The superstars of downhill skateboarding are a fearless lot.
Tucked into a crouch and nearly tripling the speed limit, the leather-clad heroes of downhill skateboarding jostled one another racing last weekend on hairpin turns on Pikes Peak Highway.
"The air is so thin up here. You don't really slow down when you put your hands out," said Denver's Kyle Wester, a world champion skateboarder who last year won the International Gravity Sports Association's world cup race in Teutonia, Brazil, reaching 74 mph on what is considered the world's fastest course.
Wester hit only 52 mph Sunday at the internationally sanctioned downhill skateboard race on Pikes Peak. The 25-year-old slid out of a skidding turn late in the consolation round and slammed into well-placed hay bales, finishing sixth among more than 120 racers.
The Pikes Peak Downhill drew the world's top downhill skateboarders for what all considered a historic moment in racing.
"This is the most iconic road in America, and it's definitely the most iconic road in Colorado, so it's super special to win being from Colorado, for sure," said Boulder's 22-year-old Zak Maytum, a five-year professional racer who won Sunday's final with an inside sneak on the last of 10 dicey turns.
Pikes Peak Highway first hosted the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb car race in 1916, a year after the road was carved into the mountainside. The final stretch of the world's highest tollway was paved in 2012. The highway seems built for racing, with banked turns, a slight crown down the middle of the pavement and a flowing design that allows for straightaway speeding. Last weekend, the world's top skateboarders marveled at their chance to add a new chapter to Pikes Peak racing history, bombing 1.4 steep miles through 10 hay-baled turns that by Sunday afternoon were blanketed with a bright patina of skateboard wheel skid marks.
"Really, this race comes down to who is the best at braking," said 39-year-old Fredrik Lindstrom, a former world champion and father of three who came to the race from Stockholm. He usually races world cup contests in Europe.
"This course is better than any of those," he said.
Lindstrom is old school in that he drags his foot on the pavement as a brake. It seems ridiculously sketchy as he teeters one-footed while screaming into a turn at 50-plus mph.
"It works," he said, showing how he is able to stay in a deep crouch while dragging his foot, enabling him to better control his speed.
Most the other racers grabbed the board with one hand and dragged a puck-lined glove on the ground while skidding their boards sideways through turns, not unlike a slipping snowboarder.
In races that included chess-like maneuvering — with riders drafting one another in straightaways and taking sweeping inside or outside lines around turns — the exact moment and direction of a skidding turn can change the leaderboard in a moment. Too early, and riders exit the turn too slowly. Too late, and bodies slam hay.
The race is scheduled to return next year. Race organizers are hoping they can build the Pikes Peak Downhill into an internationally renowned race on par with the fabled car race.
"This is one of the baddest courses ever raced, with the most talented field in the sport," said Josh Pipolo, a race organizer from Santa Cruz, Calif., who served as medical director for the race. "There are kids all over the world who worship the ground these guys roll on. These are the best of the best. If Tiger Woods rode a skateboard, he would be here today."