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.
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.
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.
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.
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: