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Longboarding keeps Islander teen moving
Whether he is strapping on knee pads and a helmet to get around town, or preparing for a race with a full leather suit, the speed grabs Mercer Island resident Max Wippermann.
The 17-year-old Mercer Island High School senior longboards, competing in a sport that requires getting on the edge of crashing every time he steps on the board.
Wippermann has been skating for 13 years, he said, but got into the downhill side of things just three years ago. He recently won the junior division of the International Gravity Sports Association World Championships. The competition is known as the Maryhill Festival of Speed in Goldendale, Wash. Athletes skate down a long, winding road, the Maryhill Loops Road, at speeds of 37 to 38 miles per hour.
“Maryhill is one of the slower courses,” said Wippermann of the speeds they race at.
Wippermann got involved in the downhill sport after he moved to Seattle with the rest of his family in 2008.
“I watched the Maryhill World Championships, and then I got to come back and compete in 2011,” he said. The biggest difference — besides the speed — between regular skateboarding and longboards are the boards. Wippermann said the downhill version is longer, has bigger wheels and is much faster. Typically, he said, skateboards run about 33 inches in length, while longboards are anywhere from 36 to 40 inches.
While his parents might not have been very enthusiastic in the beginning about the sport, they’ve come to see what it means to their son.
“As parents, we were very skeptical about the longboard scene, and to be honest we didn’t really understand the sport, but Max’s enthusiasm and determination won us over and now we are huge fans,” said his dad Scott Wippermann. “Max’s self-motivation to pursue this sport has been so impressive to us. It’s incredible as a parent to watch your son/daughter latch onto something with a passion and make that passion into a reality, and then into a success.”
Wippermann practices around the Island, but typically with some stealth since it’s not an activity looked on kindly by law enforcement.
“The biggest part of practicing is that it’s illegal to be on the streets with a skateboard of any kind, so I kind of have to be crafty,” he said.
When he’s not taking to the streets for a competition or practice, he works at a skate shop where he creates YouTube videos on products for the company. He said he hopes to be able to continue that type of work after he graduates from MIHS. Though he’ll graduate next spring, Wippermann said he plans to continue competing, but he’ll be moving into the open class.
“Most of the races are in the summer, so I should be able to continue,” he said.
His favorite course is Maryhill because of the turns and the way it’s laid out, but a second favorite was at an event at Whistler, where he rode an access road near the sliding center.
“It had 12 hairpin turns, it was really fun,” he said. Maryhill, he said, is just a world-class track, with “tons of curves and banks” to make it the perfect longboarding course.
Later this summer, he’ll be going to the Windsport Cup, held in Calgary in September for another race.
“It’s a much faster course,” he said. “Over 50 mph.” To prepare, he said the biggest thing is making sure he and the board are stable to avoid any crashes. He said once, while practicing in Capitol Hill on Interlaken Blvd., he slid out, hitting the guard rail in the process.
“I hit the guard rail and broke my shin,” he said. “I tried to get up and walk it off, but obviously couldn’t. It was not fun.” That situation is exactly why racing competitions require racers to wear full leather suits.
After he graduates, Wippermann will travel in Europe and Canada, competing in World Cup events.