Shai Gropper is speeding into the world of downhill skateboarding

Third-year engineering student Shai Gropper has been skateboarding for just under five years, and downhill (her speciality) for three and a half. Despite this, she’s competing for Team Canada at the International Skate Games in Italy this fall.

The first time Gropper got on a skateboard was at a friend’s place in 2019.

“I just stood on it and I was instantly hooked,” they said.

She started out by spending time getting comfortable with a board and watching a lot of YouTube, where she discovered downhill skateboarding. But, it wasn’t until they moved to Vancouver in 2020 that she “actually learned to do any proper downhill,” using power sliding on the pavement to brake and steer through friction.

“I discovered that there's a really strong downhill skateboarding scene in Vancouver, and a really old historic cultural one too in terms of like the global scale of longboarding,” they said.

Since then, Gropper has improved meteorically, achieving a self-professed top speed of 100 km/hr. Last year, she finished third in Canada for women’s downhill racing, qualifying her for Team Canada.

“It's a dangerous sport, but it's not done in a dangerous way,” Gropper said. Lauren Kasowski / The Ubyssey

To qualify was no easy feat. Gropper raced at the Maryhill Freeride in Washington state but, during the first day of the event, crashed with another rider and suffered a sprained shoulder. After seeing a doctor, they decided to keep competing in order to qualify.

“I then did my qualifying lap with my injury, which…hurt so much,” she said. “But that’s the only thing I really went down there to do.”

Despite the accident, Gropper said that downhill skateboarding races and events are the safest form because of precautions taken, like having EMTs present and enclosed routes. Outside races, the downhill community expects at minimum a helmet and slide gloves for safety, but spotters to watch traffic are also important.

“It's a dangerous sport, but it's not done in a dangerous way,” they said.

When not racing, Gropper teaches skateboarding to students in grades two through five in an after school program.

“Skateboard teaching [is] getting little kids to learn how to do the thing that I love so much and now they can love and they can be stoked for,” she said. “That’s honestly one of the most fulfilling parts of it.”

Gropper also mentioned that inclusivity, especially for beginners, is crucial for growing a stronger skating community, since people feel more comfortable with the skills they are learning.

Gropper shows off their skateboard.
Gropper shows off their skateboard. Isa S. You / The Ubyssey

As the first Trans woman to compete at the international level for downhill skateboarding, Gropper understandably feels some trepidation when entering races.

“There was a whole bunch of drama that went down and I ended up becoming aware of who was and wasn't an ally in this sport.”

“The scary part is that I’m going to these events, and not necessarily knowing if I’m gonna be welcomed, but then I get reminded that I have so many friends in this community, in the scene who support me,” Gropper said. “I can find a lot of solace and community in that."

At the end of the day, it’s her passion for skating that keeps her going.

“I’m just going to do this for me, not for anybody else.”

Ahead of Italy, Gropper is planning to prepare as much as possible, continuing to hone their form.

“There’s no skill cap — you can always get better.”

Between all the practice and going to the gym, Gropper is in it to win it with their eyes hopeful on a gold medal.

“I’m now the strongest that I think I’ve ever been in my life,” they said. “If I put enough work in and really push myself this summer and really go for it, I think it’s definitely doable.”

Gropper is in downhill skating for the long run.
Gropper is in downhill skating for the long run. Isa S. You / The Ubyssey

But regardless of race results or injuries, Gropper is in downhill skating for the long run.

“I want to consistently push myself to be better at skating, because it's fun and I enjoy it,” she said. “I want to see how far I can take it.”