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County’s world street luge champion says it’s about more than just speed

By Sarah Law
Imagine laying on your back feet-first on a skateboard and rolling down a hill – at more than 100 kilometres an hour.

For the 2018 Street Luge World Champion Kolby Parks, this is his idea of fun.

Kolby Parks

Parks, a 33-year-old Picton resident who works as an education assistant at Prince Edward Collegiate Institute, says he fell in love with the sport at age 12 watching the X Games on television.

“The first thing that came on was street luge. And it was kind of love at first sight. I saw it, I saw them lay down, and go down the hill and I went, ‘I’m doing that, that’s mine.’

Following the show he immediately went outside to build his first luge out of an old skateboard he received for Christmas one year.

Growing up on a farm in Wellington, Parks had the space and materials he needed to build a homemade plywood track he and his friends could ride on. The boys would send Parks’ sister down first in a wagon and navigate around her.

At age 21, Parks found a deal on a Rogers Bros brand street luge on eBay.

“When myself and my friends got the board and we tried it out on our hills here, we were like, ‘Oh, this is how it’s supposed to feel,’ as opposed to our homemade ones that we made in the auto shop at the high school.”

Next he got protective leathers and a helmet and was ready to race on the road.

The sport was created in the 1970s at Signal Hill, California when people rode on fully-enclosed skateboards called skate cars, he explained. Once lay-down skateboards were invented, the sport took off.

Parks’ first competition was in Bainbridge, Ohio, where many of his idols – including the defending world champion – were on the start line. He crashed on the first corner and did not move past the first round, but this was only the beginning of a 12-year (and counting) journey.

Parks has competed in some 70 races in more than 10 countries – including nine this past season. He improves his technique for leaning and braking by recording himself and others in action.

The championships are judged based on the accumulation of points from the competitors’ best five races of the season. He was the only Canadian at the 2018 World Championship at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and was at the top of the leaderboard.

“It’s very surreal to think of myself as the top guy now because for so many years I was just not there,” he says. “I’ve always thought of myself as the underdog.”

Parks’ top speed record is 154.5 kilometres an hour.

“You don’t really have time to think about how fast you’re going, or be freaked out by it, because if you were thinking about that you would not be concentrating on the task,” he says. “And it’s hard to wrap your head around a speed like that because you don’t even do it when you’re driving a car.”

The average speeds are between 80 and 120 kilometres an hour, though competitors test their limits in speed trials. The world record is 164 kilometres an hour, which resulted in a crash that Parks says “sounded like a bomb went off when his board hit the concrete.”

Despite the danger of the sport, Parks says his friends and family are supportive – though his mother does not like watching the speed trials.

Races usually take between one and a half to two and a half minutes, depending on the length and elevation of the hill. They run in a single elimination format with about 24 people in each race.

“There’s a lot of build up to a short amount of participation. You have to perform in the moment and there are no real second chances,” says Parks.

During races, he says he prefers to gain enough speed to pass other riders from behind rather than lead out in front. The most challenging part is staying focused all day during competitions.

But for Parks, the best thing about the sport is the friends he has made from it.

“I really like what we call the downhill family aspect of it because it is kind of like a traveling family circus around the globe,” he says.

Racers often camp out in tents together instead of staying in hotels, sitting around a campfire and sharing stories after a long day of competition.

“It’s so unique in the world of sport, this adventure, this traveling community that just kind of wanders around the world. And everyone becomes so close because it is so dangerous. The more dangerous the activity, I think the closer people become.”

Many races are up in the mountains, though competitions at venues like Montreal draw in large crowds, says Parks.

His next tournament is in January at Barrett Junction in California. It is the race’s 20th anniversary and Parks has never done it before. He expects to meet his idol for the first time: Rat Sult, the first street luger he saw on television so many years ago.

“Now that I’ve won the world championship, I want to start going places and doing races that I’ve never done before,” he says. “I want to do everything and see everything that the sport has to offer.”

Parks wishes he had a private road where he could train young street lugers and start a club. For now, he is working with the International Downhill Federation to spread awareness and try to get street luge in the 2024 Olympics. He also shares photos and videos on his Instagram account to promote the sport.

Parks, with help from family, friends and volunteers, brought racing to Prince Edward County in 2010 hosting riders in an International Gravity Sports Association sanctioned event – one of the few held on the eastern side of North America. The success of the event saw Picton become the racing site again in 2011 and 2012.

“Wherever I go in the world, there’s always a couch for me to crash on,” says Parks. “And that’s the beauty of the sport: everyone is friends, everyone helps each other out. I have friends on every continent and if I went out of the country, I could go anywhere and be welcomed and accommodated.”

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