Alex Hannigan’s passion for longboarding began when his brother first got a longboard; however, he never expected to become a professional in the sport.
Now, the Calgarian has had several Top 10 finishes in the International Downhill Federation race circuit over the past six years.
Longboard racing is the crazy cousin to skateboarding; the extreme sport requires racers to speed down hills and drift through corners at speeds of up to 147 kilometres an hour, on skateboards of 36 to 40-inches.
“Skateboarding would be more on flat ground or half pipes, where someone can jump up and grind,” explains Hannigan. “A longboard is designed to reach high speeds and has wheels that are a lot softer and larger.”
Fellow Calgary longboarder Liam Paterson says Hannigan “eats, sleeps and breathes longboarding.”
“It’s almost kind of scary how often he’s on his board,” Paterson says. “But I think a dedication like that is something that shows true passion.”
Hannigan’s accomplishments also include winning a coveted sponsorship from Landyachtz, a Vancouver-based manufacturer of skateboards and longboards. The sponsorship covers race fees, fresh wheels for the competition, and accommodation and travel to various races.
At speeds faster than 100km/hr, Hanningan must wear a leather racing suit, leather gloves, and a full-face helmet. While he has crashed and suffered relatively minor injuries, he’s never required an ambulance.
“I haven’t broken any bones at all, nothing. That may be surprising to some people,” Hannigan says with a chuckle. “But, I have had a lot of road rash; I’ve lost a lot of skin.”
Hannigan adds that he’s received many of those scrapes and road rashes not in actual downhill races, but from practising and honing his longboard skills.
Now, as a sponsored rider, Hannigan makes promotional videos for Landyachtz, speaks as a spokesperson for their boards, and in turn gets sent to races and events happening around the world.
The Landyachtz sponsorship has been an exciting and unexpected journey for Hannigan, which started when his friends brought him to Royal Board Shop in northeast Calgary. The shop hosts weekly clinics that help longboarders of all skill levels progress and learn the basics.
Hannigan began helping out with these weekly sessions, which eventually led to a sponsorship with Royal. When a Landyachtz representative visiting the region noticed a high number of sales at Royal Board Shop and wanted to sponsor someone in Calgary, Hannigan’s name was the first to be mentioned.
“I had already bought a lot of Landyachtz boards from Royal. That was how it all started with Landyachtz.”
The company began sponsoring Hannigan in 2012.
Since the summer of 2017, he has had his own pro-model board called the “Cheese Grater,” which is named for him and sold in stores worldwide.
“I like to think of this board as a snowboard for the pavement,” he says. “It’s pretty much the only board I’ve been riding since it was made. So, it’s definitely satisfied me.”
The Cheese Grater was designed by Hannigan; he chose the shape, standing platform, specifications, name and overall mould of the board.
“It’s been a blast working on this board and just seeing my ideas come into reality, and turn into objects that people can enjoy around the world.” -Alex Hannigan
While the original Cheese Grater isn’t yet two years old, Hannigan promises a second version should be out this summer, following final testing.
Meanwhile, Hannigan says he differentiates himself from other sponsored racers by focusing on how much he enjoys the sport – speaking about it makes him smile wide and laugh contagiously.
“Getting sponsored wasn’t ever on the top of my priority list,” he says. “I think that separates me from a lot of people that get into this sport. I was more interested in going out after school on a nice day and just having fun with my friends skating.”
Hannigan’s younger brother, Adrian Hannigan, describes Hannigan as a “character,” saying his personality, dedication, and drive were some of the reasons Landyachtz was attracted to him.
“He doesn’t stop — he’ll keep going until he’s nailed something or until he’s satisfied,” says Adrian. “He’s always doing crazier stuff than other people, to say the least.”
When the two were younger, the brothers competed in other fast-paced sports at a high level.
“We both used to ski jump and throw ourselves off 125-metre jumps,” recalls Adrian, adding that his brother has always had the adrenaline-junkie attitude towards life.
Along with showing others how much fun downhill longboarding is, Hannigan also hopes to address common misconceptions about the sport.
For instance, he says observers often believe downhill racers are acting dangerously and will become out of control.
“That’s completely false,” he maintains. “We can slow down faster than a bike, depending on how soft your wheels are. In reality … longboarders are really concerned about safety because our sport has a lot of high risks.”