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An airborne ligiron racer sails across the finish line where competitors are compelled to complete the race by launching their traditional carts off a 15-foot-high ramp toward typically hard landings 20 to 30 feet down the trail.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

A racer smiles despite scraped knees at the conclusion of a race near the mountain community of Valencia. Injuries are common in the Filipino version of the luge, though few competitors use protective gear.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

A participant does a face plant after completing a race by launching his cart off a 15-foot-high ramp toward a hard landing.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

A young man wearing headgear fashioned from a volleyball prepares to propel down a mountain trail. Despite the inherent dangers of rapidly scooting down tree-lined trails aboard traditional bamboo and wooden carts, few adherents of the local extreme sport wear any actual protective gear.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

A boy begins a 700-yard hike up the sloping foothills of a dormant volcano to the starting line.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Hersley-Ven Casero

A figure of the animated Disney character Stitch serves as a hood ornament for one of 54 competitors in a recent race in the volcanic mountains above the community of Valencia.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Benzi Florendo

A mountain villager was about 1,000 people who gathered to watch a race.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Hersley-Ven Casero

A racer with facial abrasions remains unbowed and holds a Philippine flag as he recuperates from a crash at the finish line.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

A crowd gathers at the finish line.


Nicky Dumapit, 37, is an artist, activist and environmentalist. He got the inspiration to organize ligiron races after a visit to the slopes above Velancia where he saw children using the traditional bamboo and wooden carts to scoot down mountain roads. In the year since, child's play has morphed into a local extreme sport.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

A rider gains momentum about midway through the course.


An airborne racer soars across the finish line. This is where a majority of spills, mishaps and injuries occur in the new Filipino extreme sport of mountain luging.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

A racer zips down a twisting and muddy 600-meter mountain trail.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

A racer grimaces on impact after completing a race.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

A racer stirs a pot of goat's head soup for a post-race meal.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Benzi Florendo

Ligiron are hand-made carts made of bamboo and wood milled and carved by farmers in the mountains above Valencia. The traditional wagons are used to transport supplies and produce in the rugged terrain. They have been adapted by local youths for luge-style racing down steep and often dangerous jungle trails.


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By Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

The sloping, misty foothills of a dormant volcano called Mt. Talinis is probably the least expected place to discover a budding extreme sport. Amid the thick, green forest you can see steep mountain faces jutting skyward. The plants and soil are always wet and muddy, and you can almost feel the jungle exhale its warm, humid breath.

Out of nowhere, a cart fashioned from bamboo and wooden wheels zips down a narrow dirt trail, a young man aboard wearing a lucha libre mask and dangling an unlighted cigarette from his lips.

“It’s Mysterio!” someone shouts as cart and rider disappear around a bend down the hill.

Welcome to the world of ligiron racing, which in the last year has become wildly popular among the locals who live around the town of Valencia in the Visayan Islands region of the Philippines.

In addition, the sport is fast becoming an Internet sensation through videos showing the thrills, chills and spills of contestants scooting downhill aboard makeshift carts that look as if designed by Fred Flintstone.

A traditional ligiron is a small native cart used by hillside farmers to transport items such as baskets of fruit and 5-gallon gas cans filled with potable water. It is made of indigenous materials, including bamboo and milled forest lumber. Land luge is a description used by locals for what ultimately looks something like a prehistoric version of the classic Radio Flyer children’s wagons.

Attached by leather straps to a 3-by-1-foot bed of bamboo slats are thin wheels, cut from tree trunks and treaded by rubber salvaged from bicycle tires. Tillers carved from stout branches turn the front wheels, enabling a rider to steer left or right. Ligiron do not have brakes.

On a recent Sunday, more than 1,000 spectators gathered for a race celebrating the sport’s official founding the year before. Fifty-four riders, ranging in age from 8 to the 20s, competed in the morning event.

Like anything that attracts a crowd, ligiron hasn’t escaped the eye of local politicians, who took turns giving speeches and delaying the event start by about an hour. Many touted ligiron’s potential as a tourist attraction. Some called for spreading race events across the archipelago.

Nicky Dumapit, a well-known local artist, activist and environmentalist, started ligiron racing in 2013. Dumapit, 37, is charismatic and sports a grass-roots fashion sensibility of bead necklaces and string bracelets. His hair is dark and long, and he wears a Technicolor head scarf beneath a crash helmet fashioned from a coconut husk.

He travels the country, sometimes walking miles barefooted, to espouse preservation of the ecology. He saw kids playing with ligiron on a visit to the mountains and soon had them racing the carts through winding forest trails.

Ligiron uses no gasoline, oil or petroleum products,” he said. “We’re proud to show people our natural heritage and traditions.”

The crowd did not leave disappointed. The runs down the 600-meter-long course kept a brisk clip, with some riders topping out at 16 mph on steeper segments. Most spectators gathered at the end, forming a wide semicircle around a small hollow.

Above the mass, two trees about 12 feet apart framed a 15-foot-high ramp that propelled ligiron riders into the air and across the finish line. A pair of trees in the landing zone appeared to be too close to the riders’ projected flight paths. Hazards abounded even though few riders wore helmets or protective gear.

Some competitors remained airborne for 25 to 30 feet. Some experienced epic crashes and face plants, their ligiron landing hard, bending almost to a breaking point, and violently snapping their heads back upon impact.

The crowd thrilled and laughed at every mishap, with several riders doing a replay of legendary daredevil Evel Knievel’s unforgettable crash and bone-breaking roll across the plaza at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. Despite the muddy forest floor that served to slightly soften a rider’s return to ground, some of the crashes definitely had to hurt as bad as they looked.

At the event’s conclusion, the humidity reached 100% and rain began to fall. The air smelled of wet earth. Three smiling young men stood on a stage and posed for pictures with simple trophies resembling ligiron wheels. The prize money amounted to $150 for the winner, $100 for second place and $50 for third. Each also was awarded a new pair of mountain biking shorts.

Thankfully, apart from some minor cuts, facial abrasions and sore backs, nobody was seriously injured.

Luis Sinco is a staff photographer for the Los Angeles Times who recently spent time in the Philippines teaching photography.

The South Pacific Photo Workshop was founded in 2013 by Sinco and Armando Arorizo, owner of the Perfect Exposure Gallery in L.A. We hold seminars in Dumaguete City, Philippines, and seek to foster cross-cultural understanding and a sense of community among participants. The workshop’s mission is to promote human empowerment through visual imagery.

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