PHOTOS: CESCHINI GERSON ARRIVAL After about a 10 hour flight from JFK airport in New York City, I arrived in Rio de Janeiro a bit tired but more anxious because I was about to be part of one of downhill skatings most elite races. I am very fortunate to have a residence in the State of Rio in the beautiful mountain top city of Petropolis so I was able to rest a little before my drive to the city of Nova Lima. The 2017 APAC WC was only a five hour drive away through some of the most beautiful regions of Minas Gerais. Minas, as it is commonly referred , has a never ending landscape of hills and valleys covered in green fauna, palms and trees I would never be able to identify. Its beauty is only surpassed by its long winding roads, steep grades, long sweeps and short banking turns with deep drops, a paradise for any downhiller. As I neared closer, In the distance was what appeared to be the magical city of OZ was actually the bustling city of Belo Horizonte which is the neighboring city of Nova Lima which gave clue we had arrived.Kassy Jhones (center) takes in a run. CHECK-INWe checked in to the Alamanda Pousada which was recommended to everyone on the IDF- (International Downhill Federation) registration site by Matheus Felicio ( the IDF event organizer). Since this was my first event I could not believe that the accommodations were so top notch, I mean this place was beautiful. A large well manicured grounds with a pool and several semi natural stone fountains. I could go on about the Pousada but we are here for the race. Not long after check in I ran into Will Stephenson, currently ranked #3 in the world for DH luge, we had a brief discussion about the industry and agreed to meet for dinner with Ryan Farmer (ranked #1 for DH luge) and Jeff Suchy (ranked #5). Needless to say there was a lot of fast guys staying at the Alamanda. The finals with Guto Negão, Tiago Mohr and Silon Garcia. We all later met at a restaurant next door named Mata for drinks and dinner. They had live music and an open mic so after some more drinks and a few shots of Cachasa (a brazilian specialty) Ryan Farmer and myself were called to the stage to perform. Im told we did surprisingly well, however, i hope theres no video evidence. Its been a while since I performed. After that I called it a night, I needed to get my beauty sleep for the big day. I don’t have much beauty so i needed to get as much sleep as possible. REGISTRATION and QUALIFYINGThe following morning was registration day where everyone could get in some practice runs and get familiar with the hill. It was everthing Matheus Felicio said it would be; fast drops, fast sweeping turns and a very technical chicane at the finish surrounded by the beauty of Nova Lima, Brazil. The weather was a plus, beautiful blue skies and summer like conditions made for a unforgettable and most desirable experience for the awestruck athletes. As the athletes lined up to register, Federico Barbezio and Cyrille Harnay, aka Koma Kino, held court with Matheus Felicio to reiterate the rules and importance of respect on the hill while distributing transponders. I was certainly impressed with the professionalism and organizational skills of the event. Logos of sponsors were well draped along the chicane and other key sweeps, hay bails were neatly positioned, emergency care was on stand by, plenty of temporary bathroom facilities, local police maintained traffic safety and it was clearly obvious the city supported the event. Willian Rubim, Daniel Engel, Weyder and Nascimento Lourenço. The son of the Mayor of Nova Lima, Gabriel Pedrosa, was a huge factor in helping some last minute details. He provided landscapers to clear more spectator space, brought in city trucks to hose down and sweep the course, made a larger bus available for the athletes and stayed all 3 days for the event. It was a pleasure to befriend such an advocate of the skating community. As the athletes got their runs in you could feel the energy build as each run got better then the last. As old friends got reacquainted, new friendships were being forged. It didn’t matter if you were ranked #1 or a fist time competitor like myself, everyone seemed to be on the same plane just mixing it up and giving each other advice to get ready for qualifying runs. RACE DAYAfter all the niceties and politeness of qualifying day their was a sudden shift of consciousness. Just as fast as a skater can go down a hill the focus changed to the realization that this is a race and only the best would make it to the podium. So as the day commenced after some practice runs the real fun began. Everybody crowded to view the heat chart and the official races were on. As the day moved forward and races commenced each time the racers crossed the finish line the first two would advance and the other two would fall. The energy was palpable as each heat progressed towards the finals. Aaron Hampshire and Daina Banks FINALSAs expected, APAC would not disappoint with regards to excitement and drama. Some of the worlds best DH athletes such as Carlos Paixoa (BR), Thiago Lessa (BR), Aaron Hampshire (USA), Daniel Engel (USA), Daina Banks (USA) and Douglas Dalua Silva (BR) just to name a few were about to go head to head on one of Brazil’s most notable courses. In the end though, the Brazilians owned the day on their home turf but not without the Americans giving them a run for their money with a spectacular demonstration of competition. The final races for board and luge were equally exciting. It came down to the final bends at the chicane to decide the winners. Aaron Hampshire, Daina Banks, Yan Bertinati, Keenan McCartney, Jeremias Gasparotto, and Pepe Laporte In luge, Will Stephenson held the lead with Ryan Farmer closely drafting up to the winding chicane where he executed a brilliant maneuver to pass the powerful titan from Great Britain. It was hair raising to say the least. The finals for the women’s DH longboard was also equally exciting. Upon entry to the chicane Luana Campos and Melissa Brogni were neck and neck until Brogni took a tighter entry to the final bend to sweep the win. Having registered to compete for the Masters, I was not able to have an accurate account of this event or the Juniors, as I was suited up and at the top of the hill at the starting line. All results could be found on the IDF web page. The ladies division: 1st Melissa Brogni, 2nd Luana Campos, and 3rd Luana Chaves. MAIN EVENTThe final event of the day proved to be everything the spectators wanted. After taking the Qualifying rounds the final four would be the Brazilian armada; Thiago Lessa, Carlo Paixao, Pepe LaPorte and Douglas Dalua Silva. This race was nothing short of a hair raising drama right up to the finish line, it was absolutely incredible from the very start. Paixao and Dalua pulled a lead off the push until the sweeping drop at the top of the course where Lessa made his move after drafting and held the lead till the finish. It wasn’t until the famous chicane where the drama of who would place and show unfolded. At the entry of the chicane it was Lessa, Dalua, Paixao and LaPorte. Mid stream before the final hard left all riders drifted together very tightly, the roar of the crowd was testament to the excitement of the moment when suddenly in the final left, approximately 20 meters from the finish, Paixao brilliantly leaned left to pass Dalua followed by LaPorte who executed an amazing pre-drift allowing him to have enough speed to take third place. This was one of the tightest and most beautifully orchestrated demonstration of DH that I’ve ever seen and it was clear by the roar of the crowd that we all witnessed an incredible moment of DH sports history.Adriano Silveira was delighted with his performance! I was honored and humbled to be part of such an amazing event. There was such a positive vibe in the air for the entire event that no-one could deny it. This sport, while dangerous and extreme, separates itself from others by its incredible sense of comradery coupled with the spirit of intense competition. At the end of the day we were all arm in arm with big smiles celebrating for the victors and encouraging the others for the next event. I will never know what intangible force guided me to this community but I am grateful and fortunate to have been so lucky. Congratulations to all the athletes, the choice to compete is what makes us all winners.
With the International Downhill Federation (IDF) having its blockbuster world cups like Kozakov in July the usual time for freerides and open road sessions is August. Team AOB’s (Ry Swanton, Bodhi Keen, Aaron Skippings Ben Stainer along with myself ) plan included Insul World cup, Giaosteka Freeride and Bela Joyride leaving as much free time as possible to skate the Alps. We set off from the UK for the second time this summer on August the 9th and proceeded to drive onto Insul World cup via Cologne.
Cologne proved to be especially beautiful with a historic cathedral and river. For AOB Cologne is our birthplace. Our boards are 100 percent made from veneer to finished product by the On the Grind crew for skaters in a workshop in downtown Cologne. The On the Grind crew are a bunch of hardworking skaters making top of the line boards for a few brands supported by Fun4u. We spent a day exploring the city centre on our Dancers and then helped out in the Workshop. Its pretty awesome to race someone at Insul on the weekend and then see them laying up a board in the factory on Monday.
Although some of the World cup races in Europe have been plagued by rain Insul ,nestled in North Western Germany, happened to be blessed with eternal sunshine. The track looked like a simple 5 hairpins and one 90 degree right but turned out to include 3 kinks. The advantage of Kinked corners is that everyone can choose their strongest breaking method but this in turn makes racing interesting and hectic. With the rise of Swiss foot breaking Insul made for an interesting race. Notably Pete Connolly (of the UK crew) ended up taking 7th place in the Open’s and winning the masters yet again. Pete looks like he could end up winning the Masters world tour and being crowned Champion and we are all excited to see him make it. Insul as a skate festival has a super relaxed vibe.
Berry Plasman and Olivier Gires from the IDF were absolutely on form and made sure the race ran smoothly while Stephan Kolpatzik oversaw the whole show. An impromptu football game was organized by a group of keen German skaters (who happened to be both skilled and armed with football boots and shin pads) and we all left with more scars from football than skating. Free food came with event entry; a Dinner and 2 breakfasts were included which made sure unprepared skaters managed to stay alive. Quin Boards (a core German brand also from Cologne) built a mini-ramp for the event with a whole load of comfy barrel seating for a super strong Lurk game. It turns out that when they are not designing top quality boards they spend their time making lurk equipment from board benches to the Quin table and chair set.
After Insul we then continued along on our skate adventure down to Switzerland. We had a few days free so we decided to head to a few of the classic swiss descents. There are only a few roads in Switzerland you can skate without trouble from the police and the locals who want only to protect the few spots that are still not blown. Skating is thus limited to a handful of quiet spots which the locals are happy to share.
The Entire Swiss scene meets for Giaosteka Freeride just outside of San Bernadino. Organized by a small professional crew and with camping beside a beautiful lake Giaosteka proved to be a laid back 4 days riding with friends. The course was relaxed which enabled us to ride in tight packs on our Fussion’s. The Wheel of choice for all of us was the 78a Mommentum. With just enough grip to keep up with any wheel the team spent the long weekend charging down the hill and playing drafting games on the straight. With the event starting at 1pm every day mornings were relaxed featuring games of Tennis and Mini Golf. Unfortunately Tom and Bodhi managed to end up getting injured on the penultimate run at Giaosteka. They were forced to stop by another crash in front and tumbled leaving them both with a load of road rash making the drive to Bela Joyride pretty uncomfortable.
Once we had left Giaosteka Freeride we drove north to one of Switzerlands best spots hidden amongst Boulders and Dairy Cows. Endless Freeride runs were taken on the Slide Perfect Supremacy with all three editions in use on different setup’s. We camped at the top by a small lake which Ben quickly swam in and found it to be around 12 degrees. Switzerland in general was stunningly beautiful and would be a downhill skate paradise if it were not for the police issues.
We set off from Switzerland on Tuesday beginning a long drive to the Austrian-Slovenian Border for Bela Joyride once again run by Bigmountain skate. Setup down a 10 minute long run from the border the track featured 18 corners and steep gradients. The bottom section consisted of endless hairpins you can rally around on freeride wheels while the top section had 4 interesting corners including a chicace you could go through at around 70kph.
A huge UK crew joined us there as well as friends from as far as New Zealand and Australia. Pack runs were plenty with as many as 8 runs a day efficiently achieved by Big Mountain Skate. Bodhi got out his luge and filmed for a whole day as the team just had fun. With Aaron’s ongoing knee injury from Kozakov World Cup he was limited to a little bit of skating and then a heavy icepack session. The Fussion was a perfect match for Bela Joyride and the team excelled on their boards. With locked in concave and a little drop the board made easy work of the kinks and challenging pavement Bela Joyride presented us. Evenings at Bela Featured Mini Ramp sessions and (as usual) Someone’s homemade local schnapps which proved to be blindingly strong. After a short war between Team AOB and the Dutch GUCCISQUAD we set off for Innsbruck in Western Austria to stay with Quirin Illmer.
Quirin Illmer (or Qui to his friends) is the 2015 IDF European Champion. His style features a mix of perfect technical ability and clever race decisions which have always made him one of the most heavy hitting European Skaters. After Bela Joyride Qui offered to have us stay and explore the roads around him. One of the first roads we hit was a Glacier access road which turned out to feature 25 minute long runs and have 29 corners. Straights featured speeds close to 100 KPH and on our first full descent we were all pretty shaken but excited about the run. Personally I don’t think I have skated a road as enjoyable as that. With such crazy corners and views from 3000 metres up I look forward to returning in the future. After a few full runs of what was a dream hill bad weather rolled onto the mountain and we were forced to drive onwards to an Alpine Coaster.
Alpine Coasters are gravity powered rollercoasters which have starred in many viral videos in the last few years. We were all desperate to try one and decided to go to the biggest in Austria. With Go-Pro’s attached to our helmets we flew down the track in a pack bumping each other down the mountain.
Although we were only allowed one run I would encourage anyone doing a Eurotour to check out an Alpine Coaster as the thrill is pretty close to skating downhill on a longboard. Thanks to Qui for showing us around his local downhill paradise for a few days and putting us up in Hotel Illmer.
With a short amount of time left we set off on our long drive back to Calais with a stop on the way to rest for a night. By this point in the trip we were all pretty sleep deprived and looked forward to resting in our own beds at last. However with a National UK race planned for the weekend by Brianne Collective we would only get 3 days away from each other before we were re-united to race.
Special thanks to AOB Longboards.