BOSTON - Luke Webb was drinking beer and watching television a few years ago when he first saw Red Bull Crashed Ice.
“I thought: ‘that looks easy, I want to try it,’” he said in an interview on the field at Fenway Park Friday night.
A large, downhill ice course is hard to come by in Australia, so the chemical and metallurgical engineer took an extended vacation to Canada -- bunked with a friend for a while -- and tried out for ice cross downhill.
“It wasn’t easy,” he clarified.
It’s a sport similar to downhill snowboard races, but it’s done on ice skates and in hockey pads. Friday night, the relatively young sport crashed into Fenway Park for a spectacle of downhill ice skate races and freestyle trick competitions.
People like Luke Webb have spent the past decade converting ice hockey skating experience -- or in his case, inline hockey -- into the skills necessary to navigate sharp turns, steep drops and jumps along the downhill ice courses set up all over the world.
There’s now a point structure and a championship that govern a roughly three-month season from December to March.
Red Bull joined on as a major sponsor, putting on its signature ‘Crashed Ice’ events as 1,000-point milestones in the season. This year, Fenway Park is the only 1,000-point ice cross downhill event in North America.
A sparse turnout Friday night saw the qualified field whittled down for Saturday’s finals.
But along the boards at the bottom of the track were the faithful fans cheering for every competitor as they tumbled across the finish.
That’s where Grace Fisher and Lauren Palm were bundled up and cheering their significant others across the finish line.
Grace Fisher’s husband, John, has been an ice cross athlete for eight years -- since a friend told him to check out an open tryout.
Now, the nuclear engineer from Toronto spends the winter months traveling around to these events in his spare time.
Some of the top racers in the world, like current world number one Cameron Naasz, will get sponsors to pay for travel and hotel rooms, but for many others, it’s almost just a hobby. Luke Webb saves up his vacation days and spends them all in the winter traveling to the events, an experience he says is incredible.
“To actually be on the track, this is the only place I’ve ever been where the noise comes at you...it’s like skating into a wall of noise,” he said. “I never ever dreamt I’d be inside Fenway Park, let alone competing.”
It’s an experience for those watching as well, Grace and Lauren have been to so many other events but say this is the first stadium race.
“The turnout is a lot better [these days],” Grace Fisher said. “Now, you can say it to your friends and they say, ‘oh I’ve seen that on TV or YouTube.’”
Wind chills in the teens kept the crowd bundled up and in the warmer concourse for the most part, but event organizers said they’re hoping for a bigger turnout for the finals.
Either way, the athletes seemed thrilled to be competing on a such a prestigious stage.
“It can’t even be a bucket list item,” Webb said. “Because I never thought it would happen.”
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