Parker Schmidt and his teammates woke up at 4 a.m. on a brisk morning last summer to longboard to the top of the French Alps to see the sunrise. As he rode through the trees, he thought about how lucky he is to be able to travel the world for longboarding.
For Schmidt, a professional downhill longboarder, riding through the French Alps in between competitions is one of the many opportunities he gets to experience by dedicating his life to longboarding.
Schmidt, a freshman Kinesiology major, is ranked 20th in the United States for downhill longboarding, according to the International Downhill Federation, and has traveled all over the world on his longboarding adventures.
Longboarding originated in the late 1950’s in Hawaii by surfers who wanted to create a longer version of a skateboard that mimics a surfboard, and could be ridden on land when the waves were small. It wasn’t until the 1990’s that the first longboard company, “Sector 9” began to sell longboards in mass quantities. The X Games also featured longboard racing, and more downhill skating events began happening in the 1990’s. Now, longboarding has professional competitive races where riders can reach speeds up to 80 miles per hour downhill.
Schmidt was first introduced to the sport when he was seven years old after his father bought him a longboard. At first, Schmidt had little interest in it, he said his father was upset because he thought he wasted money on the gift.
One day, Schmidt came across a YouTube video of people longboarding and said they looked like they were “surfing the pavement;” after seeing that, he had to pick up his board and try it for himself. At first he fell a lot, but he quickly fell in love with the sport.
“I thought it was the most fun thing ever. Very freeing, no thoughts. I just knew immediately what I was doing,” Schmidt said.
The Pro Tour
Schmidt was born in Knoxville, Tennessee, but was raised in Boise, Idaho. His longboarding team is based in Washington state so he was familiar with the area. Once one of his teammates started attending WWU two years ago, Schmidt became interested in the vibe of campus and looked further into the Kinesiology program before applying to WWU in 2016.
Over the summer, Schmidt attended his first pro circuit in Europe for a month and a half. During the pro circuit he spent weekdays longboarding and camping in the Alps, and weekends racing in longboard competitions in the city and countryside. There were four different races in Austria, Czech Republic and two in Italy. He finished 15th in one of the Italian races, out of 80 competitors. On average, the first place winner of competitions receives $2,000, Schmidt said.
“I was really intimidated, but it was fun and I learned a lot,” Schmidt said.
Last fall, while most students were recharging their batteries before finals, Schmidt spent the Thanksgiving break in Brazil training with the Brazilian longboarding team.
Schmidt said he hopes to continue his longboarding career, perhaps representing his country in the 2024 Paris Olympic Games, should skateboarding events be added. He also hopes to encourage others to learn more about health and fitness.
“I want to continue to spread knowledge about why it’s important to have a good health and diet and staying fit to take care of your body in such a brutal sport. I do that a lot through my Instagram and working with other companies to write articles,” Schmidt said.
Schmidt has been incorporating yoga into his daily routine for the last year and said it has helped him control his breathing and focus, as well as improve his flexibility and prevent injuries.
“It has helped me take my mind away from my body, which is a very important thing in longboarding because if you start to think about what you’re doing you will scare yourself because you’re going downhill at 70 miles per hour,” Schmidt said.
Along with yoga, Schmidt also meets with trainers at the Wade King Student Recreation Center and Carver Gym. During his competition season (fall, spring and summer), Schmidt trains 8-10 times per week.
“I have a very diverse group of people that I work with to be able to get me to my peak performance,” Schmidt said.
Focused on the future, and getting down the hill first
Schmidt has worked with many different companies over the course of his longboarding career. His first sponsor was a clothing company based in Seattle when he was 16 years old. From there, he has worked with companies such as Hydroflask and Lululemon. Finding sponsors is all about finding the right balance between what he can give them and what they can do for him, Schmidt said. Usually, Schmidt said he will be paid to endorse products, as well as receive free gear from companies and only works with companies that he truly believes in.
“I still don’t believe that I am able to work with Lululemon or Hydroflask. It is an amazing thing to work with such great companies that I naturally have a good vibe with. They understand that we dedicate our whole lives to these sports,” Schmidt said.
Longboarding has changed Schmidt’s life for the better. He uses the skills he has learned from longboarding in his everyday life.
“I honestly couldn’t picture my life without longboarding. It has helped me become a more determined person and never settling for just ‘good enough,’” Schmidt said. “I don’t really celebrate my accomplishments because I always feel like there is something better I can do.”
From watching the sunrise on the top of the French Alps, to riding with the Brazilian longboarding team, Schmidt has made many connections though dedicating his life to longboarding. Although not every experience has been positive, Schmidt is grateful for the experiences he has had over his years of riding.
“The friendships that I have found through community have evolved into tight family bonds,” Schmidt said. “To recite a quote that I carry with me throughout the ups and downs of my career, ‘life isn't about avoiding the bruises. It's about collecting the scars to prove we showed up for it.’"