Jayden Mitchell, diligent, passionate, and focused, is climbing to the higher echelons of his growing sport and doing it with the poise of an equestrian jockey. Now, with the global circuit beckoning, the 17-year-old is putting senior international racers on notice.
I met with Jayden at the inaugural Mt Keira Downhill Challenge near Wollongong – the latest race inducted into the International Gravity Sports Association (IGSA) world circuit – last April. Then 16, Mt Keira was Mitchell’s first international event. He shocked many, first winning the juniors and only just missing the podium in the opens. The riders who edged him were US prodigy Alex Tongue, last year’s World Championship runner-up, Douglas Dalua and the 2011 World Champ himself, Patrick Switzer. “It was good. I found out I can keep up with them,” Mitchell says.
A week later, following his second IGSA event (Newton’s Nation in Bathurst) two international sponsors signed the teenager. With that money and support, Mitchell will take himself to Canada in August to compete in his third IGSA tournament. After finishing school next year, he plans to complete the entire world circuit and be the first Australian to win a downhill racing world title.
What’s his story?
As far as board-sports go, learning that a child has opted for skirring bitumen at more than 60km/h wouldn’t be a happy moment for a parent. “At the start, my parents were pretty sceptical, but Dad’s really come on board,” Mitchell says.
Aged eight, the quiet youngster started trampolining; at one stage receiving tutelage from Sydney Olympic medallist, Jai Wallace. It wasn’t for another five years, after long-boarding grew popular at school, that he dropped the Lycra and donned the leathers. Trampolining has helped teach Mitchell how to override his mind when it tells his body to go no further. “Like when you’re doing a back flip for the first time…you can prepare for it but you’ve just got to go for it, in the end.”
It’s astoundingly clear when watching the sport that these guys and girls have courage, but a successful downhill skateboarder requires more than just ‘a pair’. “When we’re training, we’re training with traffic so staying in your lane and controlling yourself in dodgy situations is exactly what I look for within a younger kid,” says Mitchell’s training buddy-cum-mentor, Leigh Griffiths. In the months prior to his successful international debut Mitchell built a few local wins from the control he’d proven on open-roads, carving out his own ‘style’ which, the sport’s experts say, is everything.
Finding practice locations is difficult for downhill riders because of the illegality of skateboards on the open road. Because the best tracks in ‘Radelaide’ (the name rider’s donned on the City of Churches referring to its dream cluster of tracks) are open roads, Mitchell and co. have had numerous run-ins with police. “They’re just saying we really need a big association, just a big group with insurance [in Adelaide],” Mitchell says. Mitchell has been involved in improving the sport’s image, on one occasion organising a sliding competition which raised more than $300 for the Women’s and Children’s Hospital.
Who’s he like?
Heavily involved in online forums and the clip-sharing craze endemic on YouTube, Mitchell is learning his trade in an environment which enables stylistic eclecticism. According to 2011 world number three, Aussie Jackson Shapiera, he’s harnessing the internet well. “Being a goofy foot…it’s hard to put his style next to someone else’s; it’s pretty unique. He’s said ‘alright, what you guys are doing – I want to do that too’. You get a unique mixture of personal styles…it’s working for Jayden.” Knowledge of the track is as important for downhill riders as it is Formula One drivers. Mitchell admits to being a skateboarding tragic in this sense. “I’m very technical when I race. I like to know the track. I analyse riders a lot.”
What do they say?
“You can sort of tell which youngsters are going to make it and Jayden’s definitely one of them,” Leigh Griffiths, Australian rider.
“I was having a chat to him just recently about how it really pays off to work for what you want. He likes to work, at the same time being polite and doesn’t seem to get a big head about him when he does well,” Jackson Shapiera, last year’s IGSA world number three.
“To do what he did at Keira, having never raced against that field, was really impressive,” Michael Bowditch, Australian rider.
By Keiran Deck
NB: this piece was written for Inside Sport, but Jayden is still a few wins off getting a look into their pages. We’ll be watching this space.