On Nov. 11, 29-year-old Ferndale resident Ryan Farmer won their second street luge world championship at the 2022 World Skate Games in Argentina as a member of the U.S. Downhill Skate Team. Traveling down winding roads at breakneck speed while lying on a platform on wheels, Farmer is now officially the best in the world at a sport many have never heard of — they are working hard to change that.
Farmer started downhill racing as a teenager. Growing up in Southern California, they used a skateboard as daily transportation. Regularly commuting around their hometown on a board, they met people who taught them how to control their speed going downhill. Just like that, Farmer was hooked. "Downhill skateboarding is basically a cheap way to high-speed race," they say. "It helped me turn my passion for speed into something that would give me truly amazing life experiences and lessons without breaking the bank."
As Farmer got deeper into downhill skating, street luge was a natural next step; the main difference being that a street luge is modified so that the racer lies down, as in the winter racing sport from which it takes its name. "I like my skateboarding to be free flowing and all about having a good time. I prefer competing in street luge because it's more precise racing and has higher speeds," says Farmer, whose personal record luge speed is 85 miles per hour.
Calling the sport professional is a bit of a stretch, Farmer explains with a laugh, as there is little money in it. Regardless, their love for racing grew and they raced during the summers while working the rest of the year. In 2017, they spent the year competing internationally. After gaining multiple podium placements and setting track records around the world, they took their first world championship. Despite this success, they say they went into 2017 with the plan to move to Humboldt County to attend school and compete locally at the end of the year. So, after winning the world championship, that's just what they did.
Farmer settled in Ferndale, taking classes in forestry and natural resources at College of the Redwoods. They became a local fixture at Mind's Eye Manufactory and Coffee Lounge, sharing photos, processing film and selling specialized cameras. In fact, it was through generous fundraising at Mind's Eye that they were able to travel to Argentina to compete in this year's world championship races.
Street luge gives Farmer opportunities to see the world and be part of a tight-knit tribe of global racers and spectators. The sense of community is so great that when Farmer's expensive street luge was lost in transit — twice — before the trial races in Argentina, people from all over the world worked together to source a new one. "People went out of their way to drive many hours and fly expensive equipment to me so that I have a luge. It is truly mind boggling the support from people worldwide who I had no relations with and now they are lifelong friends. There aren't that many sports that provide that kind of community and support."
In addition to being a competitor, Farmer is also a race organizer and a strong advocate for their sport to gain a foothold in the Olympics. "Now that skateboarding is an Olympic sport, it paves the way for other aspects of skating to make their way in, too. I'm working to lay the foundation for the next generation to be in the Olympics," they say. "Our community is proving that our sport can bring in the numbers and the athletes. I have fans around the world now, which is honestly really strange and kind of crazy to say. Because I am just some kid from Humboldt County who likes to go fast."
True to their vision of expanding street luge, Farmer is preparing to host a race event in Humboldt County in 2023. Although they have yet to disclose the venue, they promise the road they have in mind presents a beautiful, world-class hill and incredible forest views. They hope it will showcase the best our county has to offer for the whole world to see. "It's a great opportunity to experience the sport in person and there will be people from all over the world coming to see our beautiful county."
Tamar Burris (she/her) is a freelance education writer and relationship coach. Her book for children of divorce A New Special Friend is available through her website www.tamarburris.com.