Soda Springs event recalls longboarding’s glory days
Obscure just a few years ago, the once-ubiquitous sport of longboarding enjoys a revival this Sunday at Soda Springs when the National Longboarding Championships return for the sixth year in a row.
In past years, the event has successfully recreated the spirit of the sport, which was all the rage back the in ’70s; the 1870s, that is.
Organizer Craig Beck, also a longboard skier, said he is trying to recall the spirit of the days when, on any given winter weekend, you could stroll up to the ski hill in Truckee, Poker Flat, Downieville or Laporte to watch local competitors like Frank Stewart, Snowshoe Thompson or Tommy Todd compete for hundreds of dollars in gold dust and silver dollars.
Beck said the racers of the 1870s skied on long, wooden skis, averaging anywhere from 10 to 16 feet long.
The racers strapped the boards on with leather bindings tied to their cowboy boots and used long, wooden poles to push off and stop with.
Everyone could get into the act; there was even a “Tom Thumb” division for the younger racers.
“The courses were usually on a local hill that was close to town to allow easy spectating and quick access back to the town’s saloon,” Beck said.
Courses were as short as 800 feet, going all the way up to 1,800 feet, running directly down the mountain, not unlike tracks still utilized in today’s speed skiing.
Racers ran in heats of two to four at a time, with the winners advancing to the next round. There were typically 10 rounds, between which skiers had to climb the hill while carrying the longboards any way they could.
Beck said Downieville’s Mountain Messenger newspaper reported skiers attaining speeds upwards of 88 mph. He said the high speeds were attainable thanks to “dopes,” or waxes, concocted by the skiers to help them run the track faster.
“It didn’t matter how good a skier you were,” Beck said. “Without the right dope, you didn’t stand a chance.”
He said the dope-maker used anything from whale spermacetti, camphor and pine tars to glycerine and “bear grease” to come up with a better and faster dope.
Along with most mining camps, longboarding all but disappeared from the area around 1911.
Beck brought the sport back in 1990, when he carved 30 pairs of modern-day longboards, exact replicas of the ones used more than 120 years ago.
He also set out to duplicate the races themselves with competitors donning 1870’s garb, right down to the cowboy boots and leather bindings.
The modern races are single elimination and awards are also distributed for best costumes.
In addition to the race, which kicks off at 11 a.m. (registration 9 a.m.), there will be a bar-be-cue, dancing and live music.
The race is part of Soda Fest 1999, which features $16 all-day lift tickets and $10 snow tubing tickets.
Registration costs $25 and includes membership in the National Longboard Association and the use of a pair of longboards.
Medals will be awarded for first- through third-places in categories ranging from rookies and juniors to men’s and women’s.
Volunteers are needed for the March 20 course setup. Volunteers will be allowed free practice on the run after setup is complete.
For information, call Beck at (530) 546-3361.
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