A group of young local skateboarders dominated their age divisions in the two biggest races in downhill skateboarding this year.
Given Laguna Beach’s long history as a skateboarding haven, it’s no wonder the current up and comers are at the top of the sport, but none of them aspire to make a career of it.
Nohlan Campbell, 14, took first in the Junior II division (14-17 years) at U.S. Nationals held at Bonelli Park in San Dimas earlier this month, and the Maryhill Festival of Speed, held in Goldendale Wash.
Campbell, Ethan and Elijah Vinograd and Danny Ronson took first through fourth places respectively in San Dimas. They competed against over 50 skaters and the difference between first and fourth place finish times was only 2.25 seconds. Chance Gaul, a 14-year old Laguna skater, made it to the quarterfinals in the open men’s division, competing against skaters twice his age.
Bonelli, a shorter and more technical course, has a 90 degree right turn that requires managing speed and control while sliding.
Laguna skaters swept the top spots in the Junior I division at the same race last year, with Gaul, Wyatt Gibbs, Jake Marlin Fast and Roger Jones taking first through fourth.
Campbell and Roger Jones took first and second, respectively, at this year’s Maryhill Festival of Speed, the Super Bowl of downhill skateboarding, according to Chad Gibbs, father of Wyatt Gibbs.
Hundreds of skaters come from around the world to compete at Maryhill, which boasts a long course with sweeping turns that favors all out speed, with skaters reaching over 40 miles per hour. Heavier contestants have an advantage on the course.
“These kids from Laguna are world class. They’re as good as all the pros I competed against when I was racing, but they’re 14,” said former world champion and Laguna skateboarding legend Mark Golter, who has helped train the Laguna contingent on the Glendora Ridge Road in the San Gabriel Mountains. “It’s eight miles long, with 150 turns. Wyatt (Gibbs), Hunter (Schwirtz), Roger Jones, they all stayed with me, going really fast, and it’s an elite level run.”
The group of Laguna skaters, which also includes Avery Crowl, Noah Hunt, Tanner Flagstad, and others who grew up skateboarding together on local streets, take their cue from predecessors such as former junior world champion Evren Ozan, and those who skated before him.
Hobie Alter, Craig Lockwood and others took to the steep hills in Laguna on skateboards in the 1960s. That led to equipment advances like eurethane wheels and grip tape, and techniques like controlled sliding in high speed turns.
Today, while many skaters are sponsored, receiving free equipment and even travel stipends for races, few consider it a career path. Despite acclaim and competitive success, Ozan is pursuing a pilot’s license. Campbell, who won this year’s top two races, is interested in filmmaking or culinary school and racing as a hobby.
While returning from a recent race, Gibbs said, “Dad, don’t worry, I don’t view downhilling as a career. I view it like the gold miners. The miners didn’t get rich, but got all the glory. The people who got rich were the ones selling them the picks, shovels and food.”