words and captions: T. Bird
photos: Aaron Blatt
Imagine this: you're a young kid, and you love snowboarding. (That shouldn't be too hard to pretend as we all were at some point.) You're talented and you show some promise, but really all you aspire to do is snowboard as much as you possibly can. (That too should be easy, because many of us were of a similar ideology when snowboarding as much as you possibly can was actually a possibility.) And then, in the literal blink of an eye, it's all taken away from you. A spinal cord injury seemingly closes the door to your dream and your passion. That is what happened to Bend, Oregon local Tyler Eklund about seven years ago. Seriously. Just imagine that.
Now imagine your entire community rallying around you for the seven years that have passed, wanting nothing more but to help you not just relive those days long gone but also to help further advance your current dreams, the ones that you were forced to change, the ones that you are currently striving toward. Imagine an acclaimed snowboarder from your town organizing a grassroots event with the intention of bringing your community—your family, friends, and a smattering of strangers—together to support you to raise money and awareness while blanketing your scene with some much-needed annual stoke to kick off their season.
That is a reality up here in Bend, Oregon, where Josh Dirksen brought about the idea of organizing the Dirksen Derby, a banked slalom event open to the public, with all profits going to Tyler, a kid who holds a special place in a special community's heart. It really is a beautiful thing, and since its inception, it has become one of the year's preeminent go-to events, drawing some of the biggest names in snowboarding, both former and current.
The Dirksen Derby's objective is simple. Come up, snowboard, race, reunite with friends, and laugh. That's all there really is to it, and it's something that I personally think we need more of in an era where retention rates are a scary prospect in our culture's future. This year, some of the more notable riders in attendance were Temple Cummins, Bryan Fox, Austin Smith, Curtis Ciszek, Jake Blauvelt, Iikka Backstrom, Marie-France Roy, Annie Boulanger, Forrest Burki, Lucas Debari, Desiree Melancon, Hans and Nils Mindnich, Spencer Schubert, Jason Robinson, Blair Habenicht, Tim Eddy, Blake Paul, Shayne Pospisil, surf legend Gerry Lopez and his son Alex, Chris Roach, Shaun Palmer, and of course, Dirksen himself.
Two hand-dug courses provide the event's action with the lane on rider's right labeled as the "Red Course," a tight, switchbacked ribbon winding through the trees, and on the rider's left, the "Green Course" which is more open and allows for the participant to open 'er up a bit more. The rules were simple. Qualify on Saturday with one run on a choice of either course, and then if you're lucky enough to make the finals, riders are forced to run both courses and the best combined time wins.
Those who qualified in the Men's, Women's, Gentlemen's, Older & Wiser, and Groms divisions were granted a finals run on Sunday. The Elite category also took their finals runs on the same day, but didn't race Saturday. The Red Course provided much of the action, though those who ran the Green Course with obvious speed garnered a lot of noise form the crowd of over a few hundred people huddled in the woods watching.
Banked slaloms are great because it is so simple. There's no style judge, no execution judge, none of that. The basis of a banked slalom is the person who wins is the person who turns their snowboard the most efficiently, and between the aforementioned roster of riders, there was plenty of unbelievable snowboarding. Personally, highlights for me were watching Temple, Palmer, and Roach run the course, but also witnessing Tim Eddy do a method over the mandatory double and then cut the remainder of the gates and take a highly-cheered DQ run, while Austin Smith one-upped everyone with a back 180 over the double and ran the rest of the switchbacks switch. Other riders of note were Nils Mindnich, who nuked through the course and drew a huge reaction from the crowd, as well as Blair Habenicht who seemed to defy physics and gain speed through the corners.
In the end, the times were in and the awards were given out, and the results were:
1. Harry Kearney
2. Lucas Debari
3. Curtis Ciszek
1. Nils Mindnich
2. Kyle Miller
3. Logan Bileau
1. Marie-France Roy
2. Colleen Quigley
3. Desiree Melancon
1. Gabe Toyafre
2. Adam Haynes
3. Forrest Burki
1. Amy Wadley
2. Angela Wilson
3. Marie-France Roy
However, this event isn't about times, trophies, and notoriety. It's about Tyler, and that was never more evident than seeing the hundreds in attendance cheer for five minutes straight as Tyler—with the help of some Bachelor employees—made his way down the course. It was a truly touching moment that everyone understood the importance of, because Tyler was once again back on the hill, with the wind blowing across his face as he picks up speed around the banked corners, and a massive smile from ear to ear. Seriously. Just imagine that.
SNOWBOARDER would like to thank Josh Dirksen, Mt. Bachelor, Tyler Eklund, and all of the participants and onlookers for reinforcing in us the notion that small, core communities and grassroots events like Band, Oregon and the Dirksen Derby are helping snowboarding more than we can ever explain.
For the full results, go to mtbachelor.com.