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Broken hand can't slow down North Vancouver longboarder Alex Charleson

Carson Graham student one of the best junior riders in the world
Alex Charleson
Alex Charleson, broken hand and all, celebrates a win at a recent international event. photo supplied

Champion longboarder and extreme athlete Alex Charleson really pushed his limits last month.

The Pemberton Heights teenager will be the first to tell you the sport is risky, but he also makes no apologies: "No risk, no reward" should be etched into his board.

Charleson carved an unsanctioned path to the top of the world longboarding standings — literally. That road is the upper reaches of Lonsdale Avenue where the steep winding streets beckon the riders.

"Even though it's illegal, we do it anyways. We don't care too much about the cops hassling us," says Charleson, speaking to the North Shore News during a break from studying for final exams at Carson Graham secondary.

The 17-year-old explained how he and his longboarding friends would take the bus up Lonsdale to the Princess Park area, carve their way down to the bottom — and then repeat the process until the exhilaration waned.

"We just have to do it (longboarding) illegally, if we want to get good at it," explains Charleson.

But that is not a licence for longboarders to put anyone's life at risk with a harebrained maneuver on the road. Charleson says would-be longboarders should properly learn the sport and be respectful if the collective is to be embraced by the community.

"Oh yeah, definitely," he says. "If you are disrespectful to the public, to the residents — they will call the cops. We get rolled, as they say."

Charleson is now a veteran on the longboarding scene and currently ranked second in the world in his age category. He was shredding down a local hilly street in May, with less than a week to go until a longboarding world cup event in Vermont, when he slapped his hand down hard on the curb. First he was in denial about the bone damage he'd done, and then he almost didn't make it to Vermont.

"I didn't go to Lions Gate (hospital) for a solid four days," he recalls.

"I thought it was bruised. I just put it off to: 'let's see if it just feels better in a couple days.'" Well, his hand didn't feel better. In fact, it was broken in two places. While staring at the X-ray, Charleson and his parents implored the physiotherapists and doctors at Lions Gate to help find a way to let him compete in Vermont. The specialists molded a splint that would enable Charleson to slide during the race: "kind of a clam shell arrangement held by tensor bandage, and formed into a bent position."

Next came extra support from a North Van company, Watson Gloves, which customized a leather slide glove — more like a mitt — to fit over Charleson's cast. So Charleson now had the all-clear to go to Vermont and barrel down a steep course on the side of a mountain — not once, but twice. He was signed up for international longboarding events, at Killington and Burke mountains.

Riders were coming from as far away as Australia, Brazil, South Africa and Europe. The competition was fierce. Speeds hit more than 100 kilometres per hour at Killington.

Charleson recalls standing at the top of the course at Killington waiting nervously for the signal. Front of mind was the last time he was on this board back in North Van — the day he crashed. There had been no time to test drive the splint.

The casted hand was usable with the custom glove, but prohibited Charleson from being able to grab. He would have to compensate.

"I'm not going to lie, it was pretty scary going down the first run," said Charleson, recalling careening 80 km/h into the fastest left curve there is at Killington. "I had full trust in the splint, that it was going to work — and it did."

Call it his lucky charm, because Charleson placed first at Killington and second at Burke.

Back on solid ground, and studying for exams, Charleson has plenty to look forward to this summer before he heads into Grade 12 in September. He will head to his family's cabin that Charleson's dad built on Nelson Island on the Sunshine Coast.

The longboarding will be put on the back burner — there are only flat dirt roads on the island that are not exactly conducive for riding — in favour of fishing and swimming. Cabin time is also a good break from electronics.

"When you get back onto Wi-Fi your phone tends to vibrate for a solid couple minutes," says Charleson with a laugh.

Charleson was actually introduced to longboarding by coincidence while stuck on the main part of the Sunshine Coast during a windstorm. He became hooked on the sport while sitting on the sidelines of the Danger Bay longboard festival in Pender Harbour, but longboarding didn't leave a good first impression on Charleson's parents.

"My parents didn't want me doing it because my mom saw that it was dangerous," recalls Charleson, whose family has since come around and are his biggest supporters, travelling to longboard events with him around the world.

After getting that taste of adrenaline off the riders whizzing by him at Danger Bay, Charleson made it his mission to try it for himself.

The youngster saved up some money, $60 to be exact, picked up his first board from a sports swap, and headed for the hills to master drifting around corners.

Charleson received his first real longboard - a Rayne, the company based right in his backyard - as a birthday present when was in Grade 8. A few years later and he was ready for his first longboard competition - the Britannia Classic in the Sea-to-Sky corridor. A lot of professional riders come up from California for the legendary event.

"I was pretty overwhelmed, actually, seeing the people that I had looked up to.. .. You see these people and they are super fast and super good," recalls Charleson.

He crashed and burned in the quarterfinal heat at Britannia that year. But it was a different story for Charleson back at Britannia on May 23, a victorious one. After shredding to a first place finish in the junior division, Charleson narrowly missed out on beating the current world champion and fellow North Van native Kevin Reimer in the men's open, to take second.

Charleson has no concerns about moving up an age category next year and competing with adult men in a sport where being a bit heavier helps with maintaining speed. "I'm 150 (pounds) and

I'm racing people who are 240 (pounds), and I'm doing quite well," explains Charleson.

Still on the mend from his hand injury, Charleson will compete in International Downhill Federation circuit events in Maryhill, Ore., from June 24-28 and Kozakov, Czech Republic, from July 21-25, as he tries to edge past Tyron Knight who is at the top of the world longboard standings.

Charleson makes it clear he has no plans to stop longboarding, regardless of what obstacle comes his way.

"You have to keep doing it, and doing what you love," he says.