Gravity, meet Robert McKendry III
AVON – At 60 mph, Robert James McKendry III sometimes passes cars on his skateboard.The gloves he wears when he puts his hand on the asphalt going that speed, well, he goes through them pretty quickly.McKendry, 35, is the U.S. downhill skateboarding champion. Next week he’s off to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to compete in a World Cup downhill race. Downhill on a skateboard, that is. Yes, you read correctly. These are individuals who reach speeds exceeding 60 mph riding boards with wheels. They are inches from the ground, sometimes kneeling with their hands poised to sink into a turn. And they compete four-abreast, right on top of each other.”We draft, we have all kinds of strategies … it’s racing,” said McKendry, who lives in Avon. “It’s similar to boardercross on a snowboard, but there’s wheels. And pavement.”Downhill skateboarders compete in full-body leather suits, full-face helmets and tennis shoes.
“I just bought a new suit for $1,200,” McKendry said. “It was all shiny and nice. But after the first fall, it’s trashed.”It’s a race car, it’s a bike, it’s a …Downhill skateboarding shares a likeness with everything from boardercross to road cycling to NASCAR. And while each of these offers its own brand of adrenaline fusion, McKendry just can’t get away from his skateboard. He literally cannot part with it.”If I’m going to the refrigerator, I’m on a board. If I’m making mac ‘n’ cheese, I’m on a board. When I’m playing my guitar, I’m on a board. All around the house, whenever I can outside … I’m on it,” McKendry said.To prepare for the Rio contest, and to refine his ability to ride a skateboard downhill at highway speeds, Mckendry has been concentrating on his feel for gravity.”I happen to have a good sense of balance,” Mckendry said. “But when I take yoga classes, I look like a toolbox. I can do the tree pose all day, though. I’ve been watching a lot of Kung Fu. My equilibrium feels pretty good.”
Balance, for McKendry, is always in check.”Standing on one foot? Yeah, I’m doing that now,” said McKendry during a phone conversation earlier this week. “I just instinctively do this if someone says, ‘Balance.'”Of course, “well-balanced” isn’t the first thought on the minds of motorists and car passengers who see McKendry blowing down U.S. Highway 131 on his board.”There’s nothing like passing a tractor trailer at 60 mph or have a motorcycle pull up to you and tell you you’re going 68.” he said. “People love it. I have people pull over who are coming toward me, then turn around and follow me. The kids will be freaking out. When somebody goes by me, I see everyone in the car turn to me like, ‘What the hell is that guy doing?'”Close to the roadWhen riding on the road (save speed limit adherence) McKendry follows the same traffic laws as motorists and cyclists as far as staying in his own lane, yielding and passing.
He said he never has a problem hitching a ride back to his car.”Especially in an area like State Bridge, there’s a lot of outdoor activity happening in the summer,” he said. “It’s not like I look too scary – a guy in a speed suit with a skateboard.”When taking his training to a venue such as Battle Mountain Pass, McKendry is sure to do a full inspection of the road before gunning down it on his board. “That’s a really dangerous road,” he said. “Especially with the cliff wall on one side. I’ll always drive it first and make sure there’s no debris and no sort of weird construction going on. You want to make sure not only that your shoes are tied, but that everything is safe.”Courses for downhill skateboard events are a mile to a mile-and-a-half long. Riders are not allowed to make contact, but they draft and capitalize off of each other’s lines and cornering regularly. In Rio, 64 competitors will enter the contest. Everyone will do an individual time trial, but only the fastest half of the field will go on to the final heats.Of course, living in a place where winter lasts eight months of the year, Mckendry is coming from a bit of a disadvantage.”Right now the guys I’m competing against in Brazil are all on the course practicing,” he said. “This time of year, the best way to practice is just staying in shape and snowboarding for me.”
More than relishing the obscurity of his sport, which isn’t so obscure in other countries – some of which televise downhill skateboarding competitions – exhilaration has been enough to keep McKendry on his board. He has 27 years of riding under his belt.”It’s an adrenaline addiction,” McKendry said. “I like to get high on the adrenaline.”Sports Writer Shauna Farnell can be reached at 949-0555, ext.14632, or email@example.com.Vail, Colorado