Laura Hatwell’s Chief Ladiga Silver Comet Challenge report

Fun conversation with Laura Hatwell, the distance nerd about her recent adventure at the grueling 188 mile Silver Comet skate challenge, complete with poisonous snakes and jalapeno counting with Paul Kent.

Loz! It has been a while, how have you been keeping?
I’ve been keeping very well, thank you! Since we last spoke on All Around Skate, I’ve fulfilled my dream of going to America to take part in the Chief Ladiga Silver Comet Sk8 Challenge, thanks to the wonderful friends I’ve made over the last six years in the sport. I literally had a life-changing time, and it’s totally reinvigorated me for another six years of pushing!

What is the Chief Ladiga Silver Comet Sk8 Challenge?
Ladiga is currently the world’s only multi-stage long distance skateboarding race. Taking place over three days in Atlanta, Georgia, if you’re crazy enough to take part, you push 188 miles from the edge of the city out through the sticks and into Alabama and back again. It was founded by Skate Further USA representative Marion Karr and organised by an amazing crew of volunteers, sponsors and supporters. This year 53 started and 37 finished, or something like that!

Who is Marion Karr?
Marion Karr is a skate legend of old, a man who seemingly lives in a cave covered in maps highlighted with potential skate race locations. He lives off a self made trail mix actually made of trail, and outside of his working life, and his skating life, he’s a standup comedian with a heart of gold. He dreamed up Ladiga, skates in it, and meeting him was amazing.

How did going to this event change your life?
I’ve spent a lot of time in Britain pushing by myself, or with just a few other people. Apart from Goodwood, Bath-Bristol and a few other events, I’ve rarely skated distance with others: women in particular. So I’ve been a bit lonely, and coupled with a few financial worries, I didn’t actually think I’d ever make it out there. But my friends (especially Chadd and Georgia Hall) wouldn’t hear of it, raised the money for the flights through sponsorship, and bam, a few weeks later, I’m sleeping in a hotel room with Paul Kent after pushing past rattlesnakes, pulling faces at Cami Best and the Bustin crew through the adjoining door. Surreal is not the word!

188 miles is not a joke. How does one prepare for this?
The only way to prepare for a long distance skateboard event is to skate long distance. I looked after myself, ate right and skated a little each week to keep my endurance up. Nothing spectacular. I’m built for the long haul, I just keep getting stronger, so I don’t worry about the physical, I concentrate on the mental side of things. For Ladiga, I was at my most focused and I’m glad I was!

What’s special about skating with other women?
It’s not like I never have, but watching the next generation of pushers coming through, you do feel a certain responsibility to help them on their way and support their success. I’m a teacher so that side of it is really important to me. Also just placing myself in context is a really nice luxury for me. I can see how I fit into the bigger picture, and it turns out, we all get along amazingly. The Ladies of Ladiga blew my mind and I think, in a strange way, I blew theirs. Mostly with my facial expressions, but we learned a lot from each other.

Who are the next generation of long distance skating women?
Cami Best
, Maribeth McHugh, Mel Castro and Anna O’Neill – all ladies who have entered various Adrenalina 26-milers and had a good deal of success there. I mustn’t forget that little legend Sara Paulshock, but she was busy wearing extremely loud leathers the weekend of Ladiga, so the first four are who I’d like to mention:

Cami Best – extremely lithe, athletic and focussed lady. Beats most boys, does it with a smile on her face and stoke in her heart. She doesn’t stop skating at ALL!

Maribeth McHugh – soulful, beautiful and poetic creature who I really enjoyed just bashing out a concrete cadence with.

Mel Castro – got her groove on at Ladiga with her little cousin, and although I didn’t push much with her, I know that she took a heap of new understanding from the event away with her.

Anna O’Neill – my baby sister on the Rayne Push Team! On the second day, I took Anna under my wing and kept her right. Beautiful to watch someone’s mind expanding.

How do you fit into the bigger picture?
I can be a bit of a recluse sometimes, always creating and feed-bombing people with my antics, but never actually physically being there. I’ve been travelling for so long that it’s easy for me to lose my connection to the greater long distance tribe. Now I am fully acquainted with my North American push family, as the discipline continues to take off in a huge way, I feel very much at peace to know there are other like-minded souls out there.

What is the Rayne Push Team?
Paul Kent, Anna O’Neill (his little sister) and myself. And anyone else on Rayne who wants to come listen to Paul make up his special mudshakes at 2am and massage his stomach to process them faster. You know he counts the jalapenos on his pizza in and out?

Thanks Laura, I owe you an equally enriching visual image.
It’s not really an image you owe me, more a sound!

Why do you feel more akin with the distance nerds across the pond?
Perhaps because I’ve worked in so many areas of long distance all over the world, I feel a bit foreign in my own land as a result. I am, however, loving being back in England and having a home again. I’m finding that I can benefit others doing long distance events with my own experience, and it’s just nice to help where I can.

Will you be involved with any events on home soil?
I have already worked with the London – Paris crew from Plymouth to get them some ace sponsorships, because they’re all lovely and deserve to enjoy their trip on the right gear. I’m also looking at taking part in some events this summer (the unofficial Goodwood) and seeing where I can be useful. Been away a long time, but it’s coming good. I should be filming my first skate video this summer too!

What’s the plan for the Goodwood weekend?
Well, hopefully we can get a few little things together to make the whole weekend a nice little treat for the long distancers amongst us. Watch this space I guess!

What can we expect from this video?
I’ve just got to the point, without sounding too wanky, where I think my skating philosophy has evolved enough that I’m proud to share it with others on film. I’m going to be travelling to some places that have meaning to me and skating there, including Scotland (my first push love), Goodwood, and just doing what I love most, which is to enjoy my skating and find out how others are enjoying their skating. I’ve got some help for the project from Nik Randall, a UK pusher, and some local Plymouth bands. Should be neat.

Congratulations on joining the Rayne Team!
Hee! Thanks! I’ve been riding Demonseeds since 2008. Strange, as I’m tiny, and they’re huge, but it seems to be the board for me. Strong connection there. Long Treks have flowed me boards since 2009 as I build the websites, and it seemed a foregone conclusion that something had to be made official after the success of the team at Ladiga. And by success, I mean, none of us got eaten by snakes and we all finished. I’m very grateful to Les and Graham at Rayne for their support.

What happens if you bury a Demonseed in dirt?
It eats the dirt, poos it out as molten sin, and makes more Demonseeds from the molten sin poo.

Why were there snakes on the plane… I mean trail!
Because that’s the South, and boy, you got a pretty calf.

What was the first day/stage of the race like?
Fast! I think I pulled an awesome time out of the bag, given that I poisoned myself with a bad carb gel reaction! 22 miles out of 36 and I’m dry heaving by the side of the trail. Gnarred up and got to the end, then puked like crazy and ended up on an IV line. Everyone was going mad rapid, and I was pleased to get in 3rd girl, but really I was just pleased to get in at all! The first day tricks everyone into thinking they’re gods. By the end of Day 2, you’re no god, you’re humbled. By the end of Day 3…you’re at one with everything and you’re going home changed.

How did you get so sick?
It was a similar product to something I use in the UK, but American ingredients, which I reacted badly to! On a hot day, being sick means you’re unable to take in liquids. If you can’t keep it down, you’re going to dehydrate and that can lead to you collapsing or worse, renal failure. You literally dessicate your kidneys. So I was very lucky that the snowball effect was stopped in its tracks.

What was going through your mind that night after having a needle in you?
I was actually remarkably calm. Even though the trip could have come to an end right there, I was pretty sensible. I took good advice, and let others be the judge of whether I could race, as I didn’t want to be a burden. That night, I was well enough to sit on top of the Skanunu van with Paul and talk into the dusk. I slept hard, and the next day, I was in my stinking race kit again within a minute of waking.

How did Paul help?
Paul just spent time. That’s all Paul needed to do. A ton of other folks helped as well, including Andy Andras (my IV king), Earl Stout (my Thor) and Ken from Skanunu (my sponsor).

What is a Skanunu and why does it have a van?
A Skanunu is an amazing lube company who have a Ken and a massive van driven by a Ken. He’s amazing.

lol. a lube company.
Shurrup you.

What was the highlight of the trip for you?
Too many to list! I think the main highlight was realising that I am part of something so huge and boundless. In the UK, ultra-distance used to be us breaking into lakes and skating round them, but thanks to everyone around the world doing their bit, the sport is healthier and happier than it’s ever been. Knowing that what I love is going to carry on for years to come is pretty much the highlight of my… ever!

Will there ever be a distance event/culture of this magnitude in the UK?
Yes! Yes there will! I’ve seen how awesome it can be, and I want everyone here to experience that rush.

How will you make this happen?
I will be there. However I’m needed and however I can be. I have a few ideas.

So how did you finish?
I came third overall in the girls according to a stopwatch that doesn’t take account of weather conditions, helping others overcome physical and mental barriers, being on an IV line, and nearly squashing venomous snakes! Don’t look at the time, look at the story behind the time.

How did the rest of the team finish?
Paul came first, and in the girls section, Anna came in after me with Maribeth and to be honest, that we all finished safe and sound is what I’m interested in. You’re not really bothered about much else when you’re skating a 94-mile day in a torrential rainstorm!

What’s the next race for you?
I’m not really a racer, journeys are more my thing, but I see that we have some fine events happening in the UK this summer and in Europe (the Dutch are up to stuff, I just know it) later this year. I’ll see how getting a teaching job affects the schedule, but it’s going to mean some sweet new lycra, that’s for sure.

As always, it’s been sweet talking to you Lozzy Loz Lozenge. See you next month?
If I can figure out how to untangle myself from the sweet new lycra, you’re on.

Thanks to:
Grant at Stoked Skateboards, Les at Rayne Longboards, the amazing Ken at Skanunu Brands, Dan at Seismic, the good people of Longboard Atlanta and beyond who helped get me there and Chadd and Georgia Hall, my American family.

Photo credits: Alex Mendez