PORT ORCHARD — In some ways, the life of 15-year-old Jobe Androckitis is far different from that of his athletic peers.
While most students spend their time after school practicing on the track or the turf field, the Port Orchard cyclist is off on the trails with his mountain bike, getting stronger, building up his endurance and preparing for his next big race.
But these weekend competitions are not what you think — there are no paved roads with steep inclines and declines like in the Tour de France, and he’s not on a motorized bike like you might find in the X Games.
This is aggressive, fast downhill racing on trails — if you can call them that — filled with potential hazards such as rocks, trees, sharp, sudden drops and big 30-foot gaps that need to be cleared in order to reach the finish line. Riders, in fact, reach speeds of 50 miles per hour.
Though he only started racing two years ago, Androckitis is already part of a regular circuit called the Northwest Cup and is the top-ranked rider there with just a couple of races left in the season. In six races, he has finished first three times and second twice. It’s even more impressive, considering he’s one of the youngest racers in the 15-18 age category.
Androckitis got his start riding around the 360 Trails in Gig Harbor, where some local racers took him under their wing. The racing community is tight-knit, where you get to know other riders pretty quickly. It also helped Androckitis make connections and enter into larger races.
“I just started riding and I really enjoyed it,” said Androckitis, who recently competed in a much larger race in Whistler, British Columbia, that draws in talent from all over the world.
“And then I started doing some training and found about racing, so I went for it.”
But anyone familiar with his early life would be surprised to see he’s now a mountain bike racer. His father still remembers well Jobe’s first experience on a bicycle. It did not go well.
“We were stationed in San Diego and all of us got new bikes,” said his father, Ray, who is retired from the Navy. “He rode it once, cried and he was done. So we never thought he would be on a bike. He hated it.”
These days, that bicycle takes Jobe to various parts of the Pacific Northwest and Canada. His first two Northwest Cup races were in Port Angeles, followed by Mount Hood in Oregon, Tamarack Bike Park in Idaho, Stevens Pass and Silver Mountain in Idaho.
Later in the summer, he plans to race in Southern California and Nevada, as well as part of different circuits, including Crankworx, which spans the globe, and the Fox U.S. Open.
It’s not a sport for the faint of heart, at least at its most difficult levels. As in skiing, the degree of difficulty in the courses does vary, allowing more inexperienced racers to be introduced into the sport. And the racers wear some pretty heavy protection — neck braces, chest protectors and helmets specifically made for downhill racing.
“Some of the courses are so steep and super rocky,” Androckitis said. “If you’re off to the right or left, you’re going to fall and get hurt pretty bad. [There are] 200-foot cliffs and people do fall. There are some rock rolls in Canada that are 70-degree drops.”
But you can’t spend too much time thinking about the obstacles that lay ahead. Fixating on each tight turn or wide gap will surely end in disaster. It takes a calm mind and quick reflexes to keep yourself upright and rolling.
“I just have fun with it — that’s basically it,” Androckitis said. “I just try to stay calm and have fun.”
Mark Krulish is a reporter for Kitsap News Group. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @MKrulishKDN.