Whistler has always had a large, active and talented skateboard community but it's rare that skateboard culture gets much mainstream recognition.
This year's Whistler Longboard Festival, now in its third year, is looking to change that with a little help from the Resort Municipality of Whistler. While the main event is still the downhill longboarding competition at Whistler Sliding Centre — a sanctioned World Cup event this year — the entire five-day festival includes a huge variety of events that dovetail with the municipal entertainment program.
Lee Cation, who founded the festival in 2011, said it was always his intention to showcase more aspects of the skate community.
"'Skate Everything' is a motto that's been going around a lot in the last couple of years, which is to say we're not picky over how you skate, we just want you to skate," he said. "There are probably 10 different disciplines and ways to categorize how people skate, it's not for anybody to tell you how to do it, it's your own form of expression."
Cation said that he wanted to change the name to the Whistler Skateboard Festival last year but was talked out of it because the downhill longboard aspect — the fastest growing skateboard discipline these days — seemed fresh and new. But he always wanted to be more inclusive with his event.
There's an indoor ramp jam, a World Cup freeride competition, street luge, a movie premiere, a big air contest with an air bag, a ramp showcase, a skate bowl competition, a Skate X Shoot Biathlon and Enduro event and, the signature event, a World Cup Downhill race.
Cation is a representative on the newly formed International Downhill Federation, which was created to clean up the sanctioning and unite all of the tours under one roof. It includes representatives from around the world, and so far has over 1,000 registered racers — a number he expects to increase to 1,500 by the end of the season.
The Whistler World Cup event is actually the third event in a North American World Cup series that includes this weekend's Angie's Curves race in Pala, California and the Maryhill "Festival of Speed" in Washington State on June 26. Hosting three consecutive events makes it more compelling for international racers.
"We have 240 racers coming, and 17 countries represented," he said. "It sold out in an hour, literally. Originally we aimed for 200, but we had to accommodate more because it sold out so quickly... guys can fly from around the world to compete in three events instead of one or two, and the quality of the track is very high.
"It's obviously a unique place, and impossible to compare to anywhere else. The fact that it's a World Cup, the fact that it's our third year, and just the fact that the word is out — we put on a well-documented event last year and spend money on a cable cam to get good footage — made a huge difference. And hey, it's Whistler. Sometimes it's easy to forget because you're there, but people around the world know Whistler. I still feel that this single event has the largest potential of any World Cup event, because of the proximity to town, because of the culture of the town and because of the facilities — we're used to running events on the side of a mountain with no power, no water, no parking, and Whistler definitely has a few more perks."
While organizers are still looking for volunteers Cation is also appreciative of the growing local support. The Resort Municipality of Whistler provided some provincial Resort Municipality Initiative (RMI) funding to the festival this year to grow the event, and with all of the activities organized for Canada Day and Indepedence Day long weekends there is added value for skaters and spectators. As well, more people are stepping forward to volunteer for the festival, something the event needs — it takes a lot of hay bales to make the 12 corners at Whistler Sliding Centre safe for competitors.
"There's still a call-out for volunteers, but we're excited about the size of the team that's contributing," he said.
New to the event this year, the World Cup race will be live streamed to the village locations and on the Internet. As well, spectators in areas close enough to see television will be able to watch the entire run instead of just one part of it as the racers fly by at speeds approaching 100km/h. To help spectators get to the event there will be a free shuttle available to Whistler Sliding Centre to watch the action.