Joe Lehm Interview: Ditch Slap 10 Year Anniversary
Ditch SLAP is sort of a right of passage in ones skating. I’m not telling you to DO anything and your skating is your own, BUT, in the life of a skater, a some time in the ditch should be a part of any skaters bucket list. With this year’s event coming up soon, we just HAD to pin Joe Lehm down and get the deal on the Ditch Slap 10 Year Anniversary. Of the 60+ events joe’s organized, this is his favourite. Those of us that have been around for more than 10 years definitely know about the legendary event and that it’s not to be missed. Don’t be the last to sign up or miss your chance to skate with some great people. Find more details here and check out the interview with Joe below.
Photos provided by Joe Lehm and DitchSlap.com. Feature image above of Brian Peck by Max Dubler.
Ok here we go Joe, who are you and where are you from?
My Name is Joe Lehm and I have lived in New Mexico most of my life. I grew up in Los Lunas as did James West. I’ve also lived in southern California a couple of times enjoying skating and punk rock.
Punk Rock eh, what bands do you like? Is the SoCal music scene that much different than New Mexicos?
I was living in West Hollywood in 1980. I was often down at the Starwood and the Whiskey when I wasn’t at the skate park in Marina del Rey. Two amazing scenes at the same time, I was so lucky looking back. I enjoyed seeing X, the Germs, Circle Jerks, Black Flag, Agent Orange, TSOL, Fear, the Chili Peppers and so on. That pretty much spoiled me before I came back to NM, no music here has impressed me as much since.
Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I have always enjoyed being outdoors, rolling on bikes and skateboards as long as I can remember. I have two daughters Isa and Alia both all grown up, and a wonderful wife Greta Ruiz. I started TimeShip Racing in 2001 and Skate School in 2003. I’ve put on over 60 events and enjoy creating opportunities for people to challenge themselves and have fun. Skate School gives me that chance every day.
I’ll always remember the Timeship Racing Maryhill event that you put on. It was a real eye opener for me and other riders that were new to racing. Were you the first to put on an official event there? Please educate myself and our readers that may not know.
I was not, Extreme Downhill International (EDI) did it for 2 years in 2001 and 2002. This is when I got to know Biker Sherlock (RIP) and the Dregs Team. It’s also where I first met Bricin Lyons, Jody Wilcock, Tom Edstrand, Rob McKendry, JM Duran and Rizzo, Danny Connor and Dean Ozuna. We were all Ams trying to crack into the Pro bracket for a shot at the Gravity Games.
Biker encouraged my TimeShip events here in NM and elsewhere like Vail Pass. TimeShip brought racing back to Maryhill for 2005 and 2006 as the North American Championships, that’s where I met you Dan. Then I made a DVD of the event that included footage that you filmed as well as Ryan Ricker and Tad. Dave Price is on the cover and we actually even got it into the Gasparilla Film Festival in Florida!
Anything to help, I love seeing our skate footy in festivals. That final heat where Tom came back to win after sliding is timeless to me. I knew a little about you and TSR (Timeship Racing). But what I don’t know is, are you still running it, and why?
I sold TimeShip Racing a couple of years ago to Resource Distribution. They were a much larger company with good potential for growing the brand. I was growing weary of trying to keep up with the endless cycle of design, production, inventory, advertising, distribution and nurturing a team. I wanted to be able to focus more on Skate School and my events like the All Around Challenge and Ditch Slap.
I get it, so, when did you start skating anyhow?
In 1969 at the age of 8 in Huntington Beach, CA. My first real board was a green plastic Makaha, it had clay wheels and a kicktail way ahead of it’s time! Before that I know I was on roller skates for a while, but I was one of those rascals prying apart my sisters skates to nail onto a piece of wood. By 1972 I had a paper route on my bike and did my collections and solicitations on my board. $idewalk Surfing!
Great flashback Joe, do you still have that set up? If not, what’s your oldest piece in your skate collection?
I don’t still have it, I wish I did! The Skate School Museum has a couple of similar ones from that same era. The oldest one we have is a steel wheeled production board that is from around 1960. You would have bought it in the local hardware store for around $6.95.
What’s the wood board you have standing up behind there?
It’s a steel wheeled board that was in production in the 1960s.
More on that next time. Let’s switch it up a bit, what’s Ditch Slap?
In 2007 I organized the first Ditch Slap as a multi day race, free ride and celebration of skateboarding in all it’s forms. It was my response to events where riders spent a good part of the day standing around waiting for their ‘turn’. A massive flood control system has been built to channel flash floods through Albuquerque, NM. There are 44 miles of skateable concrete ditches in and around ABQ currently managed and maintained by AMAFCA. Many of them are so smooth it’s as if they were built for skateboarding. The Bear is the original ABQ skate spot long before skateparks, we were riding it every weekend back in 1976. In the early 2000’s I was putting on banked slalom races in a couple of the faster ditches and also free riding them with shuttle vans and pretty large groups. From 2002 to 2006 the Sandia All Around Challenge always included ditch races and free riding. After a while racers like Jim Z, Jody Wilcock, Tad Drysdale, the Kebbek Crew, BLR, Pocket Pistols, the Rogers Bros, Team Gravity and the Sector 9 Crew were all staying for DAYS before and DAYS after because they couldn’t get enough of the ditches. No ever left without some amount of road rash so that’s what gave me the idea for creating a Ditch Slap.
Hold on, so you have shuttles taking riders to the top? How long is the run down?
Ditch runs vary in length and speed, some have several options on where to pull out depending on how far you want to go and how your legs are holding up. Multiple shuttles help keep things rolling for the “bomb it” crowd and chilling at the bottom for the “session spot” skaters. A usual run is about 2 miles, the longest one is over 4 miles. The shortest one (and quickest) is the World’s Largest Banked Slalom at the Bear, it’s just over 100 yards and goes from 0-30mph in 2 seconds. Nowadays most riders just want to free ride it, which is a lot less hairy.
Seems to be the way. But it sure is cool you have options for every kind of rider. How many people showed up last year?
Last year we had about 45 people. A few of the locals raced in the Boarder Cross the day before and earned a Ditch Slap Shuttle Pass for their efforts. I was totally stoked on that! The locals ride the ditches every day for fun and for free and I am making an effort to respect that. Inviting Pro riders to town to race for cash should also be an opportunity for the local skaters to show their stuff and they have! It was the 3rd time we’ve done a Ditch Boarder Cross and 2 locals landed on the podium and into the Slap.
I think last years Ditch Slap attendance was down because there are now SO many events to choose from! We’re wedged between Ithaca, Catalina and Danger Bay. Riders now consider travel for different reasons: World Cup Points? The fastest course? The most freeride miles? The biggest party? 10 years ago there were hardly any events and you could easily plan which ones you wanted to go to, and why.
Tell us a little about the number of people in attendance over the years. When was your biggest year?
Each year is different both in attendance and in what kinds of riding or racing we do. A couple of years back I started separating the days of racing from the days of just free riding, so that the skaters that didn’t want to do the races didn’t have to. Our biggest years have had about 80 riders which is the most we can fit onto 2 school buses with gear, boards and coolers.
So what if we can help make this year the biggest and get 100 riders out? People won’t be skitching will they?
No worries, as long as riders register soon we’ll get as many buses as we need to. Let’s do it! There are also all kinds of special events planned to help us celebrate the 10th year so we would love to have a huge turn out.
With the influx of Freeriding events, what are your thoughts on Ditch riding and how it compares?
One of the unique things about Ditch riding is that you can ride them in a number of ways so having a quiver allows you to take a full speed bomb run or grab a shorter board and hang out at one of the many session spots doing wall rides or grinding parking blocks and rocks. The pack riding is super fun too because riders need to weave in and out of each other’s way at speed, on banked walls, while dodging all the various ditch terrain like inflow pipes, steel grates, ladders, bridges etc. Some ditches have bike paths along the side so a rider can hop out and push back up to hit a favorite section again. Any free ride where you leave with noodle legs and a little road rash is a success!
You’re a safety guy but that sounds hella sketchy. Not to mention sick. But, how do you mix in guidelines on safety? Or do you just hope for the best and that nobody gets hurt? I’m guessing you have people with first aid close by?
In 2009 we ‘accidentally’ made the local paper and the evening news with helicopter footage and dire warnings that “Ditch Slap is Illegal” and dangerous. Ironically, it greatly helped our image that EVERY single rider was wearing helmets and protective gear, and having Tad Drysdale and Cliff Coleman as our Safety spokesmen sent a strong message! That YouTube video has over 200K views. Since then SLAP stands for Safe Longboard Awareness Program. At the morning riders meetings I go over safety protocols, identify any weather concerns and hand out about a dozen Safety Cylinders with supplies to help riders take care of themselves. We utilize volunteer ‘sweepers’ that agree to ride last, carry radios, first aid and check on anyone that needs help. We also have Google mapped the various hospitals and urgent care centers.
“Helicopter footage on the news greatly helped our image because EVERY single rider was wearing helmet, and protective gear.”
Super thorough! Is there a legendary ditch rider that sticks out in your mind? Do you have a good pic of him?
James West is one of my favorite skaters, he’s been riding ditches since he was a kid and definitely has a mastery of this unique terrain. Fast, slow, sliding and styling his way down even the craziest ones! I have lot’s of pictures and video of him from the early TimeShip days. I met James when he was 14 and put him on the TimeShip Team immediately. He was the youngest ever racer at the Bear and Indian School Outlaw Races, the youngest to race Vail Pass and Maryhill at that time. And he once beat Sergio Yuppie in a Gravity Slide Contest so of course they had to put him on the their Team too. His approach to skateboarding in general and ditch riding in particular is quintessential New Mexican, basically “Let’s try it and see what happens”!
Maybe you can help organize a raw run for skateslate. I’d be excited to watch that.
That can happen on any run or any race, just say the word. Mike Sanders put up a sweet Chinese Race Raw Run from 2009, it’s on YouTube.
Is it important to people to hit up your event? Why?
Albuquerque is a skate paradise with skate parks and mountain roads but the ditches are probably the main reason it has become so well known. You can come any time of year to ride them with your crew or by yourself, but Ditch Slap is a gathering of some of the best riders in the world riding with first timers, old timers and the locals. Big Dave Tenaci has referred to it as a Spiritual Holiday, others have called it one big Safety Meeting. I will always remember Chris Chaput saying he “had never seen so many people, so stoked, for so long..!”
I feel you Joe. Sometimes it’s not just about the terrain or slope. It’s ceremonial to be there with others that share the same love of skateboarding. But it sounds like this event is gonna happen with or without big numbers in attendance. Since this is the 10 year Anniversary, what do you have special planned? Who’s coming out to film?
It seems like everyone is always filming these days, and Slap videos never disappoint!
We are going to have some special events in addition to the 2 days of racing and 2 days of free riding. We’ll have a video festival featuring the dozens of Ditch Slap videos that have gone up over the years. Also a food truck, all kinds of skate challenges, Slap trivia quizzes (with prizes) and parties worthy of a 10 year reunion. Riders that are able to bring back some piece of Ditch Slap memorabilia will be entered into a special raffle, so bring your old Slap Bandanas, Slap T-shirts, Slap Socks, Slap Bags, Shuttle Passes or Safety Cylinders back to Albuquerque!
Do you have advice for 1st time riders that will attend this year?
Sign up early to insure that you get a spot! It usually sells out and then you’ll have to listen to all of the stories about what an amazing time you missed. After you sign up we’ll send you detailed information to help you prepare. ABQ is at 5,000 ft elevation in the high desert so temps and conditions can change very fast and being prepared will make a huge difference. This is more like stealth barging a backyard pool than an afternoon of fun runs at your local hill. This is an endurance event, noodle legs, sunburn and ditch rash are likely side effects.
Is the race sanctioned?
There will be 2 races, neither is sanctioned. We’ve met with the City a few times to see if we could get a permit but they are not able to give us one. For decades their public relations message has been “Ditches are Deadly Stay Away, find a safe place to swim and play.” Instead we have an unspoken agreement to stay safe and stay off the evening news.
Where will the Banked Slalom course be?
The Banked Slalom course will be set in a fast section of one of the longer ditches, with plenty of room to pump up as much speed as you like and a long shut down area. There will be a Cash Purse. The Chinese Ditch Race has been held in a few different ditches of varying lengths for bragging rights only. This year there will be a Cash Purse! We’ll race in a very long ditch where you can expect every imaginable ditch obstacle between you and the finish line, as well as the unexpected antics from your fellow competitors.
So it is possible to walk away with a few dollars!
I can tell you one thing. I’d be there in heart beat now that I know more about it. But, since I’m in Japan I’ll have to resort to sessioning with bank skaters here. Have you seen any of Amané’s videos or anything. I’d love to help get him there someday.
Oh yeah I have, it looks like he would love the skating at Ditch Slap. Maybe you just need to twist his arm a bit by showing him some of the Slap videos!
You’re probably right. Who’s come the farthest in the past and when?
Renee Bayly from New Zealand in 2010.
Any final thoughts Joe? thanks again for all that you’ve done for skateboarders!
I don’t think we missed anything, all that’s left is to sign up, show up and rip it up!
Well there it be. Joe Lehm is a great guy and gives it his all in every event and effort he puts forward. Ditch Slap is his flagship event in the world of longboarding. Since it’s the 10 year anniversary you wont be disappointed. Remember, registration soon or you’ll miss out!