World champion skateboarder gaining notoriety
ASHLAND — He’s not really the bragging type, but less than a year out of high school and Kyle Smith could ask that everyone refer to him by only two words - “World Ch a mpion .” Smith, 20 and whose day job is a maintenance worker at Unity Square Apartments, is indeed that.
He is fresh back from Texas, where in mid-October, the once just casual slalom skateboarder beat out competitors from around the U.S. and Europe to win the World Championship as the fastest amateur in the Giant Slalom competition. He also placed second in the amateur division of the hybrid slalom skateboarding race as well during the International Slalom Skateboarding Association’s World Championships.
Not surprisingly, Smith’s impressive showings in Texas and at September’s ConeFest slalom competition have garnered him plenty of notice and some support as pro skater Richy Carrasco (who came to Ashland’s ConeFest to skate) and his Skat8kings company out of California have picked up Smith for a board endorsements. Smith also just picked up a trucks endorsement as well from Don’t Trip.
While Smith is a realist and knows he can’t exactly quit his day job, he is excited that his family, skate friends and supporters are proud of what he’s done.
“My family is really proud of me, and my boss at work he’s been going around saying now my employee is a world champion and he kind of jokes about that,” Smith said with a laugh. “Our local crew we are meeting up in Lexington (Ky.) to practice and just hang out and eat and it’s going to be cool to see everybody because they’ve all been really been stoked on it, and I’ve gotten a bunch of messages and some of the big skating companies have contacted me.” Smith, who is saving up to go to Ashland Community and Technical College in the spring, said he began skating in the summer after sixth grade and got hooked on the freedom of the board and the fellowship of other riders.
“I was learning how to ride a skateboard the summer after sixth grade and once seventh grade hit I ended up meeting all of the skaters of the middle school and we all ended up skating and progressing,” Smith said. “Everyone I used to skate with doesn’t skate anymore. They all moved off to college or turned to the worse .” While Smith still street skates, he got his first taste of the fast and furious world of slalom skateboarding in 2009 when some of his friends were prepping for then named Kentucky Fried Cone Fest, that Huntington resident and longtime skater Lenny Poage organizes as part of Poage Landing Days .
"There were a bunch of us being young that were like 'let's try it,' but it just ended up being me and my brother Corey," Smith said. "Corey busted his nose up pretty good on the first day and that ended up turning him off of it. On Ramey Street that second day I tore up my side pretty good, but I had actually street boarded a lot before that, and I still do, so I was used to falling anyway. My brother has never liked to go for the big stuff, but I've always believed in pushing myself as far as I could go and hope for the best. Usually at the end of the day I am feeling pretty good because I know I am pushing myself the best that I can." That rush of barreling between the cones downhill was just the kind of adrenaline hit that hooked Smith.
"It was different, like usually at the age we were at, we were just trying to do as many tricks as possible and come back with the gnarliest scars but with slalom it was something completely new and different, and what really turned me on about it was I am an adrenaline junkie anyway and you can't beat the speed and the adrenaline rush you get. It is a completely different feel from downhill to freestyle and it opened my eyes to a whole new feel of the skateboard. I didn't know there were so many different disciplines of it and that got me interested in doing a little bit of everything instead of just focusing on one type of skateboarding." After not skating slalom again until the next ConeFest, Smith said it was the ConeFest in 2011 that got him really stoked to hone his downhill game.
"I came in third place (in the A Class Hybrid) and we had a couple of pros that year and they came in first and second," he said. "I ended up placing behind them and that is probably when I realized that I am OK at this. It was more of a surprise to me. I wasn't expecting to do that well, and this year too has been a big surprise to me. I wasn't expecting any of this to happen this year." This year, Smith has ended up trying to hit all the races both local and regional that he can from Huntington's wintertime Wiggling and Shivering Race to his first sanctioned race Slalom St. Louis XI in June that he attended with Huntington skate family, Dave and Marla Tolley.
"They're great people and you don't see too many sports, maybe baseball and football, where it is this little family and we keep it old school so to speak with traditional skating and hanging out and having a good time and really having fun with it instead of being so competitive," Smith said. "That's one of the biggest things about the HOSS (Huntington Outlaw Skating Series) family. No one is really too competitive about it, and everyone is just about having a good time hanging out and skating." After Smith finished first in the amateur races in St. Louis (the farthest west he had ever traveled), folks in HOSS set up a Paypal account to get the young skater to the world's in Texas where the entry fee was $125.
With support from HOSS to help fly Smith to Texas, Smith also ended up staying with the Texas Outlaws, who were organizing the event.
"It was amazing, and it was the first time I had flown," he said. "I had to fly by myself and that alone was an experience and nerve wracking at first but once I got down there everyone in Texas was super nice. They have the Texas Outlaws and they have a great skate family and they just want to push the sport and get it more recognized like it should get. The level of skating was just completely different too seeing people coming from all over the world and just seeing how unbelievably fast some of these guys were." Smith said the past year's experiences have been surreal and an unexpected joy.
"It is a whole new world for me and it is pretty cool to keep doing what I love to do and still be able to work and provide for myself, too," Smith said. "That is probably the hardest thing to get used to was actually working and skating because all I really want to do is to skate. So I had to get into the mindset of having to work now and to go to college. Probably some of the best advice I've gotten was from local skater Dennis Blevins and he told me to work hard now and play later and that's always stuck with me."
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