to take part, and making the race a good experience. However, he has lofty goals for the event, which is why he decided to call it the Whistler Longboarding Festival.

The sport is mostly athlete-driven anyway, with the entry fees generating the prize money, but Cation sees a day when they'll have non-industry sponsors like beverage companies lining up to sponsor longboard downhill races.

"Year one will be all road, and year two I hope to have a more festival style with more events and add-ons to the main event," explained Cation.

While it's a low-budget affair, Cation said the sport is growing and drawing more attention.

"The cash prize at Brittania ($4,000) is now double what it was last year," said Cation. "I hate to refer to sales, but Transworld Business reported that there was a 43 per cent increase in longboard sales (in the past year) over the 2009-2010 period."

The sport is also getting more traction. There are two documentaries out about longboard racing and it's been featured in publications like the New York Times . Proving that there's no such thing as bad publicity, a story about a helicopter that crashed at a longboard race in Colorado attracted global attention to the incident and the sport itself.

"It's big in mountainous regions, in coastal regions. In Australia it's growing with the surf culture. In California people are making the transition from street. And Canada is leading the charge a little because we have the big, burly mountains and a lot of skiers and snowboarders have taken to this," said Cation. "And we also have health care too."

Crashes are common, which is why racers wear full-face helmets and full-leather suits on the course. That danger also draws more spectators to the sport - people might not know what it feels like to drift around a corner at 100 km/h, but they can appreciate what it's like to fall onto the pavement at high speed.

Cation said you could get into the sport for as little as $500 with some used gear, but a good board and custom protective gear will cost around $2,000.

For more information, or if you're interested in volunteering, visit www.whistlerlongboard.com.

 

 

 

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