Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The rise of Patrick Switzer, Downhill Skateboarder

Switzer takes an early podium...
Underground Racing League ~2007
An old skateboarding friend of mine, Pat Switzer, recently made history.

He won three Open Downhill Skateboarding World Cup races in a row -- the first time any skater has ever done this. It’s a truly remarkable accomplishment.

Congratulations Pat! You’ve worked so hard at becoming the best in the world. I’m fiercely proud to know you.

A hat-trick of victories -- and a clear trend
First, he won Kozakov in the Czech Republic. Then he took Insul in Germany. And he followed that up with a victory in Teolo, Italy.

Switzer wins again! Photo: C. Bilecki
Switzer was ranked #3 in in 2009. Then #2 in 2010. And although the season’s far from over, these recent victories have placed him #1 in the 2011 IGSA World Cup rankings. [Update: he was crowned series champion for 2011.]

He’s the king of the hill now. Undeniably.

A good skater turned great
I can’t help but marvel at Pat’s ascent to the top of downhill skateboarding. I would never say I’ve doubted Pat, but I mean really -- when a guy tells you over beers that he’s going to become a pro skateboarder, how can you take that seriously?

Yet he did it. He actually did it.

The old OLF banner with Olga and Helmut
I first met Pat in the mid-2000s via OLF, a popular local skateboarding forum. Back then he was one of a bunch of guys who liked to skate parking garages late at night. I was an occasional participant. Those sessions were always incredibly fun -- the thrill of going fast in an enclosed area, the juvenile kick of minor trespassing, the group camaraderie -- a lot of deep friendships were forged that way.

I suppose in hindsight Pat’s progression shouldn’t surprise anyone. He was always passionate about skateboarding. Equipment, technique, spots to skate, famous skateboarders -- he could talk excitedly about any of these things at great length. He skated competitively in the slalom circuit and was someone you could comfortably approach with skating questions.

Skateboarding wasn’t just a recreational activity for Pat -- it was an integral part of his life. He skated every day. Even in the winter.

He started a shop called Longboard Haven out of the basement of the house he was living in. I remember the walls were festooned with decks he had ridden and broken. A lot of us bought gear from him simply because he was such a great guy. Him and Chicken (his roommate, another key OLF figure, also pictured above) -- those two were so much fun to chill with, such down to earth, friendly guys.

Onterrible’s DH elite
Pat was also part of a more serious crew called the Escarpment Surfers, who scouted out and skated many downhill routes along the Niagara Escarpment -- an occasionally risky activity involving very high speeds, traffic monitoring, and occasional brushes with law enforcement.

The Surfers weren’t just having fun going fast -- they were systematically training themselves and consciously trying to improve their skills at every session.    

As an aside, I should mention that Pat’s not the only one from that impressive crew who has made waves. John Barnet, Justin Readings, Luke Melo (Canadian Junior Slalom Champion in 2006 and 2007), Andrew Chapman (currently ranked #2 behind Pat!) -- they’re all up there in the rankings too. And Dasha Kornienko was the #1 ranked Women’s Downhill rider in 2009. Despite its awkward geography, Ontario has a disproportionate number of highly skilled riders.

About three years ago, Pat decided to ‘follow his dream’, and he moved out West to BC, in pursuit of bigger hills and a complete longboarding lifestyle. He set up an innovative sponsorship arrangement with the British Columbia Institute of Technology, which allowed him to spend a considerable amount of time skateboarding while also studying for a degree in Mechanical Engineering.

'We got dem Purps' with Pat:

As his skills and stature increased, Switzer picked up more sponsors and began starring in numerous videos. Soon, he was skating with and learning from many of the best skaters in the world. He began placing consistently higher in international races, and eventually started winning.

Yet Pat’s always been (fairly) modest about his accomplishments -- even though he outgrew our local scene long ago, he hasn’t forgotten about his roots. I believe he’s coming back to Toronto for this year’s Board Meeting in September. I’m sure his many friends here will give him a warm welcome.

Pat’s pro model
deck from Fullbag
Over the years I’ve assiduously followed Pat’s exploits from afar, and every fresh tidbit of news gives me a little surge of tribal pride. It’s awesome to see a former local triumph in such a spectacular fashion.

I’m looking forward to watching P-Swiss continue his skating excellence in multiple disciplines, whether it’s slalom, downhill, freeride -- or just cruising around. This is his moment in the sun, and I hope he enjoys every bit of it.

I wish him every success for the future, wherever it takes him.

Bonus cheesy video
An early Underground Racing League session showcasing Pat’s pumping technique... I believe the theme that night was ‘short wheelbases’...

Extra links:
CTV coverage
Timebomb video

See also (other skate related posts I've written):
The Return of Longboard Haven Skate Shop
Profile: Justin Readings, Downhill Skateboarder
Is Skateboarding Illegal in Toronto?
The Toronto Board Meeting: A Short History
Concrete Wave’s Lame ‘Pin-up’ Cover
Letter to Councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon: Why Jeopardize the Ashbridges Bay Skate Park?
Speed! Thrills! Women! FUBU Skate Race Recap
Grappling with another longboarding death
Our first longboarding tragedy