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The Menlo Park Skate Jam: The Jam

I opened my eyes to beige felt upholstery and hovering clouds just beyond hazy windows laden with condensation. Suddenly a string of memories came flooding back, bringing along with it the nauseating feeling of dehydration and hang-over. I begrudgingly pulled myself back from the dead and sat up. At some point during the evening I had made it back to my sleeping bag in the back of the Volvo station wagon. I rolled out of the passenger door to land amidst the makings of my demise. Empty beer bottles. The crisp morning mountain air of the campsite began to cut through the zipper of my sweatshirt and sting at my face and nose. We were in the forest.

Sitting on a stump, in the woods, at 7:30am, on a Sunday. Hungover, cold, & stoked.

We had driven in during the evening, about a 45min drive into the mountains from the Menlo hill. All I knew was that we had made it to the right place. It had been a raucous evening to say the least. A cold, raucous evening. Everyone had gathered at the campsite for a solid night of partying before the Sunday Jam. The campsite was located directly behind a small restaurant / bar that provided a buffet of food for registered riders in the evening, and a full continental breakfast in the morning. Despite this however, all I needed was a coffee. Upon wandering around the location with my camera in-hand to regain some sense of where we had actually ended up that night, I began to realize something. As I wandered past tents, unconscious individuals cocooned within their sleeping bags, missing shoes, and empty beer cans, I realized the magnitude of my experience. Now, I’ll spare you the sentimental details in light of covering the jam, but what I will say is that I took a great deal of comfort in regards to waking up amongst fellow members of the order of the shred. I may have just spent the night in the woods in the back of a Volvo; I may have been cold, hungover, and (pre)injured, but the thought of knowing that I was amongst old and new friends brought with it a sense of ease. These were all people I had spent time with before, skated with before, competed against, they were all here. All in the middle of the woods, cold, hungover, and just as stoked to be there as I was.

Gazing out on the wagon train from the edge of the woods.

You know it’s gonna be a jam when the Sliders bus is present.

The Volvo.

Wake up Justus.

Believe it or not, this cocoon will eventually blossom into a gnarly skateboarder.

Tent city.

Survivors of the evening’s rager rise from the dead, and begin to congregate.

The lovely cafe that housed all of the evening’s tomfoolery.

Breakfast at the campsite.

After yet another slow start to the morning, food, and some serious health point recovery, we all began to migrate back over to the Menlo Hill. With cameras slung over my shoulder and magazines in-hand I surveyed the hill yet again, decided on my key lighting angles, and began to shoot. Within a little under thirty minutes time, the jam had begun. Four major competition categories defined the brackets for the rest of the day; Groms, Girls, Hard Wheels, and Open. The groms got their taste of the competition first, as the crowds began to gather on the hill. I think the only word I’d use to describe them would be, Mental. If you ever had any doubt about the direction of professional downhill freeriding, just take a look at longboarding’s youth, and doubt no more. Next up were the girls, with shred capabilities way more then just comparable to the guys. This facet further lending itself to fact that this sport isn’t defined at all by gender. After the ladies was the Hard Wheels category, with competitors performing slides I couldn’t name or understand. Then last but definitely not least, was the infamous Open Category, where anyone and everyone battled it out for a spot on the podium. Overall however, the level of skating from everyone at the Menlo Jam really just made you proud to be a skateboarder. It made you appreciate the fact that our community may still be small, but our abilities are anything but. After bearing witness to an event like this, I feel like we have all defined quite a niche for ourselves within this roller based world. We’ve unearthed a humble new soft wheel renaissance in our modern day skateboarding domain, and it brings me great pride to be able to experience it first-hand.

Out of the forests, and back to the hill for the main event!

People begin to gather, as ramps get set up and the tension to get started grows.

Ramps.

When Cliff Coleman speaks, you listen.

Louis and Chance, putting on their game faces.

The course was just bristling with skateable real-estate.

Jasper is 12 years old. At 12 years of age, I was still digging holes in the sandbox…

Aaron Enns getting lifted.

James Kelly, gettin’ jelly.

Jasper goes so much bigger than his size will allow you to believe.

I’m still convinced that this girl is indestructible.

Ishtar Backlund gets in on this Otang “lifestyle” shot.

Grominator.

Attack of the grom.

Louis demonstrating, frame by frame, how he won the Hard Wheels comp.

Gabe “The Goob” Simmons, completely in control.

Tomio is an animal on a double kick. Steezin’ the toeside with the nip slip.

Have you ever wondered why they put “King Size” on candy bags? This guy.

The groms were not to be trifled with. Here’s proof of their soul crushing abilities.

Jammin’ Jasper, takin’ his shred stick up to speed.

Beamin’ down from the mothership.

Don Hugo Limon gracing us, and the hill, with slides.

Boss man Enns.

Monster truckin’.

Noah Fischer adding to the thane line mosaic.

By 4:30 in the afternoon, fatigue had noticeably begun to set in. The stoke was still high, but injuries started becoming more and more frequent. No one wanted it to end. The last three days had seemed like a dream of sorts. An alternate reality of celebration, friends, and fun. But now, with the golden sun retreating back through the branches of oak trees, it was coming to an end. Not long later, guest judge Cliff Coleman made the call for everyone to proceed to the base of the hill where prizes were to be awarded, and the 3rd annual Menlo Park Skate Jam would come to a close.

The crowds gather for the final show down.

Mike Benda, bending brain cells with his mega slides.

Chance Gaul, crushing souls with this 180 grab off the platform.

It took him awhile, but he eventually nailed a tre flip over the box. Gnarly.

The Hard Wheels final saw some incredible skating.

Still wearing the full-face, still just as G.

The Chinchilla gettin’ funky.

The crowds gather at the bottom as the asian man in the cycling jersey with sunglasses gets uncomfortable.

Louis took home 1st place in the categories of both Hard Wheels and Open. Boss.

Louis dishes out the fiver to Chance.

Jasper Olsen ripped so hard. Not sure what they gave him, but he deserved it.

The man behind the Menlo, all hail, David Hiltbrand.

My journey then was bittersweet. The Menlo Jam was more than just a competition, it was a meeting of the forces. Envoys from all the different contributing parties came to present their abilities, represent their teams. The night before we had all gathered in the woods to celebrate and share stories. Cheers to the prosperous future of the sport we love so much. And the morning after, we all came together on the hill to demonstrate that devotion, that obsession with the thrill, that adoration. Summarizing Menlo for those who weren’t there is hard. I can tell a story, but I can’t begin to replicate how it felt. Menlo for me is the high water mark for how all other skate jams should go, and this one being the 3rd, was no exception.

 Now go outside and skate.

 For additional photos not shown in the article please check out The Gel Lab’s Flickr link below:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/thegellab/sets/72157631684627770/

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