EAST LANSING, Mich. – The parking garages of East Lansing can’t make up their mind. A place of cozy confides for automobiles during the day, then they serve an even speedier purpose at night.
Not all users of the garage come to deposit their transportation. There’s a small – but growing – community of downhill skateboarders on campus utilizing the empty garages as a sort of mini racetrack. Most races are quick, spontaneous, and in small groups. Weather is an obvious factor – and so are the police. This is risky business, but an unquenchable thirst for speed remains on a campus mostly void of hills ideal for experienced longboarders.
“The garages are not overly fast or technical, so most people can ride them,” said MSU student Evan Finses. “It’s a great way for beginners to learn some of the skills you use on bigger hills.”
I was fortunate enough to be in the know about an organized, more populated competition that took place on a chilly night in October. A self-proclaimed “veteran” of the garages, I was eager to grab my board and go along for the ride.
There was to be races at three different garages around campus, with point standings determining a winner at the end. The $10 entry fee made for a cash prize that added competition to a field of racers already determined to be crowned king of the “2015 Garage Bomb”.
9 p.m. – The night started inside Action Board Shop, the local longboard shop located on Grand River Ave. About 35 riders from around the state gathered into the small room for pre-race commencements. Racers were to be separated into groups or “heats” of five or six. The heat winners would face off in a final race at each garage, with points awarded to first and second place. A running standing would determine the winner at the end of the night. Once the rules and schedule were established, everyone strapped their helmets on and began the push to Auditorium Road.
9:30 PM – Once riders arrived at the top of the garage on Auditorium, it was go time. This particular race had a few rules to keep the slowest garage more interesting. Each rider was required to switch his or her board with another rider, adding an element of discomfort to the relatively flat garage. The racing here was a solid warm-up for a group of skaters always eager to push themselves to go a little bit faster.
10:15 p.m. – Anyone familiar with MSU’s campus is also familiar with the Hamster Cage. The aptly titled structure between Albert and Grand River Avenue looks more like an extension of some playground for giant rodents than it does a parking garage. It also happens to be the fastest and most crowded garage on campus. Naturally, this is what also makes it the most popular garage for racing.
Riders here were only allowed one initial push at the start of the race. This meant for a lot of drafting, tight corners and close pack racing. Taking a fast line is critical here, as riders zip down the seven-story building in about 50 seconds.
11 p.m. – By now, everyone had forgotten about the bitter cold weather. The pavement was cold to the touch, but spirits remained warm heading into the final races. The final push across campus brought us to a familiar location – the parking garage just south of the Communication Arts building. It was an admittedly unique feeling to be in sight of where much of my collegiate learning has taken place.
A four-year education be damned, we were here for more pressing matters. The standings were tight heading into the final heats, and the Com Arts race was bound to provide a thrilling finish. The rules here were a little different than the previous two garages, as riders were only allowed a ”gravity” start. This meant no pushing off from the top – a straight test of speed to the bottom of the garage.
Midnight – Thomas Mueller of Grand Rapids was fast all night. Just fast enough to squeak past the other competitors and claim first place in the overall standings. Mueller’s cash prize of $140 was certainly exciting, but it felt like everyone was a winner on this night.
A community of downhill longboarders in central Michigan is hard to identify, let alone get together for such an exciting event. The Garage Bomb started in 2012, and according to most accounts, has had a better turnout every year. There was no disputing, however, that this was the biggest turnout yet.
“I see the sport continuing to grow, as it’s easy to get started and the community is very welcoming,” said Finses. “I was excited about the turnout of the race – it was the best we’ve ever had."
*Additional video provided by Jake Tolan