Sktchbcks Cover

Portland Sketchbacks Race

One aspect of riding downhill is pretty universally fun to most skaters: testing your speed against others. As downhill skateboard racing has progressed over the last decade, some of the races (Teutonia, Pikes Peak, and Angie’s Curves are just a few examples) have become a bit out of reach for most riders out there. They are fun to watch but are out of reach for many skaters because of price, location, or required skill level. Luckily, skaters don’t need big sanctioned events in order to race with friends. You just need the right kind of hill and for Portlanders, Sketchbacks is the right kind of hill for an outlaw race.

Wait, what is Sketchbacks? Sketchbacks is the Beast to the Beauty that is Switchbacks in Portland, OR. Both Switchbacks and Sketchbacks are multi-use paths in Washington Park in the West Hills of Portland. Switchbacks is smooth and has three corners that are pretty easy, Sketchbacks is rough and patchy, often wet on the edges, has much more character, and has four corners (five if you include a section with car traffic). The two are great paths with sparse traffic from bikes and pedestrians. Any hill without cars is infinitely better than one with them when racing. Now obviously, not everyone has a Sketchbacks in their city. But there may be a bike path, rarely traveled road, or newly paved unfinished housing development to hold an event. Have fun and be safe. #spotlife

A Portland organizing force named Kurt Derow started a Facebook group a few weeks ago and I decided to go to the event to race and shoot some photos. Before we started the race, there was a session.

Kurt Derow and Samuel Sparkowich dip into the fleeting light of the Washington Park forest.

This set of stairs is a work of art.

The event, if you can even call it that, was so bare bones and low key that it was refreshing. I’ve traveled the world shooting events with all the hype, pressure, and pizazz. This one was so simple; the whole thing was just a session. Kurt jotted down names, put them into a hat, and pulled from it to make the race brackets. Riders donated skate gear and money for the prize package. A few skaters volunteered to spot corners and a phone call confirmed the course was “relatively” clear. We all agreed that a rerun would be appropriate if there was a significant obstruction during a race heat. I haven’t raced in a while, so it was fun to feel the rush as I rode down this hill with riders I haven’t ridden with before.

Kurt Derow put this Sketchbacks event together.

The event, if you can even call it that, was so bare bones and low key that it was refreshing.

Since we didn’t have a closed course, we had spotters and protocol for how to deal with interference.

Small crew, but fun.

A few skaters donated their wheels for the prizes.

Brackets were made by pulling names out of a hat.

Laying out the heats.

Sam has a PhD in F-U-N. He’s also really fast on a skateboard.

The first round of racing.

Pushing off

Since I raced, I have no photos of the race. I mean, I’m no Matt K.


Three or four bucks, a few sets of used wheels, gloves, and a used board were the prizes.

Kurt announces the winners…

…and they get to pick from the pile.

Kurt made a video of the event. C’mon guys and gals, let’s get the views up to 100! Side note: Holy ravioli there are so many Youtube videos of downhill skateboarding, it is hard to keep up.

After the race we had a proper mob session from the tippy top, which includes a section that cars drive on. It’s pretty easy to time when to go though; just wait like 30 seconds after a car goes by the one way downhill and then go!

Mob deep.

Mobbing across the pedestrian crossing.

As the lighting got darker in the forest and I had to bump up my ISO in order to get a shot without flash, I decided to go black and white.

Kurt Derow in the front of this heat.

Aaron Krolczyk and Samuel Sparkowich.

Aaron Krolczyk and Samuel Sparkowich.

Aaron Krolczyk and Samuel Sparkowich.

Aaron Krolczyk and Samuel Sparkowich.

TJ and Christine Swinkels hike up the crooked stairs.

Christine Swinkels swings past the big tree.

TJ Swinkels finds the sweet spot on the inside of the same corner.

A big thanks to Kurt Derow for putting this event on and actively working to revive the Portland skate scene. Shout out to all those that work hard for your respective local scenes.