BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — It only took a few weeks for Indiana University senior Max Vickers to make headlines during his study abroad trip to Australia last school year.

He took a GoPro video of his friend, Mitch Thompson, as they rode their longboards down a highway in the Blue Mountains, coming within inches of the vehicles passing by in the lane next to them. Thompson posted the video to his Facebook page, where someone from the Daily Telegraph found it. An Australian television news station picked it up and used clips of the video in a segment titled “Dumb and Dangerous.”

“Could this be the dumbest and most dangerous skateboarder in Australia?” the newscaster asked, “breaking the speed limit and skimming around corners on the wrong side of a public road?”

Vickers doesn’t deny speeding down a highway on a wooden board is dangerous, but he wasn’t putting himself in harm’s way for no reason. It’s how he trains.

Vickers is a competitive downhill longboarder. A longboard is, as its name suggests, longer than a skateboard and has larger, softer wheels. Where skateboards are typically used for tricks, longboards are designed for cruising and downhill racing.

Vickers is ranked No. 8 in the world, according to the International Downhill Federation. This year, he competed in world cup races in Australia, China, the Philippines and Canada. He’s heading to a competition in Costa Rica Thursday.

“You can’t become a good racer unless you’re racing,” he said.

And Vickers is good. Jonathan Prather, owner of Rhett Skateboarding shop on Rogers Street, compared Vickers’ talent to that of a top-five draft pick in a sport such as football or basketball. Prather wouldn’t have been surprised if that kind of success, along with sponsorships from companies such as Original Skateboards, Orangatang Wheels and Action Board Shop, had gone to Vickers’ head.

“There are definitely guys who are not down to earth in the skateboarding world,” he said.

But Vickers isn’t one of them.

“Max is so humble,” Prather said. “I’ll ask what he’s been up to and he’ll say, ‘Just skating.’ I’ll ask where, and he’ll be like, ‘Oh, just this little trip to China.'”

Before he was traveling overseas, he was just a kid in Michigan who liked to skate. He got his first board for Christmas when he was 9 or 10 years old, but the small farming town where he lived was awfully flat. Then, in 2010, his father, Jon Vickers, got a job as the founding director of the IU Cinema and moved his family to Bloomington. It was about this time, when Max Vickers saw the rolling hills of southern Indiana, that his love affair with downhill longboarding began.

His first competition was called Soldiers of Downhill in Bainbridge, Ohio. His parents were taken aback by what they saw.

“We were pretty horrified, actually,” Jon Vickers said.

It’s not just because they were watching their son. The sport is not for the faint of heart.

“It’s probably the gnarliest of all the skateboarding disciplines,” Prather said. “You’re not doing tricks, but you’re going 65 miles an hour. Have you ever tried sticking your head outside a car window, going 65 miles an hour? Imagine doing that on a board.”

As the inspector from the New South Wales police points out in the Australian news report, regardless of how talented you may be, there are risks. Jon Vickers said his son has paid a price for developing his skills over the years, coming home bleeding on more than one occasion. Max Vickers said he broke his left arm at a practice run for a race in Whistler, British Columbia, a few years ago. Last year, he broke his foot outside Los Angeles on a film trip.

Nothing has kept him from getting back on his board, though, and Max Vickers has benefited from that persistence.

“He’s better traveled than most adults because of this sport,” Jon Vickers said. “He’s driven across country maybe five times. Many adults may get to do that once in a lifetime.”

Longboarding also has helped hone his leadership skills. Once he was accepted at IU, he filed the paperwork to start the university’s first longboarding club. He’s no longer president of the club, but he still shows up for weekly skates and helps teach new members how to ride.

Longboarding also appears to have affected the career trajectory of the Kelley School of Business student. Vickers interned with Disrupt Sports, an Australian company that provides mass customization options for sports equipment, and works in online customer service for one of his sponsors, Original Skateboards. Vickers isn’t exactly sure what he’ll do after he graduates, but he’d like to get a job in the action sports industry.

“I hope he’s able to carry forward his success as a rider in the business world and work for one of the companies that sponsor him,” Jon Vickers said. “I hope one day he’ll own his own company, but right now, I think he has no idea what he wants to do.”

Actually, there is one thing Max Vickers is sure of.

“I plan to be skating for the rest of my life,” he said.


Source: The (Bloomington) Herald Times, http://bit.ly/2cJbUhz


Information from: The Herald Times, http://www.heraldtimesonline.com

This is an AP-Indiana Exchange story offered by The (Bloomington) Herald Times.