Pirates, racing cars and cold snow: cardboard toboggan races return to Guangzhou
February 19, 2022 —
Luge and bobsledding were big draws at the Winter Olympics, but Canton has its own sledding sport that has become a hit.
The 5th Annual Cardboard Toboggan Races took place on a recent Saturday morning on the SUNY Canton campus.
The day was sunny and very cold, with temperatures barely above zero. The Diop family arrived early to practice on the competition springboard. Ena is nine years old. She is the eldest of the four Diop sisters. She admitted that she wasn’t really involved in building their sled.
“My dad did most of the cutting,” she said with a chuckle. “I really like how it turned out.”
Dad is Abdoul Diop. He assembled the rectangular box in which the girls will run.
“We just used what we had and just arrived [with] that’s how it is.” Diop laughed and said he had no previous experience building sleds. He said there was no snow where he grew up, but his girls grew up in the winters of the north of the country.
Mum, Lauren Diop, said the girls named the team after dad’s West African origin. “They called themselves the Sparks of Senegal,” she said.
She saw an ad about cardboard sled racing and suggested they try it. Ena and her sisters immediately boarded.
“I really like sledding,” Ena said.
The girls got into their sled and lined up like bobsledders to descend the hill. But, they quickly slipped off the course, marked with blue paint. They got off their sled and started up the hill. The parents laughed and Abdoul got down to snatch their toddler from the snow, slipped her under his arm and brought her back to wait for the races to start.
As the Diop sisters huddled together, 6-year-old Josiah Davis inspected her cardboard creation nearby.
“Basically,” he said. “[It’s] got an American flag here. Kid Davis, some taillights and a bunch of Buzz Lightyear stickers inside,” he detailed the sled’s decorations and features, including a wide stripe of red believed to be “fake blood.” drawn inside his sled with an ink marker. “I’m just trying to keep people out,” he explained.
Josiah, the Diop sisters and others said they do a lot of sledding on this hill. This gives Josiah confidence.
“Basically I just try to win as much as I can,” he said just before lining up for the race.
The other sleds in competition came in all sorts of shapes and sizes, and all were made of cardboard. There was a bee, a racing car, a pirate ship and a winter boot.
At the start line, a race official explained the simple rules – basically, just cross the finish line. Also, have fun.
So when the sleds fell apart or just stopped in the snow, the riders used their feet and hands. Sometimes they looked more like they were swimming in the snow instead of sledding on it.
They received a lot of encouragement from the spectators. Some were shouting encouragement to drag or push the soggy remains of cardboard sleds across the finish.
The sleds raced in sets of two. In the first run of the day, both riders experienced equipment malfunctions; their sleds collapsed. Then comes the time for the Diop sisters’ race.
“We have a pirate ship and the Senegal Sparks coming down now. Oh, and it looks like the Senegal Sparks have taken the lead,” shouted finish line official Kayla Edmunds, calling the action like a play-by-play announcer. “Ah, my boy! Oh! Oh my God! Wow! They arrive so hot across the finish line miles ahead of the other competitors. Unfortunately, the structural integrity of the pirate ship is not strong enough to descend the hill.”
It’s over in less than 10 seconds. Some sleds were hit by a wall of snow as they rolled down.
Later, Josiah repeated Sister Diop’s success. He got off his sled at the finish and dusted himself off. He clearly felt the effects of the wind chill factor, forecast at -5 degrees.
“I had a pile of snow on my face, so cold,” was his immediate reaction.
Race official Kayla Edmunds offered an analysis of the fast speeds some runners were able to achieve in cardboard. “I think the key to their success was definitely the duct tape all over the bottom of their sled. They went down so fast,” she said.
Josiah, the Diop sisters and all of the younger competitors collected prizes at the top of the hill. They received gift cards, calendars and other stuff.
Before heading to another race, Josiah reflected on his first cardboard luge race.
“It was what I planned to do, so it was the best thing of my life,” he said.