2015 S.L.A.P. Recap with Robin McGuirk
Robin McGuirk is well known for being an all around schralper, always having fun on a board, so who better than Robin to give us a recap of on of the most all around fun event there is, Santa Fe Skate School’s annual S.L.A.P.
This has been the most anticipated event for me so far this year. I’ve been thinking about it ever since the last time I was there in 2012. Also known as the S.L.A.P .(Safe Longboard Awareness Program), it is freeride event on some of best downhill ditches in the world located in Albuquerque, NM. The organizer Joe Lehm owns and operates the Skate School in nearby Santa Fe and has been putting it on for 9 years now. He is definitely an OG rider and skateboard teacher who has been doing it longer than anyone I know. The Skate School slogan is “For riders, rippers, and racers” and they offer many different lessons for all types of skateboarding. Check out all of their programs and events at SkateboardSafety.com.
My first Ditch Slap was in 2008 and ever since I’ve been hooked on ditches and continued to go five years straight. Back then the event included various banked slalom races that each rider would run and be timed on. There were different cone setups on the banks that you could pump around and then pump the transition of the ditch for more speed. The biggest ditch of all is called the Bear; this was my favorite banked slalom and the most intimating with 40 foot walls. From the start you drop in and go zero to 30 mph in 2 seconds before you hit the bottom of the ditch. Another type of race featured are Ditch Cross Races where riders raced head to head on the same course. I really enjoyed the one they had in 2012 with lots of obstacles to launch over and race around. I had some really close heats with guys like James West and Will Royce and ended up on top that year.
This year was a similar race with a ditch course setup starting with a banked cone section for about half of the course. Then there was a section where you came out of the ditch and tucked down a bike path parallel with the ditch. Next riders launched back into the ditch and setup to hit a series of ramps. First set of ramps launched you over ladders, then a set of bigger ramps setup to clear a hole, or you could ride the slower line over the holes and avoid the ramps. Then one more launch ramp on the bottom of the ditch just before the finish line. Remember that ditches here are downhill so hitting the ramps at speed with another guy hot your tail can be intimidating. After 20 or so riders made their qualifying runs, Skate School took the top 8 times and raced them head to head. To win meant you had to win all your heats for 3 rounds. There wasn’t a lot of room to pass on the course except for the bike trail section. So the best way to ensure a win was pushing out front at the start. Holding them off was the next part, that wasn’t easy either.
In previous years they also had a Chinese Downhill Race (everyone at once) in the 3 Mile ditch and later on the Spaghetti ditch. Each had fast sections with lots of obstacles and dangers to avoid. This was some of the most exciting racing I’ve done. However this was the first year no one wanted to race and the only guy who wanted to go fast and take on the terrain full speed with me was my homie Dennis Manougian – AKA Dennis the Mennis the Seattle Rat. We rode together 2 days before and during the event along with fellow NW riders Tad Drysdale and Brendon Carrao. I had a blast riding with these guys. I definitely would not have been able to get as many runs without them. We had one rig and were on a mission all day every day to shuttle as many ditch runs as possible. On 2 of the 4 days we headed up to Sandia Crest in the early evening and shuttled the newly repaved 6 mile section numerous times as well. All in all we did over 50 ditch runs and about a dozen runs up on Sandia. I was thoroughly satisfied to say the least.
The desert landscape of the area around the city is full of nature’s beauty. Being set on a hill and at a much higher elevation than I’m used to may have something to do with it. My home Portland is at sea level, while ABQ is 5K plus feet or one mile up from me. I always feel like I’m another planet when I’m there, perhaps as some kind of skate warrior ready for battle! Sandia Crest is a stunning backdrop to the city and not a far drive. It has some really fast sweeping roads, one of which we spent some quality time on this year. The newly repaved 6 mile section is known as the Sole Jam. It’s one of those roads you can grip the whole thing going 40-50 mph with sweepers, and S-turns. The buttery smooth pavement allows you to tuck most of the time and be able to stay in the downhill lane with ease. It was a bonus to the trip and something I’ll be looking forward to again next time.
The biggest thing I noticed this year versus 3 years ago and before was the change in the average rider’s setup. The majority were riding smaller boards with small wheels around 60-65mm. This didn’t allow them to obtain much speed nor did it seem as though they wanted to. Instead the group would stop at spots along the ditch and session certain banks and walls. That has always been a part of Ditch Slap as there are some pretty unique roll-ins, aprons, and wall rides to check out. However in past years the sessions were always brief lasting 5-10 minutes and not on every run. This year the group would stop 2 or 3 times on a run and take up to 30 minutes a session. All the while my homies and I would be blasting by 3 times or more during their one run. Instead of getting on the bus and waiting an hour for a run, the 3 or 4 guys I was with would shuttle a rental van and do more runs. And at the end of each day we’d be doing 4 times a many runs as the main group would. I’m in it for the runs!
Albuquerque hands down has the best collection of ridable downhill ditches in close proximity in the world. I consider it one of the top 10 spots for downhill skateboarding. There are parks everywhere in the world. You session a bank and do wall rides and other tricks, they could do that at most any skatepark. What you can’t do anywhere is ride these ditches, the best kind of ditches that are downhill, smooth, and fast. Not to mention the exhilaration of riding in packs down them, and following each other’s lines up banked walls, around holes and ladders, under bridges, you name it! There’s nothing like it. Did I mention how many runs we got?
I rode two boards this year. The Eastside Mach 3 and Relic. One with a 23” wheelbase and a kicktail for the race and one with a 27” wheelbase for the faster ditches that had tailwind and for Sandia Crest. Both had 70-72mm wheels, Rad James Kellys for the race and Krimes These Wheels. And both had Caliber trucks, 50 degree on the Mach 3 and 44 degree on the Relic. I spent a pretty even amount of time on each. I love the way ditches take a toll on a board, they get pretty caked with gnar chunks of who knows what when you are mashing through ditch water and debris. I especially like how the wheels look after several day of riding ditches. They are impelled with tiny bits of glass all throughout. And the shape of the wheels are hour glassed worn in the middle from constant shredding back and forth on the walls.
Riding a skateboard in the ditches is hazardous, so taking precautions is pretty key. So is how to take a slap. Hence the name Ditch Slap meaning when you fall in the ditch you get slapped because instead of falling on or off a road, you usually get slapped against a wall or bottom of the ditch. I find the term hilarious because it always cracks me up thinking about the worst ditch slaps I’ve seen over the years. The best ones not having any padding. Wearing pads is pretty important if you wanna continue riding ditches day after day. Even the best of them get slapped from time to time. You never know when you are going down in the ditches. They catch a lot riders by surprise and can simple crush you in a heartbeat with gnarly wounds and road-rash. I learned this quickly at my first S.L.A.P. and have been pretty on it by wearing them all the time.
Checking out the ditches first is pretty crucial too. Going slower and surveying the obstacles on the first run can help a lot. Ditches change from day to day, and if there is rain in the mountains or nearby you never know what you’ll get. After a while you get pretty good at remembering where things are. And you get more confident after the first run of the day on a particular ditch. You start to go faster and faster, taking more risks, and hit up some crazy lines around stuff. To handle the abrupt transitions and maneuver through anything in your way at speed is a thrill I can only describe. You just have to try it to really get how if feels. And you may have to have a touch of crazy to really go for it. If you don’t let yourself go and carve off too much speed, then you won’t understand what that feeling is like once you make it down to the bottom in one piece! On the last day we were treated to a good downhill wind versus the previous days of slight uphill and no wind. This made all the ditches faster and even more intense. Some havoc occurred as riders were thrown down the ditch wether they liked it or not.
Next year will be the 10th anniversary of Ditch Slap and I really hope to see a great turnout with riders new and old to the event. Joe Lehm explained at the riders meeting this year that he has been working with the city to make a legal event in a ditch like Indian School next year. This is a favorite ditch of many because of it’s faster speed with cleaner and smoother transitions than other ditches in the area. It is by far the most famous and what many come here to ride, including a feature at the bottom called the Witches Nose. Racing in a ditch legally with spectators and sponsors would be a dream! If not then it will still remain legendary and known to riders everywhere.
Huge thanks to Daddies Board Shop for getting me the ditches year after year! To Push Culture Apparel for the crash shorts and pants saving me from road rash. Timeship Racing with the badass hand protection. And Predator Helmets for the dome protection. I feel blessed to be able to have the support to continue my inner child’s need for speed.
And as Joe always says when he introduces Ditch Slap each year,
“Thank you to the Sandia Mountains for providing the reason for these ditches to be created”
Without them the city wouldn’t have any flood control. May is a great time to be there as it’s not too hot yet and the ditches are for the most part dry, most of the time…
Thanks to Robin for the recap from his trip. Be sure to check out Eastside Longboards!