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Rachel Bagels: Understanding The Racer Rationale

Have you ever wondered what’s goes through the minds of your fellow skaters;  what motivates them and what pushes them to succeed? Our sport is an incredible community with every kind of person and personality participating.  Skating is something that is so humble, so pure and raw, but can also be a form of competition. Most don’t step on a skateboarding thinking “I’m going to race”, but when the bug bites, it generally stays put.  

Josh Evan leads a pack at Verdicchio in Italy.

As someone who has raced in the world tour for over 4 years, I learned that everyone attacks this sport differently.  Whether they are the most competitive person at a race or just there to have a good time, their motivation and passion shine through distinctly.  

I was curious to discover the many mentalities and passions that drive skaters to compete.

I interviewed 30+ “racers” for this article; from OGs and fresh faces to the shining talent today.  Follow along to catch a glimpse into the many perspectives of downhill skateboard racing.

*To clarify, this article is not meant to shun any type of skating or put racing above all else. I am simply emphasizing what separates the desire to go beyond the everyday routines of skating.

I interviewed everyone with the exact same questions, starting off with:

What motivates you to race?

I figured this question would bring about some anticipated and similar results.  My initial thought being that most people would reply along the lines of; “the spirit and thrill of competition” as mentioned by Emily Pross, 3x women’s champ from the USA, or as Kevin Reimer, former world champ from Canada says, “The drive to win”.  Kolby Park, current luge world champ from Canada, claims, “I like to race because I always want to see who is the best. Even if its not me. Racing always produces closer faster racing and encourages you to push your limits that you probably wouldn’t during a freeride”.

A different take on the subject brought to attention from Diane “Dizzy” Hiebert from Canada; “When I first started longboarding, I saw racing as an opportunity to push myself in a safe environment. I felt comfortable knowing that if something bad were to happen to me, I was in the right hands as quickly as possible, then the stress of being stranded, helpless melts away and you can focus on just getting down the hill.”  This thought is something that has driven many skaters to participate in races. Since we do not have designated locations for us to “practice”, a race is sometimes the only way to get out to a road and skate with precautions and safety accounted for.

Kevin Reimer leading the final heat at Jakes Rash in Canada.

Another wonderful point on the subject from Louis Pilloni from the USA, “It is always exciting to push your limits and race against the clock or other skaters. You get a chance to see where you can excel and where you can improve”.  Nick Broms, current junior world champ from the USA follows, “I’ve never been so into something before though so that was the initial motivation but now it’s more of a self-improvement thing, and racing is a good way to test how much I have improved”.  A great reply given by Josh Evans from Australia, illustrates more of a passionate response, “FUN for starters, having a place to push my own limits and the limits of everyone around me, the drive to be the best and improve my self every day”. I truly hope that this applies to most everyone.  If we’re not having fun skating, then what’s the point?

Here are more replies:

Sabrina Ambrosi, Argentina:  “I’ve always competed in all the sports I’ve practiced in my life, so it’s just natural for me. I need that nervous feeling that u only get when you are at the start line, and don’t even get me started when u cross the finish line first”.

Martin Siegrist, Switzerland: “I saw an X-Games race on TV and knew immediately that’s what I was going to do next. At that point I could not afford racing mountain bikes so downhill skateboarding was perfect.”

Yanis Markarian, FR: “What motivates me in the race is always having to surpass myself, to have a goal for the next seasons ! It’s looks like a game for me ! There’s everything around the race that’s interesting, other than the race itself, meeting riders from around the world, know yourself better with the happiness and deceptions, it’s a cocktail of emotion for me and I really like it”!

Already on the first question, I noticed an overwhelming amount of vast responses and mindsets. It is so intriguing to learn how many people can be similar and different.

Let’s move on to a classic debate: Why racing over just skating for fun/ freerides?

Of course, not every person values racing above all.  In fact, most of the interviewees mentioned their inclination towards both racing and freeriding.   Aleix Gallimo from Spain, hits it spot on, “I think both sides are super healthy. Freeriding is the absolute pleasure from downhill skateboarding, you’re free to do whatever you want, it’s about having fun and spreading the stoke with your friends, faster or slower don’t matter. Racing has the side of focus in a goal, becoming faster. And for this you need to take care of a lot of things; Mental, physical, taking care of the Gear & learning how to race. I think that makes people grow like an athlete”.   This explanation brings forth a great generalization towards each side. As fun as skating is and as much as we do it for enjoyment, it is elevated when competition is involved. Every aspect that is needed to win a race comes from furthering everyday skating. It becomes, “a big motivation for me to improve my skating… the push needed to be courageous and take chances”, says up-and-comer Teresa Gillcrest from the USA. Or as Carlos Paixao from Brazil, describes, “Racing gives me a goal, to improve not just my body but my mind and my fears”.  This is something similar to most; the desire to compete but still leave room to just skate for the pure enjoyment of skating.

Sabrina Ambrosi peers back at a pack on her tail at Kozakov. Photo by Grayson Baggiolini.

There are those that absolutely love the thrill and competitive edge of racing, like Douglas Dalua from Brazil, “For fun with a little competition is incredible, I was always a racer, I could not live far from the races, adrenaline is motivational” and Aaron Hampshire from the USA, “To me, racing IS skating for fun! Obviously, skating is fun in itself, but racing adds that X factor”.   To many riders, a competitive edge sets racing apart, bringing it to another level that brings out extra pleasure and pure adrenaline.

The majority of skaters are not the ones that participate in races/ competitions, but the ones that do it for the love, fun, freedom, etc.  Melissa Brogni, from Brazil, describes it greatly, “The fun is the main thing, laughing and playing (with) friends is the best part. It is not necessary to forget it at the time of the race, do with love that will be all right, without obligations”.  

As Lucas Poulain from France eloquently explained, “I don’t prefer race over freeride. I just need both, they are kinda two different aspects of longboarding. To me, it’s a balance”.  What a great way to put it; “balance”. As skateboarders, we have the incredible opportunity to have our cake and eat it too. If you want to race, then race. If you want to freeride, then freeride.  If you want to do everything, then do everything. The wonderful thing about skateboarding is that how you skate is up to you.  

Here are some other interesting replies:

James Kelly, USA: “It’s my favorite when skateboarding is a form of self-expression, and freeriding is where we see some of the most creative and inspiring progression. Racing forces everyone to the fastest singular style because it’s the single fastest way down the hill, although it is progressing race style, for me skateboarding is so much more free than that. That said, as long as you enjoy your time on a skate the way you like, that’s always the most important thing. Don’t get me wrong, racing is one hell of a rush and I love it, but there’s so much more to longboarding or downhill skateboarding then being the fastest down a hill”.

Kolby Parks, Canada: “We have plenty of time to freeride in practice at most races”.

Yanis Markarian, France: “Because you have to think a lot during racing! It’s not just down, just go down with friends, for sure it’s also nice, but the race has a charm that the freeride does not have! In racing you have to know what to do, how to do it, and why, it is a constant anticipation that you don’t have in freeride! During a freeride, you can slow down and telling yourself “ this opportunity is not worth it”, while in the race you have to try everything for everything! But we must remain safe, the race in aggression does not interest me”.

I got a clue about the next question through the answers to the first two, but it was definitely interesting to delve into each individual response.

Are you competitive?

You may think this question warrants a simple yes or no response, but it came out to be much more complex.

As with anyone who races or chooses to compete in anything, you’ll find the diehard competitive types.  For example, Emily Pross simply answered, “extremely.”, similarly to Kevin Reimer from Canada, with a “very.”.  Following their lines of the diehard competitive but with a different expression,  the phrase: “sucks to suck” came up from two riders on opposite sides of the world.  Daniel Engel from the USA, saying that he is, “Incredibly (competitive), nothing hurts me more than being passed by another racer. #suckstosuck”, and Jaime De Lange from The Philippines, “Sucks to suck. I’m not the type to just be like “meh”, if you’re faster than me, best believe I’m going to work to get out in front”.   

What is truly interesting, and maybe the most relatable is the general consensus on this answer.  In a sport that is generally dominated by fun, it really comes down to our own personal expectations when competing.   As mentioned by Louis Pilloni from the USA, “Yes, but against myself more than anything”. Many others agreed; “I don’t race against people, I race with them. Most of the time I’m racing against myself and it’s a hell of a challenge”, says Lucas Poulain from France.   It can become an internal battle with one’s own competitiveness, as Kaila Dasol Jung from South Korea says, “Actually I’m not a competitive girl, but I always think I dislike to lag behind”.

Emily Pross chasing Oscar Archibaldo at Kozakov in the Czech Republic. Photo by Grayson Baggiolini

Let’s sum this up with the wonderful words from Adam Westfall, USA, “I try not to let (competitiveness) get in the way of having fun though; at the end of the day a lost race is still an awesome day of skating and if you can’t see that then you shouldn’t be out there!”

Here are some other replies:

Teresa Gillcrest, USA: “Yes and No lol. Yes, I want to do the best I can in every heat. I want to see my times improve and I want to see myself podium sooner or later. However, I rarely get upset when plans don’t go as intended. Racing is fun, regardless of how well I do”.

Grace Wong, New Zealand: “Somewhat. At least, I used to be. That’s probably due to a growing sense of self-preservation (hello, aging)”.

Austin Pedroni, USA: “ I enjoy the competition because its fun, and when it stops being fun I stop enjoying it”.

Now, for the personal touch.

How does skating make you feel?

This question yielded a very expected and almost unanimous response, summed up with one word: freedom.  

Lisa Peters racing a patchy road in Romania.

Martin Siegrist from Switzerland expresses it well, “Riding a skateboard is freedom! I forget everything and concentrate on what’s happening right now. It’s like an escape from reality”.  Along with Lisa Peters from The Netherlands, “It makes me feel alive, the fact that you can grab your wooden board, and drop down every mountain you want is an amazing feeling of freedom”.  And Louis Pilloni from the USA, “There are a lot of things that make me happy but skating provides a freedom in the moment that brings happiness”.

Do we not all agree? Does skateboarding not bring us pure happiness, enjoyment, freedom or escape?

Emily Pross’ response follows along the feeling of elation; “Skating has always been and creates a euphoric feeling for me. If I did not find downhill, I do not think I ever would have found myself as an individual.  Downhill provides me with happiness in life, and I’m not sure what I’ll do if I cannot participate in it, somehow”. How many of us feel the same? This true connection to happiness found within our simple sport of skateboarding is just something so incredible. Nick Broms, the current Junior champ from the USA, says, “I guess the best way to answer this is the simplest, and skating makes me really happy. All of it just makes me happy, and every day that I don’t skate just feels like a wasted day now”.

Other great responses:

Josh Evans, AUS: “Calm, present, stoked and incredibly hyper all at once”.

James Kelly, USA:  “Free. As I get older its still the easiest way to clear my mind. I appreciate that more than the adrenalin these days. It’s also starting to bring back memories I appreciate more every day”.

Kolby Parks, CA: “When riding a road that you know like the back of your glove or on a really long flowy road I reach a peaceful state. When laying on a luge and being so close to the road you can’t actually see any part of the luge under you so your brain starts to feel like your flying with just your body. When you’re perfectly in tune with your board you almost don’t even realize its there”.

The passion that comes out from the majority of these skaters responses is inspiring and definitely relatable.

Now, for the tough question.  With recent events, it has been a very difficult time for the race scene, IDF and all skaters.   I asked everyone their thoughts on the IDF?  

I asked this in innocence to get purely subjective answers. Only once I started to sift through the answers did I realize how sensitive this subject would be.

It is important to understand the many sides involved in making everything happen.  You have the skaters/ racers, the organizers, the volunteers, the local government, the permits, the IDF board, the rules, safety, etc., etc.  There are races in their first years running and races going on their tenth, races in 1st world countries and races in 3rd world countries, races with funding and government support and races lead strictly through individual organizations, and many more factors.  

There are many ways to view what is currently going on with our organizing federation.  As Troy Grenier from Canada explains, “It’s the only governing body we have. You have to deal with its glitches here and there, but I really appreciate the amount of work the team does to ensure we have a good world circuit and a good system to designate points”.  Teresa Gillcrest, a newcomer to the IDF tour says, “IDF is an important aspect of our sport. They help bring longboard communities together from all over the world. I know they’ve been under heat over the last few months over what happened in South America last fall, but I do still believe in the IDF.  They just need to be proactive and work towards mending the problems they’ve been found in”. As brought forth from Kevin Reimer, CA, “They are a necessary association for our sport and are doing their best with what few resources they have at their resources. We need to support them as a group and not expect 6 volunteers to do all the work necessary”.  Tamara Prader from Switzerland concurs, “Without passionate people willing to give their time, we wouldn’t have a race scene at all anymore. BUT: they need to start paying their board members at least a symbolic salary. You can not run a professional sports association without reimbursing the time invested”.

It is absolutely important to remember the people behind the IDF.  These real people are currently volunteers dedicating their time and resources for us, the racers, and for the sport.  Credit needs to be given where it is deserved, but there are validations for the opposing argument. Aleix Gallimo from Spain mentions, “We really need an International federation, but at the same time we really need a professional Downhill Federation, what we have right now is kind of a joke.  International federation needs to take care about: Safety, Quality of races, Quality of organization, had enough power to delegate and sanction from a racer to a Race track or race Organizer”. Grace Wong from New Zealand, comments, “The lack of recent updates has been really disappointing. In a body that represents skaters and is a democratically elected board, there needs to be a lot more accountability and transparency.  Given the issues in the past year and the move our sport is making towards possibly being included in the Olympics, we need to see how the board is advocating for us”.

I personally give a huge thank you towards those that are involved with the IDF to help make our sport better, but we are in a wave of evolution and I would love to see big changes towards the betterment and progression of our organization.

It’s easy to stand on the sidelines and point fingers and complain, but let’s take step towards being proactive.  We can’t just sit aside and say everything is okay, but we also cannot just wait around and hope problems will be solved.  As I mentioned, “I don’t think the point is to solve everything, but rather to get more people thinking…”

Here are some more comments:

Grace Wong, NZ continued: “I, for one, need to see that they are advocating for an opens category as opposed to a male and female division. This would be the first sport to do so – how awesome would it be to allow men and women to compete together and push their limits?”

Lisa Peters, NL: “They are doing a great job. That’s all I can say. I know how much negative shit they receive and that people are always complaining. But they are working hard and are always trying to improve things. The sport is small and for every race there are maybe around 200 people competing. You can’t expect them to be as professional as a soccer federation with a budget 10 times more”.

Jenny Shaurete, UK: “They have been the most professional than ever this year. I fully support their work and choices. To improve the safety, more members will be needed”.

One that truly made me laugh, from Dexter Manning, CA: “Better than the IGSA”.

As we may all be aware, our little downhill industry has seen better days.  We have encountered many a shop/ company closing their doors or beginning to solely rely on the sales of soft goods/ cruisers.  There are many answers and opinions out there on how things can improve and evolve. I asked everyone exactly that; How would you like to see our sport improved?

The answers ranged from passionate standpoints to objective; towards fixing racing, participation, basic skating, encouragement and beyond.

It seems that the majority of skaters preached three concepts:  professionalism, safety and media coverage. Douglas Dalua from Brazil says, “I dream of seeing the Downhill Skateboard (Professional), with serious people and a lot of recognition”.  Elissa Mah, the 4x Asia Pacific IDF women’s champ from New Zealand brings forward, “… making (our sport) more professional so that we’re taken more seriously…”

So, do we want to “Keep it a lifestyle and less of an elitist sport” like Louis Pilloni from USA  mentions? Or are we in agreement with professional progression like Lucas Poulain from France, “That competitive riders would be recognized and paid enough to dedicate their lives to the sport and do this all year long, as we can see some Brazilians do. The level would get soooo extreme”?  Professionalism could lead to an ultimate goal, as mentioned by Jenny Schuarte from the UK, “Downhill Skateboarding has a great potential of going to the Olympics one day. Next year Street Skateboarding will be taken into the Olympic disciplines, which is a great precursor for us”.

Luckily, no matter how our sports evolves, there will always be ways to access it.  Any skater will always have the choice to skate simply or professionally.

Aaron Hampshire framed perfectly through a hectic chicane lined with safety net and ski mattresses at Kings Gate in 2017. Initially this course had very little safety precautions in place, but with the general dissent and protestation, more safety features were eventually added.

Let’s progress into another category; safety.  Safety is a huge concept within our world and a point highlighted by many of the interviewees.  As Josh Evans from Australia says, “ An emphasis on safety and professionalism for sure. This comes from us as racers and organizers/ sponsors alike”.  Jamie DeLange from the Philippines encouraged, “Safety Standards. Most races are super safe, others less so. There should be an organizing committee that helps event organizers, apart from the IDF (who only sanction the race), who runs safety standards BEFORE any event can be considered a “world class event”.  Elissa Mah from New Zealand, presents, “We definitely need to standardize safety gear and procedures though, to protect not just our riders, but the future of downhill – people who don’t understand what we do are often worried about safety, and seeing serious accidents doesn’t help our case”.

This brings forth the image and media content of this argument.  It seems that we all really want to have a proper way to represent our sport.  As Teresa Gillcrest remarks, “ I would love to see events publicized more. Downhill is such an exciting sport to watch, and I feel like it would do extremely well as a televised sport”.  Jaime DeLang chimes in again, “Media coverage. There has to be a way to make it more of a sport to be spectated. Speakers to keep crowds updates on what’s going on in the race. South Korea had a jumbotron and a camera at every corner; they proved it could be done. Only when we get out stuff together, can bigger coverage bring the sport into the mainstream light”.    

James Kelly from the USA,  brings forth a different viewpoint, “It’d be nice if the brands started to invest in good media and getting their riders to events again. If this is done well it’ll inspire gromies and, ideally, get everything snowballing again. A lot of brands seems to be chasing “growth areas”, small cuts of the minis, cruisers, surf skate, and old school market. There’s not a lot of diverse quality brand identity post-crash. Passion is what made Longboarding so unique ten years ago. Small in house board shapers got lucky with timing. Then they saw growth because of the passion for their product and the inviting space they orchestrated (Rayne, Loaded, Comet, Earthwing). If things keep going as they are now, I’m worried our boys will slowly lose market share cruiser to street skate brands with bigger pockets and better distribution. Maybe that would be the catalyst for awesome quality downhill brands again…   Other then that, I’d say it’s the job of the next generation to shape things. We need to make sure they have the outlets to influence stoked groms”.

How can we think of a sport progressing without thinking of future generations? Troy Grenier states, “ I’d like to see more Longboard parks open so kids have a safe place to practice and have fun. Right now kids are getting boards and parents usually aren’t ok with their kids playing in open traffic. It’s also very dangerous to practice the techniques you need to learn in order to ride safely in traffic while on an open road”.  Nick Broms from the USA brings forth another perspective, “I think the sport could be portrayed in a better way at events (less smoking weed and drinking at the starting line and posting about it). This is something that deterred me and many of my friends from entering the Skate Scene. Our parents would drive us to an event and just get clouded by smoke or see a belligerently drunk person. This, to parents, isn’t something that they want their kids in. Especially with such a high demand for new youth, things should start to change hopefully”.   

More interesting answers:

Tamara Prader, CH: “Any direction is good as long as people believe in the love for the sport itself”.

Diane Hiebert, CA: “More involvement, more attendance, more endorsement”.

Melissa Brogni, BRA: “With infrastructure, downhill places, big brands visualizing this modality so beautiful and helping athletes to have future doing it”.

Yanis, FR: “I think this sport has a big potential, it has everything to please the general public, it is spectacular, aesthetic and I think the racing system is more easily understandable for the public! So in terms of the future I think the longboard can greatly improve, the events like the WRG lets reach more people that is enjoyable”!

Everyone that participated in this article has at least one thing in common: they love to race.  Everyone’s reasoning for racing comes from different places and they have all provide inspiration in their own way.

As racers, our goals are vast and varied. Whether we are solely aiming to be the best, for personal success, or to encourage others to follow suit, there is inspiration in everyone that steps on their board.  One of our goals should definitely be to inspire future generations to follow in our footsteps, to carry on competition and even surpass any current records. So, for the final question, I asked What would you say to inspire someone to start racing?

As I mentioned before, not everyone who skates races.  Racing is a big leap into a different territory of downhill skateboarding.  It may seem daunting to some and out of reach to others, but anyone can do it with proper dedication, training and experience.  Here are some encouraging words from the incredible skaters included in this article:

Stefano Barbizzi, Italy, “Just go and race, without thinking too much about who you are skating with nor about results. without being afraid about racing.  Many times new riders say: “I’m not good enough to race”. You don’t have to be a pro to race and have fun, it’s not a war. In 2013 I went to Almabtrieb world cup with my homies, I was skating for 1 year at that time, I fell wobbling for 600 meters in the fastest part, I skated like a completely shit, but it’s still being the best memory of my entire skate life, for the ton of fun, for the community, for the party and camping with new friends. So JUST DO IT”!

Kevin Reimer, Canada, “Get out there and have fun on a closed track. You race for yourself before you race anyone else”.

Louis Pilloni, USA, “Keep it about improving your skills and not comparing yourself to someone else. You can learn from others but it is about improving yourself”.

Josh Evans, Australia, “just give it a go! There’s so much to be learnt about your self and you might just ignite a fire”.

Adam Westfall leading a close, hectic, and rainy race heat at Straja in Romania.

Adam Westfall, USA, “Just get out there and start doing it! If you’re not used to racing, then get out there and lose some races! Who cares? I can’t tell you how many races I was in where I was a first round knock out. It’s still skating with the homies, and you get to learn and progress with everyone”.

Nick Broms, USA, “If you are competitive, or non-competitive, you can be having fun at a race. Do what is fun for you, just keep in mind that a lot of people find racing to be the most fun thing ever”.

Oscar Archibaldo, Spain, “You will waste all of your money in fresh wheels, but it’s worth it”.

Elissa Mah, New Zealand, “If you’re intimidated, don’t worry about what anybody else is doing – they’ve all started somewhere. Race against yourself and set targets that you can achieve. It’s good for your personal growth :)”

Terese Gillcrest, USA, “Racing is such an amazing way to build confidence in your skating. You also meet so many amazing people through racing events. Everyone in the racing community is super supportive of one another. We’ll compete against each other, but after every heat, we hug, laugh, and reflect on everyone’s performance. No hatred, just love”.

Douglas Dalua, Brazil,the effort will be momentary, but the glory will be eternal”.

So for those of you that are reading this, are you inspired?  Does racing seem more attainable, enticing, or familiar? Every racer started simply, with love for riding and through their own mentalities aimed for competition.  There are numerous reasons leading towards skateboards pursuing competition. From the fully competitive edge that guides some, to the simple desire to just skate and have fun, everyone finds their own way.  Racing isn’t for everyone, but it is something to respect for those that pursue it. Let’s end on some grand words from James Kelly, USA, “As long as you enjoy your time on a skate(board) the way you like, that’s always the most important thing. Don’t get me wrong, racing is one hell of a rush and I love it, but there’s so much more to longboarding or downhill skateboarding then being the fastest down a hill”.   

Every interviewee was asked the same 14 questions.  Some of the questions were not emphasized in this article, but they are all included in the interviews.  

Check out each riders individual interviews here.