A Nikiski skateboarder is the lone Alaska representative at an international tournament this year, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, he never had to leave the Kenai Peninsula to participate.
Vaughn Johnson, 33, is competing in the World Freestyle Round-Up for the third year in a row. For the last two years he traveled to Canada to compete in person. This year the event went virtual, and contestants were asked to submit a video of their best “run” from wherever they happened to be.
For Johnson, that meant heading to a piece of flat asphalt off the Kenai Spur Highway in Nikiski, where he spent several hours attempting a series of tricks he had planned out while his friend Noah Windhom recorded the footage.
Freestyle skateboarding is a style of skateboarding that uses only flat ground — no rails or ramps needed — so it’s popular in places where skate parks are few and far between.
Johnson said that one positive about the event being virtual this year is that it drew a lot more competitors. This year’s contest features 124 contestants from 23 different countries, according to the event’s website, which Johnson said is the largest number of participants yet.
“There’s so many people that wanted to compete in the World Round-Up, but couldn’t afford to fly to Canada,” Johnson said. “So yeah, we’ve got people from all over the world that have signed up.”
A major downside for Johnson is that he didn’t get to reconnect in person with his friends and fellow skateboarders from around the world. Although in this digital age Johnson noted that it’s relatively easy to stay in touch. Johnson is part of the Onslawt skateboarding team. He and his teammates are in a group chat regularly sharing videos and collaborating on projects with others in the freestyle community.
For his submission to the amateur division of the contest, Johnson needed to film a 90-second run.
When asked how he came up with his routine, he said his motivation was simple: land tricks.
“But not just tricks I was comfortable doing,” Johnson said. “I was trying to think of tricks that I have a good shot of scoring high with.”
Johnson originally planned to incorporate the Kodiak Flip into his run, which is a signature move that not many other skateboarders have been able to accomplish. Over the course of attempting his run on Sunday, however, he started to realize the Kodiak Flip might not be in the cards this year.
“The Kodiak wasn’t working,” Johnson said on Wednesday. “I probably did 200 runs not landing it. This just wasn’t the year for it I suppose.”
Under normal circumstances for the competition, Johnson would skate two runs at the Round-Up in front of judges and be scored on the better of the two runs. Being able to record as many times as necessary for this year’s competition might sound less nerve-wracking at first, but Johnson said when he started recording he was as nervous as he would have been in person.
“I mean, we expected it to go kind of like this, where it takes a million tries,” Johnson said on Sunday.
Johnson faced several hurdles leading up to the competition that had him worried he wouldn’t be able to compete at all. On Sunday Johnson was skating on a board he had gotten in the mail just the day before. While practicing last week he snapped his old board in half. Johnson’s old board was a specific shape that is no longer being produced, so he wasn’t sure if he would be able to find a replacement that he was comfortable riding. Fortunately, Johnson said one of the owners of Waltz Skateboarding Company did him a favor and got a similar board shipped to him in time to record.
Johnson also recently recovered from a leg injury that happened, perhaps unsurprisingly, while skateboarding. Johnson was attempting a handstand about two months ago and tore the soleus muscle in his right leg.
“I was on crutches for like a week, and then I was able to walk but it was still pretty painful,” Johnson said. “About a week after that I felt like it was OK so I tried to skate and kind of hurt it again a little bit. Then I gave it a solid month.”
On Sunday, Johnson said his leg was still a little weak from atrophy, but the pain had subsided.
Johnson and Windhom returned to the skate spot Tuesday night to successfully record his run. It is currently viewable on Johnson’s Facebook page. All entries to the World Freestyle Round-up, including Johnson’s, will be broadcast live on the Braille Skateboarding YouTube Page starting July 12.