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Longboarding coasts into Calgary

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Longboarding's popularity is accelerating faster than a speedboard down an 18 per cent incline. Unlike skateboarding, where the most fun is had at busy skateparks or on public property, longboarding requires only two things: your board and a big hill. Well, almost. As was shown by the wicked spills at the Paskapoo Downhill Rodeo longboarding race Sat. Aug. 26 at Calgary Olympic Park, maybe some safety equipment is a good idea too.

"It's easy for a beginner to get in over their head," noted Dean Ozuna, a 44-year-old accountant who travels to find the best hills for longboarding. "With just basic equipment you can end up going 35 miles per hour down a hill. Some kid in Seattle recently hit a parked car, lost his spleen and a leg. Now he can't do anything for himself. Everyone here is about safety, safety, safety."

It's easy to see why safety is a major concern. At a competition like Paskapoo, racers start at the top of a long road heading downhill. When they reach the first few corners they can be at speeds as high as 50 km/h and then cross the finish line at up to 70 km/h.

Competent and competitive racers will deck themselves out in full-body leather motorcycle outfits complete with aerodynamic helmets. Though clearly better than wearing snow pants and a puffy jacket--as some of the amateurs were wont to do--nothing can really prevent you from getting seriously injured if you take a corner poorly.

And cornering is what it's all about. Corners will make or break a race, depending on how you take them. Most racers slow themselves down by standing up and spreading their arms before the corner, creating drag to lower their speed. As they reach the corner they'll "rail it" by leaning to the inside, putting one foot and one hand down on the pavement for better control and to help maintain a reasonable speed. Skilled riders will take corners standing up and at high speeds, without making any attempt to slow themselves.

"Depending on the course, you can go through a shoe a day," said Ozuna. "No one wears their expensive skateboarding shoes while going downhill."

There were two types of longboards on display at Paskapoo: speedboards and dirt surfers. Speedboards are much like typical skateboards, except longer. Dirt surfers are long skateboards with two holes down the middle for the two bicycle-like wheels. They also include brakes to help with cornering.

Races are operated much like an Olympic 100 metre race.

"There's a microchip on each riders' ankle to determine speed, time and placement," said Rachel O'Neill, who was in charge of media relations for Paskapoo. "There are time trials and then the racers are put into heats of eight racers at a time. The top four from each heat advance. In total there are $10,000 in prizes with $5,000 going to top place--the highest prize ever offered for a downhill race in Canada."

Right now that's not a lot of money, but the fact that a first-time event is beginning by offering the largest purse ever is a definite sign that longboarding is growing.

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