If you're looking for an objective journalistic report of the 2001 Morro Bay Slalom Championship, you've come to the wrong place. Look for that sort of thing in International Longboarder Magazine. I'm sure that Mike already has something in the works. If not, I'm sure that someone will step up to do it. What I'm going to do here is more or less recount a few of the things that happened over the weekend that you may not have heard before.
First off, I was a bit disappointed with my performance on race day. This is what I thought of it. Actually, practice felt pretty good. I was doing clean runs and seemed to be getting faster each time. Then practice was over and had to wait for my first qualifying run. They were going in number order, and I was number 61, which meant I had to wait about an hour for my first run. I would have killed for a lower number. Nothing like standing around at the top of the hill for an hour to steady the nerves. When my time came, I kept telling myself, clean run, fast run, easy on the ramp, just a little pump at the bottom, don't forget the last stinger (which I had done at least once in each lane during practice), over and over again. I got a reasonable start and the first few gates felt really good. Then I did what turned out to be the stupidest thing I had done all weekend. I double pumped between two widely spaced cones. The next thing I knew I had missed a gate and DQed. I have no idea why I did it. I hadn't tried it in practice. I just did it. It was like instinct took over, a terribly wrong instinct, mind you, but instinct all the same. It was exactly what I didn't want to do. I wanted to get a clean run, so I'd have a time up and could take chances on my second run.
I actually did one more incredibly stupid thing over the weekend. On the way up I was working on my board, putting stickers on, new grip tape, that sort of thing. The last thing I had to do was to change the wheels from Hyper Rollos I'd been using for practice to the Hyper Stradas I was going to race with. In addition to changing the wheels, I had a brand new set of Swiss Bones for the race. I was using two different durometer Stradas for the front and back, but each pair had slightly different hubs. One pair worked absolutely perfect with a broken bearing center plus one speed ring on the inside as a spacer. The other pair worked less than perfect with an 8 mm spacer. As I was farting around with the spacers and speed rings (I had to steal them off of another board), I absently let the bearings tumble around in the bottom of the canvas bag I had all of my stuff in. Little did I know that the last time I had used that bag, it had been at the beach, so there was a bit of sand and grit working its way into the back unsealed side of the bearing. When I got done, I realized my mistake. Nothing like having a brand new set of $30 bearings sound like the ones off your rain board. I spent an hour the next morning cleaning and relubing them.
My next qualifying run was against Richie Carrasco. I kind think that Richie and I are pretty evenly matched, but the only time I ever beat him was on a really tight course. He always takes me on course like the one at Morro Bay. Richie got a jump on me down the ramp and had a fairly good lead on me early. I tried to catch him, and though he didn't seem to be pulling away, I didn't seem to be catching him either, so I just decided to take it easy and finish clean. It was about this time that I hear Henry say over the loud speaker something to the effect of, "Chris doesn't seem to be being very aggressive on this run." A few seconds later, I was sliding to a stop in the runout area. A kid asked if I was okay. Apparently, he had never seen a Coleman slide. I said, "Yeah, I meant to do that." At this point, I had heard my time and knew it was not going to get me in the top 16.
Actually, I had the most fun at the practice session on Saturday. The courses set there were quite a bit more demanding than what was set on race day. Of the three courses set while I was there, I could get through two cleanly and consistently and the other not at all. The main difference was that the two I could get through had some wide offsets that I could use to check my speed early in the course, while the other did not, so by the time I was halfway through, the cones were coming way too fast. I was a bit surprised at how well I did. I felt pretty fast at the bottom. Then again, compared to some of the other guys, I'm sure I wasn't that fast at all. All of the Europeans looked amazingly fast, especially Simon Levene, Maurus Strobel, and Dieter Fleischer. Of the Americans, John Gilmour, Beau Brown, and one other guy looked fastest (Paul Dunn and Chris Chaput weren't, at least not before I left). The other guy whose name I didn't get that day as we were getting ready to leave when he showed up turned out to be the now World Champion, Gary Cross. He had the most intense look on his face as he attacked the course. I honestly didn't think he'd beat Gilmour, but I had a feeling he would be somewhere in the top five.
Other than that, I was very impressed by Ben Schroeder, a vert skater, trying slalom for the first time, and Brad Edwards, probably the best all around skater I know. I don't think there's anything he can't do. I was surprised to see Biker Sherlock, looking pretty fast on a vert board he'd hacked the tail off with a saw. The best quote I heard at the practice session came from Biker. As he was coming back up the hill after a run, I heard him say something to the effect of, "This is so much fun, I can't believe I've never done this before." That's what it's all about.
Another big event for me was meeting Henry Hester and Chris Yandall. I'd only seen Henry in person one other time at the 1976 Hang Ten World Championships when he beat Tony Alva. I was about 13 at the time. Meeting and skating with him now to me was sort of like for a die-hard baseball fan having catch with Willie Mays. Both Chris and Henry are great guys and getting to meet the two slalom guys I really looked up to in those early issues of SkateBoarder was a blast. The highlight of my weekend was when Henry told me I looked good in practice at the reception Saturday night. That alone made the whole trip worthwhile.
The race on Sunday was incredible. One heat between John Gilmour and Chris Chaput ended in virtually a dead heat. The two cones that Chaput hit made all of the difference. In fact, so many of the matchups were decided by one displaced cone. You tend to think that a tenth of a second is not very much, but at that level, it's everything.
My favorite story from Sunday was watching Brad Edwards, not only was he fast on the course but he was the coolest to watch after the run. After each run, he would pull four 180 degree slides in rapid sucession, dropping his speed from about 15-20 mph to walking speed, all in the space of about twenty feet. After doing this several times, Brad comes up to the top of the hill and says, "How do you guys stop. I never learned to do that foot dragging thing." Don't worry Brad, you got it covered.
One last story. It has nothing to do with slalom or racing, other than it happened that weekend. On the way to the practice session Saturday, we stopped in a skate shop in Pismo Beach. I was hoping to replace the speed rings I'd stolen from my other board. The guy at the skate shop told me I didn't need them. He'd been riding for 16 years, and he never used them (so naturally he must be right). He pulled out his short board to show me how good his $40 bearings were. I didn't spin the wheel. I just grabbed it and moved it from side to side. There was about a eight of an inch of lateral play in his $40 bearings. He spun them and they did spin pretty well (as $40 bearings usually). We just shrugged and walked out and of course thought of about 15 clever things we could have said as we were pulling on the highway.
Finally, I need to say my thank yous. Jack you did a great job. The contest was better than could be expected. To Adam, without ncdsa, this never could have happened. To all the people who decided not to skate and help run the show, you all rock. Henry and Hunter on the microphones, Dan the starter man, Ed keeping the ramps together with spit and Longskate stickers, Doug on the timers and everyone who worked running the contest, we all owe you a dept of gratitude. To all of the people for whom this was much more than a road trip and had to do some serious travelling to make it, it wouldn't have been the same without you. To Morro Bay's finest, who were more cool than you could have ever expected. I remember them looking the other way as I let some kids try my slalom board and a friend's longboard, boards you they couldn't ollie, but more fun to ride than anything they'd ever stepped on. To the people of Morro Bay hwo made a bunch of middle-aged skateboarders, feel like rock stars for a few minutes. To Paul Steiger and his son Nick, who gave me a ride up there and got me home in one piece (not the first time on that one). To Paul's friend, Thad who let us spend the night Friday and Saturday when we waited too long to find a hotel. To Hugh Regelado, who spent the day chasing cones, and found a pair of gloves for me when the wrist guards I was using as sliders started to come apart in practice. Hugh also provided the pics for this story. Check out his site at http://www.hugh308.homestead.com/skate_launch_page.html. Finally, to my wife Mary, who had a very crappy, pukey weekend (literally, our 6-year old was sick) while I had the time of my life up in Morro Bay. Honey, you're the greatest. Thank you.