Tony Graves: Selkirk to Sydney
He learned to longboard in a rider’s paradise: Kimberley, B.C., but the past six years have taken Tony Graves far away from the 250 area code. Growing up in the hilly city of Kimberley, Tony used his longboard to get around before he knew anything about the professional racing circuit he would later join. “Kimberley’s where I learned, mostly just riding to and from school and for something to do in the summer,” he said from Vancouver, after spending the weekend in Kimberley for the Sullivan Challenge Longboard Race. “It was a great place to learn.”
After three years of using his longboard for transportation, Tony began to shift towards wanting to go faster – and so he joined the circuit, and the rest, as they say, is history.
That was three years ago, and since then, Tony has racked up an impressive list of sponsors willing to put their name on the athlete as he hurdles down hills around the world. He has support from Rayne Longboards (Vancouver), R.A.D. Wheels (Los Angeles), Local 124 (Edmonton), Aera Trucks (North Vancouver), Hollow Point Bearings (Edmonton), Hopkin Racing (Sydney, Australia) and Free Rein Apparel (Kimberley). Those sponsors outfit Tony head to toe with the latest gear and make sure he can travel to wherever the next race happens to be.
Tony’s won a few races so far in his short career as a longboard racer, but said his greatest achievement has been collecting the support he needs to be an athlete.
“I would say the biggest success has been getting the support so I have the ability to travel around the world and focus on skateboarding – and not go into too much debt,” he said.
And Tony has certainly been around the world, with longboard in tow; it’s as if Tony has thrown darts at a map. Rattling off the list of destinations he’s raced in, Tony describes every twenty-something’s dream.
Twice to New Zealand to visit both islands, the west coast of North America, and the East Coast of Australia. This fall he’s heading to South America’s Columbia, Peru, Brazil and Argentina. After those stops, Tony could then be off to Puerto Rico, but that doesn’t even end the season for the budding athlete.
“If things go well in South America, then I’ll go to South Africa to cap the race season off,” he said.
With all that travel, Tony said one of the races he most looks forward to is found right at home; the Sullivan Challenge. It’s the race where he debuted as a longboard racer. On Sunday, Tony placed fifth overall among some venerable talent.
“I am always really excited to come back and race the Sullivan Challenge,” he said. “It was my first race and being exposed to a race in my hometown really helped me make moves into the Race Circuit.
“I really enjoy the chance to race in front of the hometown crowd, friends and family.”
Tony always has a great group of friends waiting to greet him and shake his hand between heats in the Sully Challenge. The pride his earliest supporters have for their hometown racer is obvious by the cheers as his red and blue leathers zip down the Selkirk Hill every year.
On the road, Tony said he has met so many great longboarders along the way that have become even greater friends.
“The longboard race scene is really unique in the way that it’s a very tight knit community; you see the same people all the time and for the most part everyone is friends,” he said. “It’s really cool having a group of friends from all over the world that I am going to see almost every weekend during the summer.”
The longboarding community is one that has branches worldwide, which has helped foster Tony’s short career.
“Longboarding in general has allowed me to meet so many awesome people. I know that I can go almost anywhere in the world and I can find people that I can relate to,” he said. “I can find a place to stay, have someone to show me around and make me feel welcome.”
Tony said through all his experience with racing, one thing has been constant and always will be – safety.
“Safety whether in a race or just riding should always be a huge factor with longboarding,” he said.
While zooming down hills with tight curves on pavement might seem like the racer has a death wish, the sport is surprisingly safe with the right equipment; in fact it took 11 years of the Sully Challenge before anyone was seriously injured enough to require a paramedic visit. That injury happened on Sunday, and was a dislocated shoulder in one of the preliminary runs.
There’s good reason for that impressive safety record at the Sully Challenge. Attendees will notice many of the more seasoned racers are dressed head to toe in leather, with large helmets, gloves and other protection.
“Leathers really serve two purposes,” Tony said. “First, they can save you a lot of skin if you crash, which doesn’t happen so much when just riding around, but can happen frequently during racing.
“They also help with making you more aerodynamic – ultimately making you faster.”
Tony’s been lucky so far while racing. The worst injury he’s had was when he crashed into a guard rail in New Zealand.
“I gashed the front of my shin down to the bone, received 35 stitches and was unable to longboard for the rest of my time in New Zealand,” he said. “Other than that, the worst I’ve had has been sprained ankles and road rash.”
Tony said the proper safety gear is a must for any longboarder, whether on the course or bombing a local hill.
“Helmets and gloves are usually considered a bare minimum anytime,” he said. The gloves – called slide gloves – worn by longboarders not only protect their hands, but assist in turning. They feature a large puck that is scraped along the ground during turns.
The streets of Kimberley and Cranbrook are already teaming with longboarders enjoying the sport as transportation or for fun. Tony said anyone interested in bumping things up a notch, should just give it a go.
“The best way to get into racing would be to just try it,” he said. “Obviously you want to be pretty good at longboarding already, but really, once you become comfortable riding at speed, have a good handle on cornering, braking and slowing down, then you just really have to try it.”
Once you have the technical skill, Tony said racing is all about putting in the hours.
“Being a good longboarder can only help so much with your racing abilities. The rest just comes from race experience,” he said.
After all the racing and world travel, Tony said his freedom comes from the hills he rides.
“It’s exactly what I make it. It’s not structured. I can ride the same hill 100 times but ride it in a completely different way every time. Roads are always open and always free.” by Annalee Grant. Townsman