Like many twelve-year-olds, Greg Paproski likes to board. But unlike most of those twelve-year-olds, he's focused on longboarding -- and spending the summer competing in races. With the help of his new sponsor, Dregs Skateboards, he's "hit" (longboard lingo for competed) three races in the North American Downhill Series: the Vernon DH (Downhill 8) in Vernon, British Columbia; the Grand Prix of New York in Windham, New York and the Maryhill Festival of Speed in Goldendale, Washington. He currently ranks number one in his region and third in the world of the Junior Division ages eight through thirteen of the International Gravity Sports Association.
As Greg and his father, Mike, prepare for Colorado's big international race, the Buffalo Bill Downhill Bloodspill, we met up with them at one of Greg's favorite shops, BOARDLife, to talk about longboarding.
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Westword: When did you start boarding?
Greg Paproski: I started on a trick deck, like a normal skateboard. That was around when I was five, and when I was ten I started longboarding. When did you get into the racing scene?
Mike Paproski: This kind of started when he was having issues in school. I told him if he could bring his grades up we could focus more on skating. And he did. He came back with honor role, so I started buying him whatever he needs for skating.
What are competitions like?
Mike: They have two different ways that they do longboard at these competitions. They've got downhill races and then they've got sliding competitions. It's more of a trick thing.
What was your first board?
Greg: My first board was an Arbor Blunt. It was just a really big board with a kicktail on the back. It wasn't really anything too big; I was just riding downhill, cruising around pretty much.
What boards do you use now?
Mike: We just got a new sponsor. He's working on learning a couple new boards with the new company and we're gonna see if that's one of his new favorites.
Who's your new sponsor?
Mike: Dregs. The guy who owns that, we met him at one of the last races in Washington. After about five minutes of talking to Greg, the guy [Biker Sherlock] came up to me and said, "What do we need to do to work together?"
Biker Sherlock is the winning-est "louge-er" in the world. He's one of the granddaddys of longboarding. He's actually coming down here in September for the international race in Colorado: the Buffalo Bill Downhill Bloodspill. That's his company, so it was pretty cool...
How does that feel, Greg?
Greg: I was just so hyped that whole weekend. One of the best hills, having the funnest time of my life, and I got to meet one of the best longboarders out there who pretty much started it. I was so happy. You've clearly caught some people's attention. Tell us a bit more about the races!
Mike: We've hit three out of four races in the circuit so far this year. We've been to Vernon in British Columbia, Canada; New York, which was in the Catskill Mountains; and Mary Hill in Washington, which is where we met Biker. None of those races really worked out for us the way we wanted them to. We had hiccups in each one of those races. The first race was just equipment. It was our first big race. We didn't know we needed as much equipment as we did.
Greg: I needed new wheels to grip better.
Mike: He had to race against the number-one kid in the world with old wheels. We knew we needed them, but wheels are expensive. It was gas money versus sixty bucks for wheels. The number-one kid in the world gets thirty sets of wheels a month, so we get none.
Greg's final race at the Vernon DH8 retrieved from thepapdog channel on YouTube.
We [flew] out to New York for the second race of the year. I couldn't really afford to fly out there, but we did. It [rained] and our flight was canceled. We took a different flight and they lost our bags, so we didn't have any of our gear in New York. We had our skateboards that we'd carried on, but none of our leather suits or gloves or helmets. Greg ended up sitting the whole weekend not able to ride the course at all until the last day when the gear showed up in Albany, which is an hour and a half away, an hour before the race. So we got the gear, drove to the race. He got to race two out of the three races scheduled for kids his age. Those were the first two times he'd ever gone down the hill. Period. This was a gnarly course. They had to shut it off for a while because guys were crashing and getting hurt. They pulled four people off on ambulances. This kid, the first time he went down that course in a race, and he got second place. The very next race, the third out of three races, he got first place and he was going so fast.
Basically what happens is these guys will draft each other, it's all about aerodynamics, as they go down the hill. The rest of these kids, they've been racing for four or five years. Even the little eight-year-old has been racing for five years, so they know to follow behind. Plus, these kids had been riding the course all weekend, so Greg took it easy on the first run. At the bottom of the first race, Greg said to me, "Dad, I got this." I told him just to be careful because the last turn was hairy. It was flat surface with no bank and a 90 degree turn right after a super-fast hill. These kids followed Greg and got in his draft. They were a lot lighter and hoping to cut on the inside of him in that turn. They were going so fast in that turn; none of them had ever gone that fast. Three kids hit the hay bale right after he made the turn. He got first place on his second time down the course!
How many races are there a year for longboarding?
Greg: We honestly don't really know.
Mike: IGSA, International Gravity Sports Association, they're the guys that sanction a lot of the races that we go to now that we're trying to make something of skating. There's races every weekend here in Colorado. It's a big skate scene. We're at races every weekend throughout the summer. It's great practice. Are they all sanctioned by the IGSA?
Mike: Most of these are what they call outlaws. We're basically riding until the cops show up. It's kind of an underground scene. They've got bikes out on the road, so really what's the difference? [The cops] understand as long as the kids can keep control of the board. I've been ticketed once, but I got ran over by a motorcycle for that.
After the accident, Mike was in the hospital for four days. A cop arrived to give him a ticket. Out of pure force of will, Mike was back up and skating again within two weeks -- but he's still fighting a bacteria infection. What kind of protection do you wear to keep you alive?
Mike: We wear helmet, knee pads usually. Suits called leathers. Gloves.
Greg: They're special gloves. They have like pucks on 'em, so you can set your hand down without it catching on the ground.
Mike: It's like a hockey puck. What we were using when we first started out was cutting boards. Make it out of cutting boards and hot-glue it onto a pair of gloves just so you have something that'll slide against the concrete and not grab it as soon as you touch your hand down.
How expensive is this sport, with all the equipment and entrance and travel fees?
Mike: These races are $150. Mary Hill was $200 to race. It's kind of expensive. I paid $1,500 for his suit. Most of the people who hit the big circuit are sponsored. We are, too, but on a much smaller scale. These guys pull up in buses and plop down tents and their leathers are all paid for, so that doesn't come out of their pocket anymore.
Greg: I've been through at least ten sets of bearings. A lot of wheels. Probably I could guess around twenty-five or thirty wheels. Do you have a nemesis?
Greg: The number-one kid in the world, I've almost beat him in a few races. His name is Quinn Dubois.
Mike: He's the champion from last year and he's in the same age group as Greg this year. They will have some head-to-head battles. He's a very seasoned racer. It's going to be a battle. The difference is, Greg rides some serious stuff out here in Colorado.
Greg: He's thirteen, but he gets to luck out because the rule is whatever age you are January 1, you get to start racing that age group.
What's the fastest you've ever ridden?
Greg: Fifty miles per hour. It didn't feel like fifty to me. I actually went with one of my friends who's older. After he gave me a little bump draft where you get pushed, I just accelerated up to fiftyish and stayed at that speed the rest of the way down.
Mike: It felt like fifty to me.
Greg: It's really a mental thing where you just want to finish the hill and you're having so much fun. It's just a blast. It really is. Different mindset. Totally forget about everything else around you. Just get down the hill and have a good time.
You'll be headed out of the eight-to-thirteen age group and into the fourteen-to- seventeen group next year. How do you compare to those riders?
Greg: All of them are really good. A lot of them, I don't really like how they act towards some people. They seem really mean. Just a weird attitude towards a lot of people. I think when you go out there just have fun and don't be all cocky and rude to people. They are all really good riders, but some of those people who are above them get on my nerves. I don't like the way they act sometimes. I just want to slap them. I don't like them.
Mike: As far as speed, he compares pretty well to them. Obviously, they have a weight advantage on him in a gravity sport. Pound for pound, he's just as good a skater as I think anybody out there.
Greg: Here in local races like at the Arvada hill I got fourth place and I was racing sixteen year olds. It's really tough here from racing all those bigger kids, but it's such good practice because you go up to kids your age and it feels like you're right on dot with them. You're actually having way more fun because you're partying with them down the hill. Staying together through the corners and stuff. It makes it a little bit scary, but that's what makes it fun. You gotta get a little adrenaline going through the corner. It just adds to the fun, really.
What goals do you have for the future?
Greg: My goals are just to have fun in life and not be stressed out. Just do what comes at me.
Mike: Prioritize fun like Biker does. This is our positive. We've really focused on skating. We realized the dreams we had weren't going to be the same anymore, so we got to rewrite the script. We're doing that and having fun doing it.
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