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The Daily Wildcat

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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Mount Lemmon a longboard mecca

    The apartment of a professional longboarder.
    The apartment of a professional longboarder.

    Picture yourself flying down Mount Lemmon: the wind in your hair, saguaro cacti racing by at 40 miles per hour, following the pavement on a road that stretches 22 miles.

    Now picture experiencing all of this while standing on a wooden board only about four to five feet long.

    For longboarders like Josh Rolf, a 24-year-old former UA student, moments like these have inspired a pastime, a career and the formation of local downhill longboard racing group, the Downhill Dragon Clan.

    “”When I moved out here (10 years ago), the guys I started hanging out with were the guys I skated with,”” said Rolf, now a professional longboarder sponsored by the skateboard company Madrid. “”One day, a buddy of mine got a hold of a longboard, and I told him it was worthless. Eventually, he convinced me to ride it down hills with him, and it’s changed my life ever since.””

    Rolf created the DDC with friend Andres Urreiztieta after they starting skating together eight years ago. Members today can claim to know just about every hill in Tucson.

    “”No one in town was really doing the same thing we were back then,”” Rolf said. “”We weren’t really exposed to other areas where downhill skating was getting big, so we really started developing our own style.””

    In places like Brazil, Canada and California, downhill skating has re-emerged within the last 10 years from a hobby of the brave into a competitive sport in which racers are timed on courses that are typically a mile or a mile and a half in distance.

    Although most races carry a cash or product prize for the winner, many longboarders will tell you that’s not the main motivation.

    “”We’re just racing to have fun,”” said Ryan Ricker, a professional longboarder who often travels from his home in New Mexico to skate with members of the DDC. “”Longboarding is a community. We’re all really supportive and encouraging of each other, so the money isn’t really the motivation.””

    With the creation of the DDC here in the Old Pueblo, Rolf and other members of the clan are bringing Tucson, and some of our most famous mountains, to the forefront of the sport.

    “”Mount Lemmon is one of the most amazing hills there is,”” Ricker said. “”It’s super smooth, there are turns but not too many, and you can ride it from top to bottom at full speed.””

    In addition to skating on their own, Rolf and other members of the clan throw downhill skating events the first Monday of every month, meeting at No Anchovies on University Boulevard at 9 p.m.

    “”Every time we have an event I see someone new there,”” Rolf said. “”We try to make it as inviting and friendly as possible, but people are still intimidated because of the risk involved.””

    From broken bones to paralysis or death, downhill racing can be extremely dangerous when done improperly.

    “”We know many people who have made hospital trips because of accidents they’ve had,”” Rolf said. “”The reason we’re so adamant about using helmets is because we know someone who fell backwards, cracked his head open and started leaking cerebral spinal fluid.””

    Luckily for beginners, Rolf and other members of the clan are eager to teach the techniques they need to start slowly and learn progressively.

    “”I am fully aware and accepting that while I’m doing this I could get paralyzed or lose a limb,”” Rolf said. “”When people start getting into it, one of the biggest things we stress is safety. I really try to make people aware of the situation before they put themselves in it.””

    When learning, Rolf said that one of the first steps involves learning how to stop, either by using your back foot as a brake or by moving the board into a horizontal position and using the wheels as friction, much like stopping on a snowboard.

    And then there’s the gear. With speeds that can exceed 60 mph, helmets and full-body leather suits help to offset possible injuries.

    “”Leathers are really helpful,”” Ricker said. “”They help you to become more aerodynamic, so you go faster, and if you wreck, you’ll usually just slide and still have all of your skin.””

    For Michael Henry, a big part of longboarding comes with being prepared for the unexpected.

    “”Anything from rabbits to cars can pop out of nowhere, and if you don’t know how to stop yourself, you can really get hurt,”” said Henry, an executive member of the UA Elevation Ski and Snowboard Club. “”You can go super fast, but if you don’t know how to slide, you can’t stop.””

    Henry said he got into longboarding as he was searching for things to do during the months when snowboarding was not an option.

    Now, Henry will occasionally get members of Elevation Ski and Snowboard who are interested in longboarding involved with DDC events.

    “”We try to do all kinds of things to get people involved to try to serve and grow the community,”” Rolf said. “”We sometimes have races, but the real reason is to get people together so they have each other to ride with. Skating is something that you can do on your own or with a group of people, and it’s nice to have both options.””

    For Rolf, downhill longboarding has turned into much more than just a way to have fun.

    “”Really, it’s something that helps keep my sanity,”” he said. “”The thing I love about it is that it takes the rest of the world away from me. When I’m skating, it’s the only thing that’s going on, and it can be the same thing for anyone at any level, even if you’re just learning to push. It just takes you over; it sucks you in and that’s all there is.””

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