BOISE, Idaho – They come flying around the corner — just zip, and then they’re gone. One, two, maybe three skateboarders going impossible speeds through the curves on Bogus Basin Road. And as the piece de resistance, there goes — shoom — a pair of luges. They’re even faster and lying down, just 4 inches off the road.
Of all the crazy. It’s the suddenness that brings us up short, and in a surge of responsive adrenaline, we shake our heads and label them, yep, crazy.
The thing is — they aren’t, really. The downhillers thrive on going ridiculous speeds, it is true, and they speak an insider language about wheels and bearings and the moves they make; but they’re interesting people, experts in their own way — and clearly addicted.
“Different people have different responses to challenging ourselves,” says 54-year-old C.J. Wilkinson, or “Mama Wilky,” a hospice nurse and self-proclaimed skate mom. You wouldn’t pick her to be one of the lugers.
“We all have a different tolerance for what is exciting or thrilling,” she said. “Riding luge just quiets my mind. I have this focus when I’m riding — and a peace that is opposite of what you’d expect.”
Wilkinson was introduced to the world of downhill skateboarding and lugeing while following her teenage son in the downhill skateboard race circuit. As a concerned mother, she bought him a really good helmet. That’s all she felt she could do.
“The light in his eyes, and the passion that he had. I’m not going to get in the way of him doing what he needed to do,” she said. “It lit up his world and that brought us all joy.”
Downhill skateboarding didn’t light up her world. Then she saw the luge three years ago. She was 51.
“I went 12 miles an hour on my first run,” she said, “and I thought I was going to fly off the face of the earth.” Another part of her love affair with the luge was that she’d been sick with debilitating Lyme disease since 2011.
“I really just missed moving,” she said, “and I was struggling with depression and anxiety. I put my helmet on — and it’s me and the road and off I go. It was part of my wellness journey.”
It still is.
They meet in the dark on the weekends in the summer, the people whom Wilkinson calls her skateboard family.
“There’s a stigma with skateboarding that you have to be some sort of punk or rebel,” said Brandon Ayllon, 24, a biochemistry student at the College of Western Idaho, who is part of that family. “But when you see C.J., she’s the polar opposite.”
And, he added, “She’s faster than you.”
The legality of downhill skateboarding falls into a gray area, but all riders must obey traffic laws. Their predawn mornings are not so much clandestine as they are in deference to cars.
Wilkinson plots her line and escape routes corner by corner. She’ll sit up to slow down and to see what is coming.
The fastest she’s gone is 70 miles per hour. To slow down, she “air brakes” by sitting up, or by pressing her shoes on the pavement — she’s glued tire rubber to the bottoms.
Wilkinson, who trains with mentors in Colorado, Oregon and California, also competes. In 2017, at a race called Windwalk on the Columbia River, she placed third in a women’s-only luge race with three contestants. She laughs.
“All three of us decided we must have world status, right? And so — one, two and three (me) in the world.
“It’s very much a calm, spiritual place for me,” she said. “I love it.”