MOUNT BACHELOR — Tyler Eklund sat in the lower level of the West Village Lodge on Sunday afternoon, a big smile on his face as snowboarder after snowboarder piled into the room for the Dirksen Derby awards.
It was, after all, all for him.
The Dirksen Derby snowboard rally race started small, but now in its seventh running, it has become an annual draw for top local snowboarders as well as big names in the sport from around the region.
All funds from the derby — a time-trial banked slalom format and the brainchild of Bend snowboarder Josh Dirksen — go to Eklund, a 21-year-old from Bend who was paralyzed from the neck down in a snowboarding accident near Lake Tahoe in California in 2007.
Eklund finished fourth in the sit-ski division during Sunday’s finals.
“Oh, it was super fun, way fun,” said Eklund, who remains in a wheelchair but can speak on his own. “It’s crazy, it’s getting bigger and bigger each year. From when it first started seven years ago to now, it’s huge.”
About 500 riders competed in the race, which featured several different divisions. Boarders raced on one of two 700-foot-long courses adjacent to the Sunshine Accelerator chairlift near the West Village Lodge. The courses consisted of tight berms and banked corners and jumps amid some trees. Riders raced two runs for a combined time.
“It’s fun getting back together will all my friends I used to snowboard with, just seeing how the snowboard community is so strong, and everyone sticks around,” Eklund said. “It’s a good bond to be a part of.”
Dirksen said the event raised $30,000 for Eklund last year, and he added that it might come close to that amount again this year.
Qualifying was staged on Saturday and the finals were held on Sunday. Harry Kearney, of Telluride, Colo., won the Derby Elites division with a two-run time of 1 minute, 2.9 seconds. Lucas DeBari, of Glacier, Wash., finished second (1:04.23), and Curtis Ciszek, of Bend, was third (1:04.36). (For top-three results from all divisions, see Scoreboard, B2.)
Proof of how the Dirksen Derby is gaining prestige was the presence this weekend of snowboarding legend Shaun Palmer, a six-time world champion and seven-time X Games gold medalist. Palmer, of South Lake Tahoe, Calif., came to Bend with snowboarding friend Chris Roach.
“I’ve heard about it for years,” Palmer said of the Dirksen Derby. “I watched a bunch of videos online of the race, and I said, ‘That looks like a bunch of fun.’ I just jumped in the truck with Roach and came on up. It’s fun. It feels like the (19)80s, like a cool snowboard event with a cool atmosphere.”
Palmer, 45, is one of the pioneers of snowboarding. He said he is amazed at how far the sport has come since the early days in the 1980s.
“It’s crazy,” Palmer said. “You watch (two-time Olympic gold medalist) Shaun White and those guys in the halfpipe nowadays and it’s just ridiculous. We had to shovel our pipes by hand when we started.”
Palmer finished ninth in the Derby Elites division Sunday.
Dirksen said he had to cap participation in this year’s derby at 500 snowboarders, and he had to turn away about 200 riders.
A professional rider who frequently appears in snowboarding films, Dirksen said he tries to keep the derby laid-back — less about the competition and more about the camaraderie and creating excitement for Tyler Eklund.
“We kind of try to keep it like a big party with a race involved,” Dirksen said.
The banked slalom courses are designed in classic Mount Bachelor style.
“We definitely designed this course to kind of represent the style of riding we do here at Bachelor,” Dirksen said. “Relatively flat, but a lot of turns and bobbing and weaving through the trees. So a lot of local guys definitely do well.”
Eklund said he is thankful for all the work of Dirksen and other volunteers to keep the Dirksen Derby going strong each year.
“Josh is amazing,” Eklund said. “The things he’s done, and how big it’s become, and how organized it is. … More and more people are starting to know about it. I can’t wait to see what it’s going to be like in the years after this.”
—Reporter: 541-383-0318, email@example.com.