At the starting line, clad in leather armor, Marcie Morgan is sometimes serene, sometimes nervous.
She climbs on her skateboard and adopts the proper form: Body crouched. Chest forward, head up. Front foot forward, carrying her weight. Like a truck hauling a trailer, she’ll fishtail if her center of gravity is too far back.
Then, like a human torpedo, she’s off, flying downhill at highway speeds, speeding by other racers to reach the bottom of the hill. Locked into a high-speed dance with gravity, her only defenses are her suit and her skills.
“It’s very raw, real,” Morgan, 42, said. “You’re completely exposed, a little human being amongst the giant trees. … You have to push past the fear, watching the concrete fly by you, the scenery pass by so quickly, and knowing that if you fall at that speed you might break yourself.”
Downhill skateboarding is not for the faint of heart. But this Enumclaw resident — and two other west coast speedsters on her all-female gravity sports team called “Seven Seals Racing” — are about to put their already formidable skills to the ultimate test.
The three speedsters include skateboarders Morgan, in Enumclaw, and Alicia Fillback in Vancouver, Washington. Sabrina Riffenburg, in California, competes in street luge.
Even when you’re racing, “your biggest competitor is yourself,” Fillback said in a phone interview. “It’s an outlet for finding and pushing my physical limits within a really interesting, exhilarating activity.”
After years of training, the team has qualified to join Team USA’s 16-person Downhill Skate team, which competes this fall at the World Skate Games in Argentina. It’s the pinnacle for these sports, which are not yet part of the Olympic games.
But it nearly didn’t happen for Morgan. She sustained an ankle injury that precluded competing in the first of three qualifiers this year. Because of that injury, she only took ninth at the second qualifier the next week.
The appropriately named “Last Chance Race” in Vermont earlier this month was the final qualifier for the World Skate Games. Her entry was covered by her sponsor, the Seattle-based Motion Boardshop. But the flight and hotel costs were too steep, and Morgan, who’d just spent a lot of money moving, says she was prepared to let it go.
The matter came up during a conversation with a patron at Enumclaw’s Roaring Underground cocktail bar, where Morgan is a part-time bartender. That patron, a former longboarder himself, left Morgan a $500 tip, then came back and dropped another $250. (Other Roaring Underground employees confirmed the story.) The $750 was the push Morgan needed to afford the trip.
“I can’t even believe he did that,” Morgan said. “I did get a little teary-eyed.”
Morgan made it out to that qualifier, where she needed to take least fourth place to earn her spot on the team. Fourth is exactly where she placed, qualifying her to represent the United States in Argetina by the skin of her teeth.
NEED FOR SPEED
Morgan has lived in Enumclaw since she was 13, and has worked and snowboarded at Crystal Mountain. But she only started skateboarding about six years ago at 36.
She got into downhill skateboarding with the help of her son Morgan Crofford — at the time, he was a young teenager, asking his mom to haul him off to hills in the area so he could test his speed.
They started watching downhill longboarding videos on Youtube, sparking a passion for the sport in both of them. Crofford upgraded his gear and tightened up his game, going to races with his mom as his cheerleader and supporter.
He eventually moved away from competing, and as his mom got interested in racing, Crofford “laid down (his) board” and became her informal coach.
Crofford attributes his mom’s meteoric rise through downhill skateboarding to her pure passion for the sport — a feeling they shared.
“It’s like once you realize you’re in love with something, and it’s yours to have, then no one can stop you,” Crofford said. “It’s really a very spiritual experience. … Not a lot of sports are just you, and the earth, and the people around you. You can feel gravity pulling you down. It’s like you’re plugged into a circuit.”
When she takes off, Morgan is always thinking ahead, following the most efficient path down the hill. Then there’s the other racers: During a race, skateboarders often keep in each other’s slipstreams to reduce wind resistance, sometimes getting so close that they learn how to safely “bump” each other, Morgan said.
“That is the biggest thing I think of when I’m racing: What is my fastest line to the bottom of the hill, (and) how to safely maneuver around those other racers,” she said. “And sometimes there’s no thought at all. … It’s like an intuitive process that unfolds.”
It helps, then, that the other women at the starting line usually share an upbeat attitude.
“We tend to sort of give each other a hug, or a fist bump, some sort of confirmation that we’re all here to do the same thing, and we’re gonna kick some butt doing it,” Morgan said.
John Fletcher, a retired skateboarder, committee member of the USA Downhill Skateboarding team and former coach for the team in the 2019 Skate Games in Barcelona, Spain, confirmed Morgan’s placement on the team.
“Marcie has established herself as a competitive athlete,” Fletcher said. “I know her personally. She’s qualified, and a fantastic athlete.”
Barely two months away from competing on a world stage, Morgan is looking up video of the course and training with family to prepare. Her sister, a personal trainer, is helping her with conditioning while Crofford said he’s “basically her pit crew.”
“I have these visions of being on that hill,” Morgan said. “I watched those videos and imagine myself there, and it does seem unreal. … It’s going to be the world’s best athletes in our sport, and it’s mind blowing that at my age I’ll be skating with all of them.”
For his part, her son knew Morgan had it in her.
“I feel proud of her,” Crofford said. “I’m not surprised. … Mom has had this perseverance like no other to keep this dream going.”
FOR THE GIRLS
Morgan and the other members of Seven Seals started the team with the goal of bringing more “power and prestige” to the sport and to angle for their shot at the World Skate Games.
The biblical Seven Seals are part of the story of the Apocalypse in the Book of Revelation, which predicts the end of the world and the second coming of Jesus Christ. Morgan’s inspiration, however, comes from another interpretation of those seals, which casts them as sealing a “personal apocalypse” and radical growth that’s only unlocked as a person confronts their fears.
“Our slogan, our motto is Revelation through Speed, because every step of the way in our sport, there are different fears you have to face in order to level up, if you will,” Morgan said. “It’s like this in every sport. You have to continually push yourself to bring about that personal apocalypse that shows what we can achieve.”
Morgan’s enthusiasm has proven infectious. Fillback said she had “no plans” of trying to compete in the World Skate Games until Morgan approached and motivated her to strive for it.
Beyond their personal motivation, Morgan and her teammates want to carve out space for women and girls in a sport that Morgan says tends to be male-dominated. Eventually, Morgan said, that will include beginner classes, coaching, programs to get girls into the sport and possibly scholarships.
The goal is to “not only inspire more young girls and women to want to get into this sport, (but also) giving it more visibility, to benefit the sport as a whole,” Morgan said.
Fillback, who’s been involved in the sport for over a decade, says participation by women and girls sometimes seems to grow and sometimes seems to stall. What helps, she said, is media representation of women athletes and events centered around helping women and girls improve in the sport.
“I think events or clinics … that particularly invite women to come out and learn in a safe, inclusive, non-judgmental space is really beneficial and is growing the scene,” she said.
Of course, the sport also requires the money and free time to travel around the country and compete. That’s tough on its own, given how financially pinched people feel these days, Fillback said.
”I think part of that too is a lot of women are discouraged from skateboarding as kids so they don’t get into it until they’re older,” she said. “That’s the case with a lot of the women in the scene. It’s harder when you’re an adult and you have certain responsibilities. You don’t have time to go out and practice, or go to events.”
But it’s worth it to try, because one of the most rewarding parts of the sport is the community and the friends you make along the way, Fillback said.
“Seeing all your friends from out of town or even out of the country, and being able to skate together is a a really good feeling,” she said.
Looking forward, Morgan aims to grow Seven Seals into — appropriately — a seven-member team. Don’t break out an application form just yet, though, because membership is invite-only.
So if joining these women — or any other skate team — is your goal, your best bet might be to strap on a helmet, find some friends and hit the hills.
“We all have a creative side, a funky side,” Morgan said. “We’re all not afraid to get dirty, and gritty, and sweaty, and even a little bit beat up.”