Each year on a long, steep stretch of looping highway in southeast Washington, hundreds of skateboarders test their grit. A helmet, a leather body suit and wicked skill are all that stand between glory and a face full of asphalt. It’s called the Maryhill Festival of Speed near Goldendale. Correspondent Anna King caught up with one young couple that travels the world for downhill skateboarding.
Maryhill Loop Road is 22 turns and 2.2 miles. And on a skateboard it’s just a fleeting few minutes to the bottom of the Columbia River Gorge.
Nearly 300 young men and just 11 women showed up recently to take on this twisted ribbon of pavement.
At the Festival of Speed’s base camp, Patrick Switzer is getting ready for his first run of the day. He’s from Canada, and at 24 -- is one of the top downhill skateboard racers in the world. He describes what it’s like off the start line.
“You push really quick off the start, and then longer strides as you pick up speed,” Switzer explains.
The sport grew out of skateboarders going fast down neighborhood streets and making their own gear. Now, its got corporate sponsors and specialized outfits. Patrick travels the world fueled by those sponsorships and prize money.
“Yeah sponsors for taking care of that,” he says.
He met his girlfriend Tamara Prader while skating in Zurich, Switzerland. Tamara, 29 -- quit her architecture job to travel in a stickered RV with Patrick. She was racing too, before she broke her arm a few weeks ago.
Anna King: “What are you doing now?” Patrick Switzer: “Just re-taping the cast here.”
Patrick’s anxious to get racing and hurries Tamara to get ready.
Prader: “… just chill, wait a minute, I’ve got to figure things out.”
She makes it down one slow floating run, but with her broken arm she isn’t sure she wants to go down again. But Patrick urges her on.
Switzer: “Tamara’s got a hurt arm, so just give her some space guys.”
But on the first curve of the steep hill Tamara somersaults off her board.
Patrick shudders to a stop. He sprints back to see if she’s OK. Tamara took the brunt of the fall on her head and shoulder to save her broken arm. Once she tells Patrick she’s OK, he jumps back on his board and sails down the hill.
King: “Is it hard to watch him go down without you?”
"I hate it," Prader says. "I’m really ambitious and really stubborn and that doesn’t help for trying to recover from an injury."
King: “You look like you’re trying to be brave, but you look like you’re hurt.”
Prader: “I’m not, I’m not. The disappointment hurts most.”
Tamara’s tough. She’s not upset that Patrick left her here, but that she can’t race with him down the hill. Skateboarding is a shared passion -- it holds them fast.
“I’m the one that pushes myself and I want to go for it," Prader says. "I don’t think it’s really the sport where you need someone to push you –- either you do it or you don’t.”
The next bus brings Patrick back up the hill -- he carries a granola bar and bottled water for Tamara.
Shoulders scrunched, she trudges onto the bus that will take her on a slower ride to the bottom of Maryhill Loop.
As for Patrick Switzer -- he won the top prize at the Maryhill Festival of Speed for $3,000.
Copyright 2012 Northwest Public Radio