RDRC Interview with Longboarder Leonard Lee
Last month Red Dot Running Company ambassador Leonard Lee flew to Hong Kong to compete in "SBDW Distance Skate Race 6.0", not only winning the 21-kilometre event, but also breaking the course record. Longboard skateboarding is not wildly popular in Singapore – Leonard estimates there are around 200 active members of the long-distance push/pump (LDP) community – but there is plenty of opportunity for growth, thanks to a strong rider support network, plus plenty of paved cycling paths and park connectors on which to ride. We occasionally see LDP skaters in East Coast Park, where we do a lot of running, and damn, it looks fun, so after Leonard returned from Hong Kong, we thought we'd ask him some questions.
RDRC: How did you get your start in skateboarding?
LL: I learned to skate as a way to commute to school when I was studying in Australia, aged 17 (I'm 28 now) – there were quite a few hills that I thought would be fun to skate down! I continued skating at university so I could get to class within three minutes from where I lived, and after I returned to Singapore I found that I liked the convenience of going places with minimal effort (I was a swimmer and don't really love walking)! Plus, skating provides convenience that bicycles don't (for example, you can bring your board with you into classrooms or malls).
RDRC: How did you find your way to the long-distance push/pump (LDP) discipline?
LL: When I started skating in Australia, I had a strong interest in downhill skating, but did not have as much time as I would have liked to explore the discipline. And I did not really get serious about the sport until after I returned to Singapore, where obviously downhill skating is not a thing, hahaha. There are a few skate parks here, but the geography, plus my interest in traveling by skateboard, led me to LDP.
RDRC: When did you start racing LDP events, and how many events are typically organised in Singapore when there isn't a pandemic raging?
LL: I started competing just last year, and while the pandemic put a halt to some racing, that gave me the chance to learn and grow into the sport. Last year there was a 21-kilometre and a 42-kilometre race in Singapore, and I took 1st in the shorter event and 2nd in the longer one. In addition, there was an online virtual skate competition using GPS hosted by the Skate International Distance and Supercross Association (IDSA), in which I came in 13th overall globally. This gave me the confidence I needed to express interest in racing the toughest distance race in the world, Ultraskate.
RDRC: Tell us about Ultraskate.
LL: Ultraskate is a 24-hour race held 1 or 2 times a year either in the Netherlands or Miami, and the format is super-simple: the person who skates the farthest in 24 hours wins. I had plans to compete in one this year in the Netherlands but it was canceled. Hopefully, we will have a mini-ultra here in Singapore later this year!
RDRC: Talk us through the Hong Kong event, the SBDW Distance Skate Race 6.0.
LL: The race distance – 21 kilometres – is considered a sprint by LDP standards, and I hoped to finish in under an hour. The course consisted of four loops of a 3.75-kilometre technical route (here's my POV of the first 3.75 kilometres of the technical route), plus a final 6-kilometre straightaway, but the race was not held on a closed course, like the typical LDP event, so we had to look out for pedestrians and cyclists, which required a lot more technical ability, and what I would call "real-life skate skills". On race day, the temperature was similar to what we have in Singapore, and because I was not too familiar with the race route, my strategy was to follow the lead pack during the first part of the race to observe and learn. As it turned out, I was able to meet my time goal of finishing in under an hour, I won the race and I broke the course record! I was surprised and grateful for that, as it wasn't really the goal to go for the record; if I had known it was a possibility, maybe I would have gone harder and emptied the tank!
RDRC: What sort of preparation did you do for this race?
LL: Because the sport is so new, there are no professional teams that train together or conduct research, so I put together my training programme by researching what other skaters are doing, as well as listening to podcasts and watching videos put out there by endurance cyclists, triathletes and other athletes. I've incorporated elements from a lot of different sources, and those include interval training, zone 2 base-building, and pre-race tapering. My competitive athletic background has been in swimming and water polo, so endurance training has been pretty new to me. However, as is probably true for many people, the main challenge of training for races still boils down to finding time, and striking the right balance between work, family, life and my hobbies!
RDRC: In a "sprint" LDP race, do you have to worry about nutrition?
LL: I didn't have any trouble during the race, but I definitely could have managed my nutrition better. I had a Veloforte bar before the start, but I carried only one bottle of water, mixed with Tailwind, and because it was so hot, I emptied the bottle by the 13-kilometre mark. I skated the rest of the race without anything, which wasn't ideal; with better prep, I'm sure I would have performed better and in a more comfortable state!
RDRC: How about other gear, aside from your board?
LL: I skate in Xero Shoes, and for this race I wore the Xero Prio Neo shoes, the second generation of the original Prio. I have been using the minimalist Prio since before I started racing, and I have 100 percent faith in them. Trying the Neo in the race, I was not disappointed; they were a joy to skate in. I added my own extra insoles to cope with the vibrations on the road (Hong Kong paths aren't as smooth as the ones in Singapore; I even modified my board set-up to account for that), and the soles of the shoe really provided me with a good grip and allowed me to brake confidently on the technical sections!
RDRC: Where can people get information about LDP and maybe join a ride or meet-up? And how can people help get their kids interested?
LL: Casual Cruise Collective is one of the main groups that caters to both beginners and advanced riders. We hold group rides and hangout sessions on Tuesday nights and the weekends, and in the Instagram account there are links to the relevant group chats for anyone to join. I'm the admin of a few skate clubs/groups, and the number of active longboarders is growing, and especially grew during the pandemic. Further good news is that the cost of the sport has decreased, and there are more and more cycling routes in Singapore that provide great opportunities for long-distance skating. For instruction, the Longboard Academy provides lessons and organizes skate events/parties for kids. There's a strong emphasis on safety, and I think they offer a great way to explore the basics of each skating discipline. If you do get interested, and want to look at boards, I bought my first longboard – a Pantheon – at Thanelife, and the team there can talk newbies through the process of finding the right board.
RDRC: What's up next for you competitively, and what else is on your calendar this year?
LL: Now is the off-season, but I will be preparing for the IDSA virtual skate competition 2023. More generally, I would like to do more skate backpacking adventures or at the very least skate in as many countries as possible! What better way to explore a country than to use its connective infrastructure to get to places most tourists don't get to see! I have done most of the major cities in Australia and I have my sights set on Taiwan and Korea!
Thanks to Leonard for answering our questions. If you want to check out his 'Gram, go here. The first two photographs were shot right around the corner from Red Dot Running Company (sadly, the magenta couch has been taken away by the rubbish collection people) by Hong Kong-based photographer Lloyd Belcher, whose work you can find here.