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As I walked up, the music boomed and the beat sped into a thrashable frenzy. Inside Salida Skateboard Park's bowls, along the metal rim, and in the atmosphere slightly above, riders swooped and flew wildly. They rode the permanent waves to driving thunder while dancing the anti-gravity boogie. I stood there flat-out amazed. This wasn't anything like the days back when I used to surf concrete.
Back then, during the hot Indian summers of Oklahoma I usually sported a fresh scab on the outside of my right big toe. It was ugly. We didn't wear shoes to ride our $13 "Blue Light" special boards -- that would've been considered wimpy. The scab was a sign of courage, of freedom. It was the price, in my mind a reasonable price, to play. As one wiser once said, "If you can't handle the pain, don't play the game."
Skateboarding is a sport of tough grace. As I watched, Omar Hassen, the overall winner at Sunday's World Cup competition in Salida, crashed hard. He climbed out of the bowl and his wrist swelled, his eyes bearing witness to the pain. When the "jam" section of the finals began -- where several riders are in the bowls at the same time -- he grabbed his board and went back to work. No pain no gain.
Sunday capped three days of competition -- the first day was in Breckenridge with the final two days in Salida -- and brought about several mini-crashes but few, if any, long-term injuries. According to Adam Longnecker, Director of Events for Velocity, the event's promoter, "They're a tough bunch. Falling is just part of boarding."
Our course, back some 25 years ago, was the sidewalk of the doctor's office across the street from the tiny house six of us shared. After the office closed we'd tank up on 3.2 beer and cheap weed -- this was the mid-'70s after all -- and see who could run the course the quickest.
Our only big trick was making the 90-degree left turn in front of the office door without hitting it and setting off the alarm. Seldom did the evening pass without the alarm blaring as we scrambled back across the street to wait out the cops' inevitable visit. Then, as soon as the coast was clear, we were back to ripping it -- fortified by our modest desperado stature.
These days, with the advent of city-owned skateboard parks across the country, the image of the rowdy renegade skateboarder is now mostly just image.
"In every town there are kids who just don't fit in, who aren't into team sports. They need something like this," said Longnecker. "They prefer individual sports and activities. They need a place like this."
The happy throng cheering Omar, Chet, Alan and the others was a far cry from the bickering locals that preceded the Salida skate park's approval and construction. During the planning phase, nasty things were said, the laws of physics were ignored and stereotypes were professed as reasonable fears.
For the record, the park hasn't impacted the town or its citizenry in a particularly negative way. Fears of drugs and violence have proven unfounded. There are issues, but they seem no more unusual than when any group gathers. In fact I've noticed some of those who feared the park and its inhabitants now wander over to watch the riders.
This event, in several ways, helped heal Salida. The riders came and played hard; fans -- including locals--were three deep, and still there was no violence. The rowdiest thing there was the music.
The atmosphere of the Concrete Challenge reminded me of a loud circus -- cheers combined with gasps of incredulity as the jesters sweated. The crowd was a decidedly mixed group. Although primarily an event for the young, the young at heart were abundant.
The format for the competition was fairly straightforward. Each day the riders had two 45-second runs to garner the top ten position needed to compete in the "jam" -- a 20- to 30- minute session with as many as ten riders in the bowls at the same time. It's candy for the eyes -- tricks are pulled one after another.
As the day ended, after a final jam run, Omar Hassen, described by Longnecker as a "gentle giant, soft-spoken, but with a burly aggressive style," captured the overall win. Alan Petersen, in all black, stuck second. (Alan's a quiet guy known to throw a backflip into the 9-foot deep bowl, i.e. he's crazy.) Coming in third was Chet Childress, the guy Longnecker described as "the happiest guy here. I bet he thanked me 25 times for having this here." All three winners hail from California.
The two women competitors, both from Breckenridge, included Kyla Duffy, an ex-pro snowboarder whom Longnecker used to coach. "We were stoked to have them!" said Longnecker, adding that next year he hopes for more female competitors.
Once the sound died down and the crowd left, I expected the park to empty. But apparently passion doesn't die rapidly. Tired and hot, I glanced into the bowls and there they were -- still gracefully dancing the anti-gravity boogie. p
The Concrete Challenge, filmed in Breckenridge and Salida, will air on ESPN throughout October.