INSIGHTS ON HOSTING A SUCCESSFUL LONGBOARD RACE EVENT
For decades, contests have been a great way for skaters to meet up and show off their stuff. The camaraderie and friendships that are formed are at the heart of what it means to be a skater. Sure, it can get competitive, but the thrill of riding and seeing skaters giving it their all is part of the experience. But while some skate events have become globally televised, multimillion-dollar experiences, longboarding is still on a very lean budget. In putting together this article, we wanted to present you a variety of ways that contests can be run, from people that have run them. If you’re inclined to start putting on a contest, make sure you learn from these folks. Not only have they been there and done that, they’ve probably paid for the T-shirt.
LOW BUDGET, HIGH STOKE
(a.k.a. “Let’s Just Do It and See What Happens”) The terms “underground” and “outlaw” conjure up all kinds of images. But unofficial races remain a fact of life, and if you’re on a low (or no) budget, they can be a great way to get people racing. But if you’re planning on running such an event, you’d better have a strong constitution. Tye Donnelly and Darrin Niner, whom I met this past summer in southern California, have things down to a science. Tye and Darrin truly embody what it means to be a skateboarder.
Their friendly, easygoing nature makes them the perfect candidates to handle all types of “situations” that can arise from hosting underground events. They simply spread the stoke and bring joy to so many people. What they lack in money, they more than make up for in spirit. The two met through a mutual friend, and the idea for putting on races was Tye’s. “He wanted to put on a race. He had to say it a couple of times before we backed him up,” recalls Darrin. From this humble beginning, the San Diego Racing League (SDRL) was born. I asked them to give me their philosophy when it came to hosting events. The two looked at each other mischievously. “Tell him our motto, Darrin,” said Tye. I glanced over at Darrin and could see him smiling. “Our philosophy?” he said. “Let’s just do it and see what happens.” So that’s pretty much at the root of what Tye and Darrin have been up to. It’s underground. It’s not expertly planned. It might be even be somewhat risky. But it’s working. “We were always told you need bathrooms, security, permits, shuttling, medics,” Tye said. “But we have other ideas.
We’re going to just do it.” For the members of the SDRL, it’s always been about the hills. “We know what you need to race. We’ve done 33 races on 27 different hills. These are all hills we’ve ridden for years; we know what’s necessary,” explains Tye.
When it comes to providing information about the legal aspects of running a quasi-legal event, Concrete Wave magazine
assumes … wait, I think I hear my lawyer knocking at the front door. The fact is that in certain states, the assumed risk liability law means that you can’t sue if you hurt yourself on public land. Private land is another matter. Don’t assume that ignorance of the law is any defense. If you’re planning an underground event, just be aware that you might be stepping into some issues that could come back to haunt you. However, the fact remains that in the dozens of races that the San Diego Racing League has put on, only one has been shut down by police.
The community support for SDRL has ranged from indifferent to overwhelming. Last August, I had the privilege of witnessing the latter, firsthand, when our family drove out to a race in Temecula, about an hour north of San Diego. Upon arrival, we learned that the entire event had been moved from the original road to a private driveway. But this driveway was steep, and a perfect place for hosting a slide comp. Talk about flexibility! Turns out that Tye and Darrin had discovered this spot a few years back. “We started skating on this driveway knowing that they would come out at any moment,” Tye says. “I was the first to go, and they did come out. They were happy we were racing on their driveway.” Imagine that: homeowners happy that skaters were charging down their driveway! Tye couldn’t believe their good fortune. But it only got better, Tye says: “They offered us their pool. They picked two crates of oranges for us, grown on their property. I kept riding the local hills, got their phone number, and a friendship was formed. I brought [their] daughter a skateboard.” So what started as something that could have been a simple “Hey, get the heck out of here!” situation turned into a friendship.
When my family and I arrived in Temecula, there were dozens of skaters enjoying the event. Once it finished, we had an opportunity to swim in the pool and enjoy a barbeque. The awards presentation was just full of stoke. It was one of the most soulful events I’ve ever witnessed. “We tread lightly and we’ve never had a problem,” says Darrin. “We relate to everyone real well, and our goal is to
be a family of riders.” Definitely food for thought.
TAKING THINGS TO THE NEXT LEVEL
Let’s say you’ve got bigger plans than an “outlaw” event, or your mom or dad knows a lawyer who says there’s no way you’re getting involved in an underground race. Or you want to shut down a road and host something that might run not just for a few hours but for two or more days. Well, you’re going have to take a different approach – one that works with the system, not around it. Marcus Rietema of the International Gravity Sports Association has worked tirelessly over the last 15 years presenting racing events around the world. I asked him what the single most important thing was when it came to hosting a race. “Before you announce the race, or any official plans, you need the proper permits and permissions and insurance in place,” he said. You might want to read that sentence a few times. If you are putting on an event, it’s crucial that you ensure everything is handled.
“We had a race [planned] about five years ago in Sweden,” Rietema continues, “and one week before the event, the organizer had to cancel because he couldn’t get the permit.” Ouch. Meet the Parks family of Picton, Ontario. They’ve hosted a successful downhill event in both 2010 and 2011: the Prince Edward County Gravity Fest. The family’s involvement began through Kolby Parks, a street luger who’s achieved quite a bit of success. Now the whole family helps plan and produce the event: Kolby; his sister, Krisha; their mother, Nancy; and their father, Gary. Krisha says the first thing they needed was a really strong organizing committee. So they called on friends and neighbors who had a background in running events of some sort – including Gary, who had helped organize a local soccer league, among other things. This is a valuable lesson to learn. Networking is essential. It’s crucial to work with folks who have at least some background in organizing and working with politicians. It can definitely smooth things out. The biggest problem, Krisha says, was that only her immediate family had been to a standup race: “The people on our committee didn’t know what it was about. We showed them videos. It took a little while, but once that was taken care of, things went well.” Another hurdle: getting streets shut down. To do so, you are going to have work with the town council. “It took a lot of discussion to smooth everyone’s fears,” says Gary. “We kept repeating to folks that ‘you’re still going to be able to do what you normally do.’” This is probably where smaller towns have the upper hand when compared to the big city. “We live in a small community and we knew who to ask, so we are very fortunate,” Nancy says. Krisha agrees: “We are very lucky to live where we live because almost everyone knows each other, and there is strong community support for hosting an event like a downhill race.” Contests can become expensive. It’s very easy to lose your shirt. So getting financial contributions is critical for holding a larger-scale race. When an event takes place, it’s important to think about the ripple effect. In this crazy economic climate, a longboardrace can bring in some much-needed business. In this crazy economic climate, a longboard race can bring in some much-needed business. Hotels, restaurants and all types of goods and services are purchased by racers and spectators. Make sure you communicate this to the local politicians. “We make an economic impact on a community, and doors open up,” says Marcus Rietema. There can be money in places you’d never even consider. Contact your local Chamber of Commerce. You never know what they’ll say. While it would be great to get some cold, hard sponsorship dollars from an energy-drink company, the reality is that you’re better off looking locally for sponsorship money. It’s imperative that you bring in advertising support from the local businesses.
Krisha agrees. She says that although “the local hardware shop didn’t really benefit because they are not a national corporation … they are truly a community-minded business and they came out supported it financially.” Speaking of finances, Rietema reminded me that it’s imperative that race organizers create a budget and stick to it. Having a budget helps ensure that you can deliver on expectations – the classic “under-promise and over-perform.” The problems arise when you promise the world and then expect it all to fall into place without the hard work. Don’t ever underestimate the power of a small town getting behind a race. Picton had the support of more than 350 volunteers last year. “We went to our local Rotary club to help with traffic control. Local and regional media were helpful,” says Nancy Parks. Another great thing about being in the countryside is that it’s a little easier to access hay bales – or straw bales –to line your course. (“We use straw,” explains Gary. “Hay is feed [grass that animals can eat] … straw is a by-product, but it’s not food.”) This is an important item, and it’s crucial that you have a safe race. The Picton events benefited because Gary is a farmer. He borrowed wagons from his neighbors and was able to collect so much straw that the entire course was lined from top to bottom. It also helped that the race was held at an opportune time. In the northern part of North America, the straw crop comes off in August. So September is a good time to host a race. Placing the bales before the event is only half the battle, however. Remember, they’ve got to be collected after the event. “We had 10 farmers show up with a wagon to collect 2,500 bales of straw in five hours,” recalls Gary. The Parks family also contacted Rietema and brought the IGSA to the Picton event. I asked Marcus if the IGSA should certify all races. “It doesn’t have to work for everyone,” he said. “We brand an event as an IGSA and it guarantees a certain level of participation.”
The process to bring in the IGSA is pretty straightforward. An organizer contacts the IGSA and explains what they want to do with their event. “We take a look at their maps and plans and aspirations,” says Rietema. “We just work together through the process.” Having an IGSA official at your race can be helpful. “These people are experienced and have been through a lot,” explains Marcus. “They can shorten the learning curve. Having one of our people can also be helpful prior to the event.”In speaking with Parks family, it was evident that they were methodical in their approach. It took four months to plan their first race, and the results were quite impressive. The registration process was flawless, racers received stellar treatment and they even managed to break even financially. Rietema said their event was absolutely first-rate – quite an endorsement for a first-time race.
As to the future of race events, it would appear that small is the new big. Rietema agrees. “We are limiting events,” he says. “The big events have become saturated, and we will need smaller events for people to qualify at the World Cup level.” So if you think your town is too small to host an event, you might be missing the big picture. This might be the perfect time to become friendly with your local farmer and start working out a deal on hay! CW