Skateboarding is not really considered an endurance sport. But the way Conan Gay skateboards, it certainly could be.
The 42-year-old Bend resident is ranked fourth in the world for the most miles skateboarded in a 24-hour period (265.7). He set that mark last month at the 24 Hour Ultraskate at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Florida. His friend, Andrew Andras, of Miami, holds the Guinness World Record of 283.34 miles skated in 24 hours, set in 2014.
“I’ve never owned the world record, because he always sets the bar a little bit higher, and then I chase it,” Gay says of Andras. “I’m within 17 miles of it right now, which is pretty close.”
Gay likes to practice his craft — known in the skateboarding world as “long-distance pushing” or “LDP” — on his longboard at locations such as Pine Nursery Park and the Old Mill District in Bend. Recently, Gay and his 8-year-old stepson, Casey Maida, practiced pumping and carving on their longboards along the paved paths on the Deschutes River in the Old Mill District.
Gay continually pushed his right leg off the ground with abandon, picking up speed as he turned along the picturesque path. Watching him on his board, I found it hard to imagine somebody making those motions for 24 straight hours.
“Your body is hurting so bad, that your brain is telling you to quit,” Gay says of 24-hour races. “You get those thoughts in your head and you’ve just got to overcome those. That’s where a lot of people break down, even the really, really good riders. They’ll go for a long time and be doing great, and they’ll just hit a wall. That’s the hardest thing, the mental.”
Gay, a machinist at Isco Manufacturing in Bend who moved to Central Oregon from Eugene about 2½ years ago, had been a street skateboarder growing up in Eugene. But in 2010, he was introduced to long-distance pushing when he decided to go for the 24-hour world record (then 250.4 miles), starting at the summit of McKenzie Pass at Dee Wright Observatory.
Heading west on state Highway 242, he says he somehow made it down the numerous treacherous switchbacks and all the way to Eugene, where he continued skating on bike paths in town.
“I hit 47 (mph) at one spot, and I was just drifting all over the place,” Gay recalls. “I thought it would be downhill all the way to Eugene, but that pass really isn’t. I was doing a lot more pushing than I thought I was going to do.”
Gay came up about 30 miles short of the record, logging 221 miles in 24 hours — but he was hooked.
He started traveling across the country to races, called “ultraskates,” and became friends with Andras and Seattle’s James Peters, the first recognized world-record holder in long-distance pushing.
The International Distance Skateboard Association stages several races each year, including the Miami event.
Distance skateboards are usually longer and lower than standard skateboards, with softer, larger wheels, which makes them more stable and adhesive, according to the IDSA. Distance skateboarding has its beginnings on Oahu, Hawaii, in the late 1950s, when surfers began using longboarding and skateboarding to train when waves were scarce.
Long-distance 24-hour races are now staged throughout the country, including some in the Northwest, but the 24 Hour Ultraskate in Miami is probably the biggest. This year, more than 100 longboarders pushed around the Homestead NASCAR Speedway in South Florida for 24 hours, putting their bodies to the test. Gay says he made the mistake of not eating for about the last nine hours of the race, instead depending on carbohydrate-rich drinks.
“I was exhausted at the end of it,” Gay says. “You get super sore. I push with one leg, too, which is a killer. I just push with (the same) leg the whole time, and then pump to maintain speed.”
The Homestead race included a pit stop where skaters could rest, eat and drink during the 24 hours.
“The really long-distance races, there’s a whole bunch of planning that goes into it,” Gay notes. “There’s a diet that you’ve got to stick to. Everybody has a different way of doing it.”
Gay’s fiancée, Rachel Maida, has watched Conan improve on his long-distance pushing over the last four years. But it is not easy for her to watch Gay put himself through the extreme physical and mental grind of a 24-hour race.
“I cry every time,” Maida says. “I get this feeling, usually at 3 in the morning: ‘Should he stop?’ It’s really emotional to watch somebody that you love put themselves through that. But it’s pretty incredible what he’s accomplished, just watching his training progress over time.”
Gay — who recently started a Facebook page called Central Oregon LDP — says he wants to promote the sport of long-distance skateboarding here in Central Oregon, perhaps by working with the Central Oregon Longboarding Team.
The region is not exactly ideal for his sport, with all the gravel on the roads and the numerous hills. But Gay believes skateboarders would come from all over the Northwest for a race in Bend.
“The IDSA would love to come over here and throw a weekend race,” he says. “I want to grow the sport here.”
— Reporter: 541-383-0318,