Trained in the Valley’s mountains, this Northridge native is on the first-ever national downhill skateboarding team – Daily News

on May12
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She often flashes a wide, cheeky smile. She painted sunflowers on her helmet and loves to bake. But you’d be unwise to underestimate this girl’s guts at the top of a mountain with her foot poised on a skateboard.

Rachel Bruskoff, 26, is part of the first USA national downhill skateboarding team — a group of six women and six men preparing for the World Roller Games this July in Barcelona and vying to enter either the 2020 or 2024 Olympics.

The sport of skateboarding will see an inaugural Olympic debut in Tokyo this summer, but that’s only park and street skating — think halfpipes, rails and kick-flips. What Bruskoff and her peers do is longboard racing, a relatively younger sport still working to make the Olympic cut.

Bruskoff, a Northridge native, is better known in the tight-knit downhill skating community as “Bagels” — a play on her Jewish background and affection for the boiled dough rings. She grew up playing years of softball, including at Granada Hills High School and Mission College, but began skating at 19 when she found a thriving longboarding scene at CSUN through a friend.

Since her days of learning to cruise the hills of Balboa, Simi Valley and Malibu, she has finished first place in multiple competitions on six continents and has been ranked both second and third in the world for women’s downhill skating.

“Being in the Valley and having all the mountains around, it’s a proper playground,” she said after a warm-up run Saturday on the Little Tujunga canyon road just north of Sylmar. Her partner Grayson is also an avid longboarder.

“From the beginning, I really enjoyed the community” she said. “Professional skaters in LA would come out to our CSUN sessions and I’d get so inspired like ‘Whoah I want to do that’. Eventually I realized I was really good at it, especially for a woman.”

Standing at 5 feet tall, Bruskoff’s petite stature helps her cut impossibly tight turns down winding canyon hills. On long straight stretches of road she can reach 65 miles miles an hour — measured with the help of a car driving close by.

She and the other 11 members of the national downhill skating team qualified via rankings over the past two years in the annual world tour organized by the International Downhill Federation.

Although the somewhat rebellious sport of traditional skateboarding was lent more legitimacy this March with its induction into the 2020 Tokyo games, Bruskoff said some challenges remain for skaters hoping to be taken seriously.

“Most people who drive past us smile and wave but some choose to yell like ‘You can’t do this here’, or ‘I’m calling the cops,’ or ‘You’re just trying to kill yourself.’ Two older woman once told me ‘You as a young woman, how dare you do this!’ So I just yelled back at them,” she said.

Bruskoff tries to keep to unbusy roads when she goes out to ride at least twice a week, but that hasn’t altogether prevented injury. She was run over by the wheel of a pickup truck while turning a corner in 2014, but walked away with mere bruises.

“I know some parents who shun their kids for being skateboarders or kids who have gotten kicked out of the house for it,” she said, adding that her parents have been nothing but supportive.

Whereas traditional skateboarding got its start in the 1970s on the American West Coast, longboard racing really kicked off in the late 1990s and early 2000s with a wave of corporate interest and a strong showing at the X Games in 1998.

As far as equipment, traditional skateboards kick up at the end to enable tricks. Bruskoff and her peers ride on flat boards with a designated nose and tail. They’re also slightly wider for stability, with thicker wheels to pick up speed.

Bruskoff laments that some of the professionalism in longboarding’s early years seems to have fallen away. For lack of funding, the girls national team has a GoFundMe page set up to fundraise for travel and lodging for this summer’s World Roller Games, the event overseen by an Olympic committee she called the “mini Olympics.”

“A big goal for us right now is to get proper sponsorship and funding. Because right now doing the international thing is only accessible for people who have expendable budgets and time,” she said.

Flying down Little Tujunga and whirling to full stops with ease, Bruskoff does with practiced confidence things that would make most people nauseated with fear. But she said it didn’t come without devotion, some injuries and maybe a little self doubt.

“Every time I stand at the top of a hill I’m nervous … But then you drop and your adrenaline starts pumping and you forget all your worries. It’s so wonderful,” she said.

“It’s conquering your fears and doing it with the wind in your face.”

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