Headline: Going fast and taking chances: Rob McKendry
Careening down the side of a mountain road at 60-plus, miles per hour on a skateboard may not be your idea of a good time. But, for local longboarder Rob McKendry, it is a pastime that has become a passion.
Born in 1970, McKendry, who has lived in Vail for eight years now, is a self-described “Navy brat.” He spent his childhood moving from Kansas to Baltimore to Charlottesville, N.C., but considers Vail home because he has lived here the longest of any of his previous stints.
McKendry began skateboarding at the age of 7, and cites people like Lance Mountain and Christian Hosoi as some of his early influences in the sport. Like many young skaters, he spent most of his earlier years doing park and street skating. It was not until he moved to Vail that his love of longboarding began to flourish both as recreation and transportation. “When I moved here I skated for fun,” says McKendry, “But I also used my skateboard to get around. I lived in Intermountain for awhile and the bus came right by the house. I would take the bus into town and then it was all downhill on the way back. From there it was a natural progression to do bigger hills and go faster.”
After watching the Gravity Games in 1999 and seeing the up-and-coming discipline of downhill skateboarding, McKendry decided to take it to the next level. His career was almost cut short soon after by an inevitable consequence of downhilling – crashing.
“I went out and bought all the equipment you need, the leather suit, pads, and a helmet,” says McKendry. “Then I went out to State Bridge my first weekend with all the gear and crashed going about 40 mph.. I almost sold everything right after that. It was a good wake-up-call for me to see what I was getting myself into and what the dangers were even with all the equipment.”
Rob rebounded from his initial fall and went on to begin competing starting in the summer of 2000. Admittedly, he was a bit apprehensive in his first competition with his recent fall still in the back of his mind.
“I was pretty nervous for my first amateur competition,” says McKendry. “I didn’t know if I would be able to handle the hill. Some of the veteran riders gave me some pointers and helped me with some technique and everything worked out fine. It’s a great thing about skating at this level, every competition is a learning experience.”
As Rob continued competing in amateur races he began to gain the points necessary to make the jump to the pro level. The two governing bodies for downhill racing, the International Gravity Sports Association and Extreme Downhill International, use a point system based on number of podium finishes and input from pro level racers to determine when someone is ready to race with the big boys. Last year’s Red Bull Downhill Extreme in South Africa was the culmination of this ongoing process for McKendry.
“Being invited to race in South Africa against the top 100 guys from all over the world was really cool,” says McKendry. “The chance to see the same guys from event to event during the season, and mix it up with them when you are racing is also a great aspect of the sport.”
The humbling reality of crashing reared its ugly head for McKendry in his most recent competition. In a qualifying run on a slick course in San Francisco he landed on his head going about 45 mph. That wouldn’t be enough to stop McKendry from taking another shot at the course and qualifying tenth overall for the final heats.
“You hate to travel that far and spend all the money it costs to get there and compete and not qualify,” says McKendry. “After qualifying and then advancing to the semifinals I had second thoughts about going on and decided not to continue. The bottom line is you can be careful and still get taken out by someone else or crash on your own.”
So, despite the speeds in excess of 60 mph and the inevitability of high speed wipeouts, you’re still interested in downhill skateboarding? McKendry offers some advice for the aspiring downhiller.
“First of all you need the pads, the leathers, the gloves and the helmet,” says McKendry. “After that it’s a matter of working your way up slowly. There’s no way you can expect to start at the top of a big hill and just point it to the bottom. It’s more of a progression, where you start a little higher each time and get a feel for the hill.”
According to McKendry, there could be no better place to learn than Vail.
“This place is a mecca for downhill skating,” says McKendry. “There’s Vail Pass, Battle Mountain Pass, Alpine Drive, the hairpin turn on Red Sandstone, and almost all of it is serviced by the free bus all summer long.”
McKendry also wanted to pass along his thanks to D.J.’s Diner and owner Jeff Storz, Vista Restaurant, Smith Optics, D.C. Shoes and his numerous friends who have helped provide him with the financial resources and support to continue pursuing his career in racing.
He also wanted to send a message to local motorists, “Obey your traffic laws and don’t run stop signs.” You never know what might be around the bend.
If anyone is interested in riding with McKendry and enjoying the numerous hills in the area, or if you would like to inquire about sponsorship, you can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
David L’Heureux is a freelance writer based in Vail.
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