Longboarders race through Edmonton's river valley

Edmonton's scenic river valley trails, usually the domain of walkers and cyclists, became a downhill race track Friday morning.

Edmonton's scenic river valley trails, usually the domain of walkers and cyclists, became a downhill race track Friday morning.

Fifteen competitors, reaching speeds of up to 60 km/h, took part in the city's first High Level Bridge downhill speedboarding race along a route set up near Kinsmen Park.

"I am very happy. We had a great, safe race, some high speeds, a couple of crashes, but everyone stayed pretty safe," said Mike Sanders, one of the organizers.

The boards, about twice the size of traditional skateboards, are increasingly popular among young commuters and racers alike.

Sanders, who also owns a shop that sells longboards, figures there are about 10,000 in use in the Edmonton region, although only a few people use them regularly.

Safety was a major factor said organizers at Friday's event, he said, with riders required to wear helmets and motorcycle-style leather clothing.  Hay bales were piled up around the corners of the track to offer further protection.

"I participated in the race, I took myself out. I crashed into the grass in the first run," Sanders said.

The group has been trying for a couple of years to get permission to hold a downhill event, but they could never get the city to agree.

About 10 days ago, permission was finally granted, forcing organizers to scramble to get the event ready in time.

Friday's event was won by Riley Harris of Calgary, who took home $140 in prize money.

On Saturday, longboarders who prefer a less risky race will compete in the annual Ribbon of Green ultimate endurance race along a 20-kilometre route along city's river valley trails that avoids the more extreme hills.