My 15-year-old son is addicted to speed, and it scares me stiff. His fix: black pavement, smooth like butter, with serious vertical drop and hairpin turns.
These are easy to find in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia, a virtual haven for longboard enthusiasts. But if speed - as in going really fast - is my son's passion, it's my bane. And I am struggling with being a good parent to this high-velocity child.
How could I ever have been prepared for the moment when Wolfgang dashed into the kitchen, kissed my cheek and announced, "Mom, I cracked 100!"
"One hundred kilometres an hour?" I asked.
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"Yep!" he said with such enthusiasm you'd think he was telling me he was in love, that he'd won the lotto. He was almost as happy as when he became sponsored by a long- board company.
"God!" I said, unable to hide my fear or feign excitement. "How do you know?"
"A lady in a Porsche clocked us!"
At first, my son's sport, longboarding, appeared to be as safe as regular skateboarding. I thought it might even be safer as the boards are quite long and they aren't the type used for doing rails and half-pipes. But the truth was soon revealed. Now my son dresses in super-hero-like motorcycle leathers with an aerodynamic full-face helmet. His jeans are held together with unravelling threads and duct tape. His shoes are melted smooth across the soles from foot braking.
It's been more than a year since he started racing, and our home has become a warehouse of longboards, speedboards, mini-boards and wheels of every hue and finish - green, pink, black, shredded, pitted, coned and just plain burned out. I have spawned a rider, a racer. As his mother, I try to understand this compulsion to go fast, dangerously fast.
"Are you out of your mind?" my friends gasp when I tell them what he does. "Why do you let him do that?"
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In all honesty, there is little letting going on. He has found a sport that keeps him fit and active. That's a lot for a kid these days. He walks kilometre upon kilometre back up the road after each run, kind of like when I go skiing: a 20-minute chair-lift ride so I can have the pleasure of a gorgeous wintry run for all of five minutes.
After a year of fretting, patching jeans and purchasing assorted body armour to shield his knees, elbows and hands, I ventured to watch him race. Until then, I'd only seen him on YouTube. In May, our family of six ferried over to the Sunshine Coast to cheer for Wolf at the Attack of Danger Bay longboarding festival.
At the race site, a bucolic residential neighbourhood in Pender Harbour, B.C., 8:30 a.m. arrived with the shrill of an air horn. "Clear the course, the track is live," the amplified voice of the MC announced over 1980s classic rock - tunes I knew by heart. "Riders on," he said as the first round screamed past us and around the bend into what is known as Carnage Corner. Some made it through; others plowed into the stacked bales of hay that lined the track.
A series of pile-ups in the hay prepared me for Wolf's first run. I watched and waited; my muscles cinched tighter around my heart with each rider that passed. Wolf came around the corner smoothly in a clean, tucked-over-one-knee style, with one hand down to take the corner, then he skidded into the hay. Before I could peek between my fingers he was up and heading down the next stretch of the track.
After the warm-up run, racers were grouped in sixes for the elimination round; only the top two of each heat would go on. The 192 racers would be cut by two-thirds in one fell swoop. Despite my fears, I hoped Wolf would get a second run in that day.
Two hours into the race Wolf was in heat 25. At the top of the run, he gave a single push to start and a radar gun set up along the track clocked him at 60 kilometres an hour. I became more at ease as each heat passed, even with the pile-ups. Riders dusted themselves off and carried on. It was surreal. I thought of the worst, looked at the parked ambulance and wiped the thought from my mind.
"The track is live - riders on," the MC announced.
Wolf pursued the rider ahead of him, then that rider skidded into the bales. Wolf sailed into second. He'd made it to the next round.
In the second round, 10 minutes in, Wolf shot around the second corner in third spot, took the inside line, moved into second, cleared Carnage Corner and vanished down the track. When he returned he told us he'd been taken in the final stretch. His race was over.
Now that I've seen the action live I feel somewhat better, yet I still have mixed emotions about my son's longboarding. Although I love him with every fibre of my being, as I do all four of my children, the risks he takes are so far from my nature I find it difficult to understand why he's so into it.
I understand his drive and his desire for excellence, though. So his father and I have resolved to support him, to help him maintain a balance in his life, one that includes things that aren't connected to racing. In the end, he will follow his heart, pursue his dreams. What more could we want?
Lorrie Miller lives in Vancouver.
Illustration by Dushan Milic.