St. George’s Skyler Howes conquers Dakar in historic rally, still thrives from local roots

ST. GEORGE — Skyler Howes is world famous. Words like prodigy, icon, legend and legacy are frequently used to describe the St. George native and Pine View High School graduate.

Skyler Howes greets fans at a celebration in his honor, St. George, Utah, Jan. 20, 2023 | Photo by E. George Goold, St. George News

The 30-year-old returned home from Saudi Arabia, where he placed third in the recently contested 2023 Dakar motorcycle rally. Howes became one of only five American riders to finish on the podium in the history of that prestigious event.

But his family will say that you’d never know it.

“He’s always my brother, always down to earth,” brother Mike Howes told St. George News, calling Skyler a family man who always makes time for family.

At a public celebration in his honor of his achievement last Friday night, Skyler’s trademark mustaches were twirled handlebar style. His smiles and greetings for friends and family were warm and genuine.

Skyler is the grandson and son of legendary riders. Mike said carrying on that tradition is important to his brother.

“I do think he thinks of it as carrying on the family tradition, paying homage,” Mike said, noting that Skyler sports his mighty mustache in homage to their grandfather.

Mike is a mechanic who worked on Skyler’s bikes sometimes when they were growing up. He remembers riding with family and enjoying it but not “focusing on it exclusively. It’s the one thing he (Skyler) wanted to do.”

Sister Krista Howes remembers family vacations when riding was always the family’s preferred activity. Now a high school teacher, she laughed and said all of her teenage students know her as Skyler Howes’ sister.

“Everybody at school knows who he is,” she said. “It’s my claim to fame.”

Krista agreed with Mike that their brother is “… still the same guy. He’s funny and laid back.”

However, Krista said she has an obligation in regards to their international superstar brother.

“It’s my job as sister to embarrass him, so I’m always telling him how great he is,” Krista said. “He doesn’t like everybody praising him, so I have to do it.”

Skyler’s mother Janet Howes put it this way, “On TV, he’s this big celebrity. At home, he’s still just my boy.”

She said it’s a little like being the mother of an Olympic athlete.

“But as my son I’ve lived with him and seen him all the time, so he’s kind of always the same to me,” Janet said. “He’s still my son.”

Skyler Howes and his mother Janet at a celebration in his honor, St. George, Utah, Jan. 20, 2023 | Photo by E. George Goold, St. George News

She added that she was a first-hand witness to the achievement of greatness.

“I saw the hard work and focus and relentless drive that he puts into this,” Janet said. “He knew early on that this is what he wanted to do, this was his passion. Now I understand people that have success. That’s what they need to have.”

The hometown hero was recognized by the City of St. George when it declared Nov. 4, 2022, to be Skyler Howes Day.

“That was a huge surprise when my mom told me about that,” Skyler told  St. George News. “That’s incredible though. It’s honestly one of my biggest accomplishments.”

He added that his St. George roots are even more significant in context of his recent third-place finish at Dakar.

“I mean, to become one of five Americans to ever finish on the podium, I’m extremely proud of that,” Skyler said. “But to have a day after me in my hometown means a lot, to have the support of my town.”

Skyler remembers learning how to ride a bike in the dirt lot that later became the Stadium 10 movie theaters. He said that he and his friends built dirt bike jumps in the then-empty lots across from Pine View High School.

“I grew up here, this is where I started riding dirt bikes, this is where I fell in love with the sport,” Howes said. “I think this town and this area and everything that it has to offer here is the reason why I’ve had success.”

He added that his background allowed him to enjoy life outdoors.

“It kind of put me on this path to accomplish what I’ve been able to accomplish,” he said.

Howes spoke of the mythic connection between man, motorcycle and desert. He experienced a pinnacle fusion of all three during Dakar, which he actually led after six of its 14 stages.

“In fact, Stage 3 was the best time I’ve ever had on a motorcycle in my life,” Howes said.

According to the Dakar website, Stage 3 required navigation through desert lands steeped in history. It traversed ancient commercial trade routes linking Europe to Asia.

“It was raining out. Living in the desert, rain is scarce. So riding in wet dirt is like, the dream of a motorcycle rider,” Howes said. “So it had just rained. The dirt was wet. We’re going through areas that are so similar looking to St. George and the surrounding area, but times 100.”

St. George resident Skyler Howes races across the desert in Saudi Arabia as part of the Dakar Rally, date unspecified, in this file photo | Photo courtesy of Skyler Howes, St. George News

He said the rock features, massive mountains and stone areas just didn’t seem real, noting that the dirt in Saudi Arabia was “super similar” to St. George so he felt right at home riding there.

“But on that day specifically it was overcast, the clouds were coming down over the mountains, we’re riding through these insanely beautiful areas,” Howes said. “It was the most crazy experience, and so hard to explain, OK, we’re racing through the desert at 100 miles an hour across terrain that no one has ever seen before.”

He added that when you’re racing a dirt bike, you don’t have much time to really take a look at your surroundings. But he said that sometimes, he still has to.

“That’s a part of something I set forth in myself, because I get to do something that is extremely rare and people don’t really get to do this,” Howes said. “I want to experience as much of it as possible. Yes, I want to win, but I also want to enjoy what I am doing.”

Howes is a natural desert rat.

“Growing up in the desert, you could take me out here into the local desert, blindfolded, spin me around a hundred times, take the blindfold off and I’d know exactly where I was without even hesitating,” Howes said. “Anytime I’m out in the desert I feel at home.”

In his life, Howes said, all paths lead back to the desert in and around St. George.

“That’s what my whole family started out as. It wasn’t about racing for us. It was just about going out on weekends, going camping with family and friends and everything,” Howes said. “This place has a special place in my heart. I’ve been able to travel around the world now and have been to some pretty incredible places, but everywhere I go I can’t wait to come back here.”

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