2018 Gold Rush Classic
Text + Photos: Mike Blanchard
Spotlight | Recently, the fifth edition of the Gold Rush Classic skateboard Giant Slalom and Super G races took place in Nevada City, California, for $3,000 in prize money. The race featured four classes: juniors, open, masters (45 and older) and women. Thirteen riders showed up to race for the cash.
Slalom and downhill racing have been making a comeback in the skateboard world after being out of fashion for decades. Races were part of every important competition in the sport’s first resurgence in the early ’70s. Guys like Henry Hester, Bob Skoldberg, Jamie Hart and Bobby Piercy were stars in Skateboarder Magazine and on television.
Slalom races have been popping up internationally with races sanctioned by the International Slalom Skateboarding Association.
Downhill racing has emerged as a serious international sport with stand-up riders getting well into the high 80-mph range and luge riders hitting 150-plus. The International Downhill Federation is the sanctioning body.
The Nevada City race is put on by Sacramento’s longtime skate outlaws, the N-Men. The main movers are Marty Radan, Sean O’Callahan, Steve Brockway and Randy Katen, with a lot of help from the rest of the N-Men as well as input from masters Don Bostic and Johnny Miller.
“Sean was the course setter. It was hard,” said Radan. “I had to quit on two cones to make a time. It’s the offset that’s hard.”
In slalom the cones are fairly close together and the racer moves like a metronome, moving the board back and forth around the cones. Giant slalom is just fewer cones, a bit more spaced out, at higher speed.
In slalom proper, runs are usually in the 20-second range. The Gold Rush Classic is a longer race. This year the course was 1,000 feet, so the runs were in the 35- to 50-second range. Super G is basically Giant slalom with fewer cones and higher speeds.
“Last year the course was 2500 feet,” said Radan. “I loved it but nobody wanted to do it this year.”
The course ran through several blocks of a neighborhood whose residents apparently didn’t pay any attention to the notices from the city that the street, Nimrod Street as it turns out, would be closed and were consequently pissed off. Given the outlaw punk-rock nature of skateboarding, the skaters and fans seemed rather secretly pleased about this.
The format is basically the same as all the Olympic skiing races we have ever seen. There are gates. The racer has to pass around the outside of the gate. You get time added to your run if you knock over a gate, in this case a small orange cone.
Unlike the high-speed downhill races, in slalom and giant slalom a skater can ride fairly standard equipment and do well.
“The plan is to get more downhillers into the race,” said Radan. “They don’t need the fancy expensive trucks. Look at Gary Cross. He rode Indy 110s and he got second.”
There is an air of machismo involved here (and not just the usual racers’ head-games stuff). How could there not be? These guys are hurling themselves down a steep hill on a skateboard. An improbably simple machine, the skateboard.
A number of riders rode bare-chested. The ultimate dare. The stiff middle finger to danger and the asphalt. The faster riders wore latex or spandex aero suits and helmets with a number opting for motorcycle leathers. At the top of the hill, there was a jovial atmosphere with riders laughing and egging each other on. That said, there are egos here and serious endeavor.
Downhill skateboarding is simple: Be the fastest to the finish line. It is a dance with fear, with your certainties and your doubts. Can you hold still in a smooth aero position and keep your balance? Can you keep your grip, on the board and the road, as you maneuver around the gates, striving forward, pushing downhill? Simple.
Max Capps won the open Super G with Keith Henderson second and Adrian Charter third.
Capps won the open Giant Slalom with Paul Chestnut second and Jonny Miller third.
Johnny Miller won the Masters Super G race with Gary Cross second and Jay Lapalm third.
Miller won the masters Giant slalom with Gary Cross again in second place and Jay Lapalm brought it home in third.
The Junior classes were won by Jacob Knudsen.
There were no women entrants.
“A lot of these (pro) guys just race,” said Radan. “Very few of these downhill guys ride across all forms of skateboarding. Some ride transition but most of them just race.” It should be noted that virtually all of the amateur racers are generalists riding street, vert and ditches and throwing in downhill and slalom for the thrill of it.
The results highlight one of the issues the organizers had this year. Out of 27 entrants, only half showed up, with no women racing at all. Radan, however, is nonplussed. “It was hella fun. Next year we’re going to a two lane setup. Head to head. And move it to a two day event with elimination brackets leading to a final head to head race for first.”