The countdown is on for the third annual Whistler Longboard Festival, which features a downhill skateboard race on the winding road at the Whistler Sliding Centre — 12 corners (including seven 180-degree hairpin turns) and a total vertical drop over 300 metres over 1.6km of road.
The race itself is part of a newly created International Downhill Federation (IDF) World Cup series, and is the third of three events in a North American series. The result is a sold-out field of 240 racers, including downhill skateboarders from 17 different countries. There will be a large women's division, as well as a World Cup category for juniors, plus showcase categories for masters, groms (13 and under) and street luge.
The first event in the series was the Angie's Curves race in California, which took place this past weekend. The Maryhill Festival of Speed takes place this weekend in Washington State, and the Whistler Longboard Festival runs from July 4 to 7, with the World Cup qualifiers on July 5 and the finals on July 6.
The prize money is increasing along with the popularity of the event among riders and spectators. The Angie's Curves event had a total prize purse of close to $15,000 U.S.
One of the women's World Cup racers experiencing the Whistler Sliding Centre course for the first time is Tamara Prader of Switzerland. She broke her arm last year at the Britannia Classic — taking place at Britannia Beach — and wasn't able to skate in Whistler.
She's relatively new to the sport, getting into it about three years ago at the age of 27. For her, it was the perfect summer sport to complement her winter snowboard habit.
"I guess I started when I was super old, but I had been snowboarding for the longest time and I had that feeling of speed in me already, and it also helped with some of the movement," she said. "It's fascinating when you start something and see that you're progressing really quickly — you see the overall level of other people, and realize that you can do the same things that they can do even though you're just starting. For me that was the kicker. I already embrace speed from skateboarding, and I was looking for something that felt the same. So I started longboarding, and then racing came naturally."
Prader said she's still amazed by the sport, the speeds and level of control you can have on a skateboard. "For myself, the race the past weekend was absolutely crazy, and it scared me to watch other people — but when it was my turn it didn't scare me at all because I was in control.
"I've always loved being up in the mountains and getting out into nature, and I love getting up early in the mornings and riding mountain passes. To do that with a good crew of people, loading up the car at 4 a.m., it's pretty nice."
The next step in getting comfortable racing was getting comfortable racing against three or five other girls in the same heat. She's raced against most of the top women by now and has a sense how to ride with them, but there are always new girls in the field.
"I definitely prefer to ride downhill with people I know, but now and then you get a wild card — someone you don't know, or haven't raced — and it makes it more challenging. It's nice to know the people around you, how they react, or even if they react, but when there are wild cards in your heat you don't know. You don't even know if they're going to foot brake or slide around the corners, which makes things interesting."
Prader is an architect and designer who self-finances her hobby, but she's also keen to grow the women's side of the sport. She's encouraged by the creation of the IDF, and the growing prize purse, although women are sometimes left out.
"Some events in Europe or North America don't have any prize money, or if they do there's only a prize for the guys, so it's a work in progress," she said. "At the end of the year if I could make a little more than I spent I'd be really happy."
The Whistler Longboard Festival also includes a big air contest, bowl jam and village demos for freestyle skateboarders, and a pair of long distance events for longboards — a Skate X Shoot Biathlon competition and endurance race at Whistler Olympic Park on Sunday. Visit www.whistlerlongboard.com for more.