On June 24, about 230 of the best downhill skateboarders and street lugers in the world will descend on the Maryhill Festival of Speed. It'll be the largest gravity sports festival in North America, the second event in this year's International Downhill Federation World Cup championships, one of the premier downhill events of the year on one of the best courses in the nation.
Over five days, about 3,000 spectators will walk up the two-minute hike from the festival grounds to line the course and watch competitors like Salem longboarder Brandon DesJarlais and 2014 International Downhill Federation champion Kevin Reimer speed by in racing leathers and that signature downhill crouch, like heavy-helmeted members of the Foot Clan.
The best part? This will all happen in Portland's backyard—in Goldendale, Wash., just up the river.
Portland's long, passionate relationship with the bicycle has been well documented. But our region's equally long love affair with the skateboard is sometimes overlooked.
Sure, there's Burnside Skatepark and Gus Van Sant immortalizing dreamy teenagers in Paranoid Park. Tom Miller, former chief of staff to ex-Mayor Sam Adams, was photographed in The Wall Street Journal proudly holding up his beater board. But to many, the "skate route" signs serve as mere symbols of Portland's perma-'90s alterna-culture, much like the 45-year-old brah who took my skateboard from me, executed three perfect kickflips, then handed it back. Shell art is so over, man.
As always, the truth is simpler, and less cynical. We live in a place where board sports run rampant. Once you snowboard on Mount Hood and paddleboard around Ross Island and surf at Indian Beach and maybe even take a scary turn on your friend's trainer kiteboard in Hood River, picking up a skateboard instead of a bike is a no-brainer. Even a high-end longboard like the Moonshine Hooch is cheaper than a new bike at REI.
A new generation is catching on. "Daddies' sales of longboards, and longboard sales in general, are up significantly over the past five years," says Daron Horwitz, president of Daddies Board Shop in Northeast Portland. "Our growth locally has been our strongest."
And as the Zoobombers and kids in the West Hills already know, Portland is, topographically speaking, ideally suited to longboarding. Our gently sloped urban cinder cones and abundance of long, paved, scenic roads are perfect for cruising or bombing. But once you've honed your abilities and scraped up your bum on Mount Tabor, it's time for the big leagues. It's time to head out to Maryhill Loops Road in south central Washington, one of the premier longboarding courses in the world.
The Maryhill course is smooth and outrageously scenic, a ribbon of asphalt snaking its way through the rounded, golden hills. "It's almost made for downhill skateboarding or street luging," says John Ozman, founder of the Festival of Speed. "It has a magical feeling to it."
It's also a historic landmark, the first paved asphalt road in Washington. In the early 1900s, businessman Samuel Hill made his fortune building roads throughout the Pacific Northwest. He purchased 5,000 acres in south central Washington, named it Maryhill after his wife and daughter (who never actually lived there), and spent his own money to experiment with different paving techniques. Today, the land is owned by the Maryhill Museum of Art, which leases 2.2 miles and 22 perfectly banked turns of that road to the festival every year.
Maryhill is just a short drive from the Distillery, Moonshine Mfg.'s longboard factory in North Bonneville, Wash. Seen from one perspective, it only makes sense to start making longboards if you're less than an hour from one of the best courses in the world. But from another, this kind of cross-pollination between board sports is what owners Jeff and Tony Logosz have been doing for their entire careers.
The Logosz brothers were snowboard designers who moved to Hood River in the mid-1980s to take up windsurfing. When kiteboarding first began to emerge as a sport, they discovered the popular models did little better than skid around the surface of the Columbia River like a plywood door. They realized that the budding industry could benefit from the new technology then being used for snow gear.
They named their company Slingshot Sports. Their kiteboards (and eventually wakeboards and stand-up paddleboards) had features like vibration-dampening systems and flex characteristics that made them lighter, stronger and more agile.
At Maryhill, on that perfect testing ground, Slingshot's engineers began adapting those same techniques to their longboard division, which became known as Moonshine. Instead of pressed maple plies, they used vertically laminated Pacific Albus, a sustainable and locally grown poplar hardwood that is more commonly used in snowboards. Carbon fiber is sandwiched between the plies for greater strength. Urethane truck mounts give the board vibration-dampening qualities. And in homage to the soggy Pacific Northwest, the urethane rails make the board effectively waterproof so you can ride all year-round.
In Moonshine's nondescript warehouse a few miles outside of Cascade Locks, as employees in hoodies and work boots bend over boards of all kinds in a brightly lit, buzzing hive of a factory that smells warmly of wood chips, sales and marketing director Greg Kish hands me a longboard. The Hooch's design is elegant, understated, the Moonshine Mfg. decal in stark black contrast against the pale wood grain of the deck's underside. Nothing betrays the amount of engineering that went into making it—more a snowboard on wheels, really, than a long skateboard—or that it was handcrafted with care and precision, cut and pressed by hand. The Hooch, and Moonshine, will join venerable Portland longboard manufacturers like Eastside and Subsonic at this year's Maryhill Festival of Speed.
But on a sunny Sunday, at a much more modest pace than anyone will see at Maryhill, I take out Moonshine's Rum Runner board. It's light and responsive, a Lambo among skateboards, rolling smoothly on enormous, white 70-millimeter wheels. Maybe this summer would be the perfect time to take it to Maryhill, I wonder. Or maybe not.
But even if I spend the summer just cruising around town, surely I can manage to pass a 45-year-old brah or two.
GO: The Maryhill Festival of Speed is at Maryhill Loops Road, Goldendale, Wash., on June 24-28. Free.
See maryhillfestivalofspeed.com for more details.