Long Live Longboards
By Emily Compton
It is amazing how one can feel like a stranger in a place they grew up. But I suppose place has less to do with the actual physicality of a place as it does with a feeling of belonging.
My first time attending the World Championship Longboard Races in Johnsville, California, was in March 2019 after spending years away from the area for college and work. I was feeling uncertain about not knowing many people, but that feeling quickly dissipated after warm welcomes from those I knew and some from those I did not.
It was an unusually warm day for March, so warm that some were down to just their T-shirts and most were applying multiple layers of sunscreen. Thankfully, there had been heavy snowfall in the weeks before the races so there was plenty of snow for the racers.
Looking back, I don’t remember who the winners were that day or if there were
any bad crashes as racers crossed the finish line, but I do remember feeling the sun on my face and joy from reconnecting with a place and a community that I had spent years away from.
The history of the races goes back a century. Longboard races came to the area by way of mining camps. Due to the heavy winters of Plumas and Sierra counties, skis were a great form of transportation that quickly evolved to a great source of entertainment. The first organized races were held in 1861 at Onion Valley, between Quincy and La Porte.
Skis used for the races are 10 to 15 feet long. The only thing keeping racers’ skis on are two pieces of leather attached to the sides of the skis. The only thing helping skiers slow down after they cross the finish line is a 6-foot-long wood pole with a wood block on the end.
Skiers apply wax to the base of their skis to help increase their speeds.
After a hiatus of more than 60 years with a few short-lived attempts at bringing the races back to life, the longboard races experienced a revival in the 1990s and the races were held at the Johnsville Ski Hill. There are three races each season, always on the third Sunday of January, February and March. The Plumas Ski Club hosts the races at the ski area within Plumas Eureka State Park.
Some winters, if there isn’t enough snow in time for one of the races, it may be canceled. A few years ago, there wasn’t enough snow to host any of the races at the ski hill, but they were able to still host a race at Mount Rose.
Races are community events, with no entry fee for spectators and a small fee for racers. Even those who aren’t racing can fill their bellies with beer, wine, hot dogs and hamburgers.
“Whether you are a spectator, longboard racer, or are there for the sledding, it is always an amazing time,” says local racer Truly Tanner.
Between 700 and 800 people attended the 2019 World Championships. Even when the weather is poor, races still draw upward of 300 attendees.
The ski hill is on California State Park land. The ski club obtains special event permits to run events like the longboard races and the Lost Sierra Hoedown, which happens in September.
In preparation for the longboard races, some of Plumas-Sierra Rural Electric Cooperative’s linemen volunteered to groom the slopes while others shoveled and cleared snow around the lodge.
“The Plumas Ski Club relies heavily on partnerships within the local community,” says Donald Fregulia, Plumas Ski Club board president. “To date, one of our best partnerships is with Plumas-Sierra Rural Electric Cooperative. Without the support of their line crew volunteering their time to operate the snowcat, we wouldn’t be able to hold the Historic Longboard Race Revival Series on big snow years.”
Greg Hinds, a local from Graeagle has participated in the longboard races since he was 18.
“Participating in the races is always fun, but it’s the greater purposes behind the events: honoring our local history and supporting the event so that these one-of-a-kind community events continue to happen,” Greg says.
As the Plumas Ski Club looks to the future: the group has many goals: some small, some large. As many things go in rural communities, if something needs to get done, it often takes partnerships and volunteers to get them done.
As a 501(c)(3), the club runs on donations, volunteers and the help of other organizations.
In the past four years, the Plumas Ski Club has put about $40,000 worth of improvements into the ski hill. The electrical wiring in the lodge was updated to code, and a new generator was installed so the lodge can handle larger events.
Next up, the ski club plans to renovate the restrooms on-site. The overall goal still remains to install a new lift and get the ski hill up and running as it once did years ago. The environmental work needed prior to the new lift has been completed, leaving funding as the main obstacle keeping the dream of the ski hill from being a reality.
After attending the races, I know that I will be attending again. Perhaps not as a racer, but definitely as a spectator and volunteer. Participating in events like the longboard races can inspire us to give back to our communities in appreciation of what they have given to us.
To learn more about the Plumas Ski Club, visit the Plumas Ski Club website or call the Plumas County Museum at (530) 283-6320. If you would like information on becoming a volunteer, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.