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Rye's Hwang performs at nationals

Apr. 12—Callen Hwang was drawn to the adrenaline rush.

The 14-year-old from Rye tried every snowboarding competition when she was young — she first started riding at age 2 — but rail jam and slopestyle quickly became her disciplines of focus.

Hwang won the rail jam in the 11-14-year-old girls division and was the runner-up in the girls 13-14-year-old division at the United States of America Snowboard and Freeski Association (USASA) National Championships at Copper Mountain in Colorado at the end of March.

Both competitions are freestyle snowboarding events, which involve landing tricks on rails, ramps or other man-made objects on the course.

Competitors can take as many runs as they want in rail jam within the set time limit for the event.

"For the rail jam, I just like the aspect of trying to get as many hits (runs) as you can and it's just a fun event," Hwang said. "I like the creative aspect of it as well.

"With slopestyle, I like coming up with a run. Sometimes it doesn't go your way, but it feels amazing when you stop your run. It's nice to see what you came up with come to life."

Hwang started competitive snowboarding around age 8 and began focusing primarily on the rail jam and slopestyle disciplines when she was in sixth grade at Killington Mountain School in Vermont.

Killington Mountain School incorporates skiing and snowboarding while offering college-preparatory academics. Hwang is now a freshman at Stratton Mountain School in Vermont, which is similarly structured to Killington's school.

During the winter sports season, Hwang snowboards every day at Stratton Mountain School. She also plays soccer in the fall, lacrosse in the spring and surfs year-round.

"I think being able to ride every day definitely helps a ton because the more you can ride, the better you're going to get," Hwang said. "I think having some great coaches has definitely helped and having the freedom to snowboard every day and be able to travel to competitions and training and stuff without (missing classes) is definitely a weight off my back."

Hwang, who trains at Mount Snow in Vermont, competes on the USASA Southern Vermont Series circuit during the season. This winter, she finished ranked first on the circuit in slopestyle. Between all the disciplines she competed in, Hwang recorded eight top-three finishes, including four wins.

In her last competition before leaving for nationals, Hwang won the women's overall title at the 22nd annual Last Call with Eastern Boarder at Loon Mountain in Lincoln on March 25.

Last Call is the largest and longest-running snowboard event on the East Coast.

This season marked Hwang's third straight in which she received an invitation to the prestigious event.

"It's called 'Last Call' because it was always the last big event of the season after the (old Burton) U.S. Open and all the pros are still out from those bigger events that were just happening a couple days before," Hwang said. "It's always been a pretty big event and I've watched it since I was younger and always wanted to compete in it."

Hwang said she used Last Call and Homesick, another competition held last month in Stratton, Vermont, where she took second in both the rail jam and retro pipe, as her pre-nationals training. She also flew out to Colorado a week early to practice on Copper Mountain courses.

Hwang won the rail jam with a score of 1,220 after landing advanced tricks like a back lipslide on a down rail and a back board pretzel on another down rail.

A back lipslide is a move by a rider to grind the middle of the snowboard on the rail while backwards, then comes off the rail in the switch position (riding with the non-dominant foot forward). A back board pretzel is when a rider performs a backside boardslide (grinding on the rail with their back foot) on a rail before coming off the rail with a 270 spin, landing the opposite way in which they came onto the rail.

During practice before her first slopestyle run at nationals, Hwang fell on her face and got a bloody nose, "but it ended up working out and it was all good," she said.

As part of her first slopestyle run, the best of her two in which she earned 1,250 points, Hwang landed a switch frontside 540, called a cab, into a frontside 360 and backside 360, both with a tail grab. South Lake Tahoe, California, resident Gabriella Boday won the event with a score of 1,360.

Before each of her national runs, Hwang did a special handshake with Tobin Twelves, one of her coaches, and the latter hyped her up by playing the song "Fergalicious" by Fergie.

"I definitely wanted to just land a run in slope(style) and put down some tricks that I was proud of in rail jam," Hwang said, "so I think I definitely accomplished that and more."

ahall@unionleader.com