Not everyone associates Alaska with skateboarding, but Vaughn Johnson certainly does. Johnson, 32, is a lifelong Nikiski resident and avid skateboarder, and for the past two years he has represented Alaska in the World Round-Up, an international Freestyle Skateboarding Competition in Cloverdale, British Columbia. The competition took place May 17-20, with participants each getting 90 seconds to perform a choreographed routine set to music. Forty contestants from Australia to Chile competed in the pro and amateur divisions, with Johnson competing in the amateur division.
Johnson said that this year he didn’t do as well as he would have liked, but for him the experience of seeing his friends from around the world is more important than winning.
“It’s not like we show up and we’re all hyped on competing with one other,” Vaughn said. “We’re all just excited to see what everyone can do.”
Freestyle skateboarding involves performing tricks on flat ground without incorporating ramps, rails or any other objects beside the board itself. Johnson showed off a few moves as an example: one where he balanced on his board like it was a pogo stick and another where he went into a handstand while the board was on its side.
Johnson said that unlike other styles of skateboarding where every trick is called something specific, freestyle skateboarders will often make up original tricks while coming up with their routine.
“That’s the weird thing about freestyle skateboarding. Half of what you see people doing doesn’t even have a name,” Johnson said.
Johnson has created a few tricks of his own, including one that has come to be known as the “Kodiak flip” by others in the freestyle community, in reference to Johnson’s Alaska heritage.
“I came up with it kind of by accident,” Johnson said. “I was trying to do a different trick and then it was like ‘Wow, I wonder if I can do that again.’” As it turns out, he could pull it off pretty regularly, and the trick has become highly requested whenever Johnson competes.
Johnson has been more of a traditional skateboarder for the majority of the time he’s been riding and has been competing in street competitions around the state since he was 16. Only recently did Johnson branch out into the world of freestyle, and it was partly of out necessity. Johnson now has three sons, Vaughn, Castiel and Anson, and for a while skateboarding took a backseat to being a dad. About three years ago, Johnson picked up his board again and started practicing freestyle tricks right outside his house on a small stretch of concrete, this time with his boys cheering him on.
“I figured out pretty quickly that I really liked freestyle,” Johnson said. “So I got involved with the competition circuit, got a small but growing following online, and now I’m involved in the community quite a bit at this point.”
Johnson said the freestyle skateboarding community was very welcoming when he first got on the scene. After he posted his first video on Instagram he immediately started getting feedback from other freestyle skateboarders on the right equipment to buy, how to improve his technique and suggestions for tricks that fit into his style.
Now that he’s made a name for himself in the international freestyle community, Johnson wants to bring that same welcoming and inclusive spirit back home to the peninsula. Johnson plans to become certified as a skateboarding instructor, and within the next month he hopes to start organizing biweekly skate jams through the city of Kenai where kids can get together and have the opportunity to improve their skills while getting guidance from Johnson and others. Johnson sees skateboarding as a healthy way to keep kids active and wants to eliminate some of the stigma that still exists around the sport.
Johnson also has every intention of staying in the competition circuit, which includes returning to the World Round-Up next year for a chance at redemption. He said that this year he hadn’t given his routine enough practice and got hit with a bit of stage fright once he was in front of the crowd.
“Oh, I’m definitely going back next year. That’s already set in stone,” Johnson said. “Next time I plan on hammering that routine until I can do it injured and in my sleep.”