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Bush Park turned into Slalom skateboarding arena for World Championships

Jackson Garrett

Staff Writer

Photo by Jason Lehman

This past weekend 86 riders from 12 different countries made their way out to Salem to compete in the 2023 World Championships of Slalom Skateboarding. The soap box derby hill in Bush’s Pasture Park was lined with racers, spectators, sponsors and media all weekend.

Similar to slalom skiing, slalom skateboarders race downhill, weaving in between cones as they go. Two riders race simultaneously and are given penalties for knocking over cones. These penalties are usually within 0.1 seconds per cone. However, most races have a limit to how many cones they can knock over (usually five), and after that they are disqualified. This sport began in the 1960s and became more mainstream in the early 2000s with the increasing popularity of other types of skating such as street and vert competition.

Photo by Jason Lehman

This weekend the competition was divided up into various categories of women and men, amateurs and professionals, etc. On Friday, giant slalom races took place, where the cones were farthest apart. Saturday and Sunday held hybrid and tight slalom races, where the cones were closer together. At the end of Sunday, trophies were given out to winners of all divisions.

The event was hosted by Sk8kings, a slalom skating industry leader that travels the world putting on and covering these events. Sk8kings also sponsor their own riders. Maria Carrasco, the production director of the championships, has been running five or six events per year since 2017. Her work has taken her all over the U.S. and Europe. She explained that this somewhat niche sport has lofty long-term goals. Recently sanctioned by World Skate, “the governing body of all roller sports,” they hope it “is also the portal to the Olympics for us … that is our ultimate goal: to get our sport into the Olympics.”

Joe McLaren, creative director and racer for Sk8kings, was also in attendance at the championships. Born in Denver, Colorado, McLaren has been skating since he was 3, skating slalom since 2002 and competing professionally since 2007. Although McLaren got fifth place on Saturday, he said he has eight overall Professional World Championships, as well as other event-specific medals. “Just last month, I won my sixteenth Professional U.S. Championship,” he remarked.

Photo by Jason Lehman

McLaren has just been getting back his typical cycle of five or six events per year after taking a break during COVID and from a recent injury. “The last few years have been a bit slower for me during COVID and early 2021 when I got somewhat intense lower back surgery.” The years of skating took a toll on McLaren’s body, but he is eager to get back onto the scene.

As the day was winding down, a man won his event and jogged up the hill, screaming in joy with a Latvian flag wrapped around his back. He met his teammates at the top of the hill and they embraced and danced in celebration. The scene seemed like something you could see in an Olympic race, even if there aren't oak trees in most major stadiums.

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