Some of the top inline speed skaters in the world will be competing Saturday at the Tacoma Armory as the National Speedskating Circuit kicks off its sixth season by crowning a grand champion.
One competitor is Brandon Hall, 22, who has been skating since he was 7 years old. The Federal Way man claimed the “Fastest Man on Skates” title in the circuit’s 2014 season.
He says that among competitive skaters, the NSC’s championship Saturday is a big deal.
“This is pretty much the highest you can achieve in indoors for our sport,” he said Tuesday during a break from a workout at the Pattison’s West rink in Federal Way.
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Inline speed skating became popular in the 1980s as an offshoot of traditional roller skating. Races are usually on a wooden floor around a 100-meter track with competitors skating closely together in a line.
Hall says he’s drawn to the speed of the sport.
“I love going fast and doing a non-traditional sport and being really good at it,” he said.
The NSC was founded in 2009 by Miguel Jose, 31, and Joey Mantia, 29, as a way to cultivate a community for the skaters. It is based in Edgewood, where Jose lives.
“It came more out of necessity than anything else,” Jose said. “It was just time for our sport to evolve and have its own platform. This is our version of the UFC or NFL.”
Mantia was an American Speed Skater of the Year before he switched to ice. His credentials have helped draw professionals to the NSC, according to Jose, who also has several inline speed skating titles to his name.
Saturday’s event will include 25 professionals, including four-time speed skating Olympian and Tacoma native KC Boutiette.
Boutiette, 45, grew up skating at Skate Tiffany’s rink in Puyallup. He decided to take up inline speed skating again at the age of 21. A few years later, he was the first professional inline speed skater to switch to ice. He made it to the Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway, in 2004 after only six weeks of training.
Boutiette, who now lives in Colorado, says he’s better on ice, but continues to participate in inline speed skating for fun. This is his second year skating in the NSC. He will be competing in the men’s sprint and endurance races.
“I know where I stand against these kids,” he said. “But I like to help out and stay involved in the sport.”
For the first time, nine women competitors will be among the skaters. They will be competing alongside the men for about $6,000 in prize money.
One of the women competing is Misha Averill, 24, of Puyallup. A recent American Indian studies graduate from University of Washington, she hopes to be a lawyer but skates professionally on the side.
She began skating when she was eight when her parents first took her to a roller rink.
“I loved skating but I wanted to go faster so I asked my parents for speed skates,” Averill said.
Averill and fellow competitor McKenzie Browne have been on Team USA for Roller Sports since 2011.
Browne, 19, is also training for Olympic track cycling but finds it hard to give up skating.
“I’ve known this group of skaters for a while now and look up to a lot of them,” Browne said. “I’m just not ready to give it up.”
Inline speed skaters want to see their sport represented at the Olympics some day. A bid to add it at the 2016 Rio games was unsuccessful, with the International Olympic Committee Executive Board choosing golf and rugby instead.
The challenge for inline speed skating, Jose said, is to create a larger fan base that will be appealing to the Olympic committee.
“All of the sports that they are letting into the summer Olympics are already established and have a financial model,” Jose said. “If we put this sport into the Olympics it has to sell out viewership.”
Jose hopes to draw 500 people to Saturday’s free event, which begins at 7 p.m..
“We bit the bullet and said ‘who cares.’ Let’s just get people to see it,” Jose said. “For us it’s about the love of it, not about the money.”