Going 50 miles per hour on a piece of wood

Matthew Manfredi

For some, hobbies may include playing video games, following sports teams or binging Netflix shows. Then there are some that enjoy racing down a winding road, swaying inches above the ground at nearly 50 miles per hour. Locally, these bold few are called the Chico Barbarian Crew.

“Downhill skateboarding has taken me to places I never would have adventured to,” Kai Epperson said, member of the Chico Barbarian Crew.

Though Chico may seem like the last place known for downhill skateboarding with the lack of steep hills and inclines in town, it has been an underground happening in the area for years. Hidden away in the surrounding foothills and neighborhoods are roads with sharp corners and steep grades ideal for downhill.

“The scene here has been around for over 10 years,” said Chico Barbarian Crew member Liam Slattery. “(Chico Barbarian Crew) is just kind of a recent thing we put together.”

Forming a group was the logical thing to do when they realized they all shared the same passion. It just came down to putting a name on it.

Close-knit communities like the Chico Barbarian Crew are scattered throughout Sacramento, Reno and the Bay Area. The Northern California Downhill Skateboarding Association has existed since 1996 and continues to organize events throughout the year.

The Chico Barbarian Crew has attended downhill events and recently started organizing their own in places such as Butte Meadows and Paradise. Even with work and other responsibilities, rain or shine, the group still manages to meet up twice a week and work together to practice for events.

“When you’re there sharing the vibes with other people, it’s a lot more fun. We push each other to be better and be faster,” said member Matt Kapu.

“No matter how crazy it looks, we’re not out there to get hurt and kill ourselves. That’s not our intentions,” Slattery said.

Though the competition at races is often intense, there is always a mutual respect the racers have for each other and the road. Wiping out is something that happens regularly. It becomes a matter of time. It depends on how hard racers are willing to push their limits.

“You learn how to fall. Especially when you’re going 50 (miles per hour) down a hill,” Jake Knudsen said, the youngest member of Chico Barbarian Crew at 16 years old.

At this point, the Chico Barbarian Crew has gained attention from local skaters and other downhill crews alike—even event organizers outside of California. They all say it is a very close-knit community that is full of respect and welcomes everyone with open arms.

When asked ‘what your favorite part about downhill skateboarding is,’ Epperson, calmly but promptly, answers: “For the stoke of it.”

It doesn’t take long to realize the “stoke” isn’t just some cliché merely talked about among the crew. It’s as if one word—a verbal prompt— summons the energy, the rush, the adrenaline and the camaraderie all in a collective instant, a mutual feeling shared by all the members.

“If you’re out there and not happy, someone is going to bring you up. That’s what the stoke is,” Kapu said.

Matthew Manfredi can be reached at [email protected] or @matthewmanfredi on Twitter.