APRIL 24-25, 2010

Skateboarders are warriors. We make our own way skating what wasn’t meant to be skated, we practice fearlessness doing what our minds and bodies tell us isn’t possible (do you remember wanting to lean back the first time you dropped in?), we endure pain and go that ‘one more try’, we defy limitations… Skateboarding is warrior culture so it’s not surprising that skateboarding is the fastest growing sport- art- lifestyle in Indian country. Ever since the Indian Wars ended, American Indians have lived out a piece of our traditional warrior culture in sports. Check out the book The Real All Americans…its about how Native Americans faced being forced onto reservations and how the children of Geronimo, Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse literally kicked ass at football. Today it makes even more sense that Native kids are picking up the four wheeled war pony. No rules, no coaches, no uniforms… just guts, individual expression, and personal freedom. This April, at the 4th Annual All Nations Skate Jam in Albuquerque, New Mexico…in the footsteps of our ancestors… warrior culture was once again represented!

The All Nations Skate Jam promotes skateboarding as a productive direction for young American Indians who very often find too few opportunities for channeling their energy. The contest is put together by Native Skates, Wounded Knee skateboards, Nibwaakaawin, and a long list of sponsors including Vans, Gatorade, Frito Lay, Nakota Designs, Sector 9, American Nomad, Skull Candy, Full Blood, Powell, Bones, Fury, Famous Stars and Straps, Zoo York, Spitfire, Nixon, Alliance, Photon, A’Asa, and Juice Magazine. The mission of the Skate Jam is so important, and the ‘medicine’ of it is so powerful, that even though the event already has a major shoe sponsor, I Path came on board this year. That just goes to show that this contest is about much more than marketing. Like Len Yazzie, Native Skates and I Path team rider, said, ‘This contest is more like a family reunion.’

All Nations Skate Jam is the vision of Todd Harder, owner of Native Skates, his partner Theresa Magnuson, Jim Murphy (Wounded Knee) and Bill Danforth (American Nomad/ Skull Skates). Unlike some skateboard contests, this one has real purpose…these guys want to make a difference in the lives of young Native people who too often struggle to find some direction in life. They use the kids interest in skateboarding to inspire them to consider the entire world of opportunity surrounding skating. They want the kids to understand that besides being pro, they can be artists, filmers, photographers, owners, movers and shakers… Each year they reach out to American Indian schools like NACA and inspire young people to dream big and get active. And those kids do get in on the action. Big up to the NACA student volunteers who helped behind and around the scenes to make the magic happen all weekend!

The event is scheduled to coincide with the Gathering of Nations…which in case you didn’t know, is the largest pow wow in the country. Pow wows are traditional American Indian events that bring people from all tribes together with drumming, singing, dancing, competition, and vendors with bad ass Indian ninja shit. It is both a spiritual and a secular event. Part connecting to Native traditional spirituality and culture, and part traveling fair. Native families from everywhere come to Albuquerque to check it out. And while they’re in town, they’re stoked to check out the skating at the contest.

This was my second year at the event, but my wife’s first time. I ride for Native Skates. But fresh from surgery and still in knee-hab, I was there with my wife to set up, push product, provide some security, and judge some sick skateboarding. We landed in ABQ at 10 pm. Todd, Murf, and Danforth were at Palmer’s house sorting out product, making plans, and probably having a good time cuz Palmer’s house is like that! So Amy and I dropped off our gear and headed to Owl’s for New Mexican food! I had burritos for breakfast, lunch, and dinner the entire time I was there. And I never forget to ask for the Christmas chile’s…red AND green. Owl’s has the best breakfast burritos…eggs, potatoes, onions, peppers, garlic, beans, rice, and lots of cheese! Now that… is breakfast for dinner! We ended up eating there every morning. By the time we got back to Orlando I was 8 pounds heavier!

The next morning we were still waiting for the van to set up a vendors’ booth at the Gathering of the Nations Pow Wow, so instead we were treated some Albuquerque tourist time. Todd took a squad of the Skate Jam crew to the petroglyph forest. I think it was called a forest. But even if I’m remembering the name of the place correctly, its not a forest at all but a desert. A desert with huge volcanic boulders with ancient rock carvings. We had an amazing time. That mystical kind of experience you can only get from being in the middle of nature in a spot that was getting localled by people thousands of years before you. There were carvings of people, animals, symbols, and possibly even spirits. I don’t claim to understand them all, I just know they were rad. And the scenery was pure magic. The Sandia Mountains were in the distance, and even in April it seemed liked they had snow. Yo, I’m from Florida… that ish bugged me out! And then, there were the jack rabbits… those monsters were bigger than a pitbull! We called them jackalopes! Todd warned us about them. He said that the ones we saw that day were even smaller than this one he saw with Murf the day before. All this magic was right down the street from Palmer’s house. Like I said, Palmer’s house is just ill like that.

It’s taken me long enough to talk about Los Altos skatepark. Last year, Bill Danforth warned me that this historic park was a bit lumpy and the lines were kinda distant. I’m not gonna front, when I got there last year I was kinda shook! This park is not easy to skate! But no excuses, dun, because the locals rip it! Steve Caballero (since he was scheduled to be at the Jam) asked via Todd’s facebook page what the park was like. I took the liberty of giving him the following description. In the street section there are three bowl corners, including one that goes to vert. There are banked and transitioned walls of different heights around the perimeter of the park. In the middle there a twinkie shaped volcano, a steep pyramid, and a small nipple. At the shallow end of the street section were some manny pads, his and hers hubbas for regular and goofy riders, and a handrail. There is also a sick bowl section with a tall ass spine. Cabbie, Murf, Danforth, Tony Alva, Jeff Grosso, and Garold Vallie were on hand all weekend to tear it up. Caballero was showing how easy it was for him to win blocks for bucks and Vallie was blowing minds with face high heel flip indys in the man size bowl.

On Friday, Amy and I worked the Native Skates / Wounded Knee booth at the Gathering of Nations Pow Wow. It was Amy’s first pow wow. It’s THE pow wow to go to so she had quite an introduction. Usually its at Albuquerque’s The Pit Arena, but because of renovations, it was at the local college football arena. You’ll have to forgive me, I only know about anarchy sports. The names of organized sports teams elude me…just not that interested. But take my word for it, the stadium was nice and there was plenty of room and clean bathrooms. There must have been 100,000 people to go through there that weekend. The bleachers were packed. The vendor tent, which was the size of a circus big top, was also full. I never see so many eagle feathers as I do at this pow wow. The dancers are incredible and their beaded, ribboned, and jingled outfits are simply elegant. You don’t even need to know much about the dances to be blown away.

This year the major attraction at our booth was a limited series of Vans shoes made with Pendleton fabric exclusively for us just for that weekend. Pendleton is a big deal in Indian Country. They make wool blankets with Native geometric patterns and they’ve been prized for generations as gifts. They are given for new births, weddings, deaths, any important event you can imagine. The demand for those shoes was off the hook… or should I say off the wall. We didn’t even have the shoes with us until Saturday. With just a sample of slip ons, highs, and a picture of the chukka lows and colorways, our booth was buzzing like a beehive. When the shoes finally showed up on Saturday, we were sold out in a few hours. We sold them at the pow wow and at the Jam. While those shoes were being sold, the line was twice as long as the line for Vans schwag and free grilled hot dogs and burgers… and that was a pretty impressive line! You better believe I’m profiling a pair of slip ons. I had to get ’em a size bigger, but wearing two pairs of socks can be sooo comfortable.

Vans and Gatorade / Frito Lay make the event more hospitable. Steve Van Doren showed up in the legendary Vans bus. They gave out bags and bags of free product while Steve hooked everyone up with hamburgers and hot dogs grilled to Vans standards. Gatorade kept the crowd hydrated with G2 and their new line of Life Water… I dug the pomegranate. The price of admission to the Jam got you some world class skateboarding, free Vans gear, and all you could eat free food. It was practically a picnic.

The contest started on Saturday. Which brings up another way that this event stands apart from other contests. Each day, the event started with a few blessed words by a Native elder. Prayers were said, everyone was invited to smudge with sage smoke and the vibes were set nicely! Those morning prayers set a positive tone and reminded me that there was also a spiritual element to this modern warrior business.

On Saturday, the younger warriors did their work. There were beginner and intermediate events for the 6-12 year old grommets and another set for the 13-17 up and comers. They killed it. They pulled early grab airs out of the nipple, threw flip tricks down the transitions like they were gaps, and generally steezed around the park in the spirit of Crazy Horse. I was especially stoked on this kid who rode with the West Side Boyz, a local crew, nicknamed ‘Spacoli’ because he looks just like Sean Penn from Fast Times. I’m sure he misspelled Spacoli, but I wasn’t all that into that movie so that’s his business. Regardless, he has the most incredible Miller flip. I’m not ashamed to say I’m jealous. That kid has a bright future. That evening we closed out the day with the open Native competition. The guys to watch in that division are Bryant Chapo, Len Yazzie, and Pepe Nery. More about them later.

Sunday was the big day. There were beginner and intermediate events for the 18 and older veteran warriors, followed by the open advanced division, a women’s open, and an open bowl event. Bryan, Len, and Pepe were flying around the park. Bryant has a buttery smooth technical style. He makes all flip tricks, over every hip and down every gap, look so effortless they could make you feel guilty if you don’t have them in your own bag of tricks. Len keeps old school tricks relevant. Madonnas, Miller flips, inverts, and smooth flowing lines. He was one of the few cats to flow around the whole park. Pepe has massive air power. Lincoln Ueda size airs. I’m a fan of his frontside allie oop hip transfers. In general, throughout the competition massive front side airs, smooth front and back tail slides and lipslides on the gnarliest walls, and big mellons over the volcano were standard! And he does all this a broken back truck. The pivot cup of his baseplate is broken clean off, but he wouldn’t let me treat him to a new set of trucks…his are perfectly seasoned I guess. But the Pepe’s gnarliest move is flowing around the street course holding onto his little daughter. Ladies… tearjerking… something you could ‘aaaah’ to. Brian Jackson was another one to watch. He came in second to Chapo, but seriously, that was a tough one to judge. Brian was just as smooth and consistent. His blunt kick flip fakies were a revelation. There was this other dude pulling backflip flyouts. I forgot his name but won’t make the same mistake next year.

The All Nations Skate Jam brought in a few thousand people that weekend. It was such the place to be that some people were trying to hop the fence to crash the party. It was security’s job to make sure that everyone paid. After all, the point of this jam is to raise money to build skateparks on reservations. Skateparks, like the Jam itself, ain’t free! One kid in particular got nabbed. But unlike the other kids that scrounged up the $5 to get in, this one got violent. He started a fight with head of security, Todd’s brother. He even hit Joel with his skateboard before he was escorted out. But that’s not the end of the story. Gabe, the founding father and father figure of the West Side Boyz calmed this kid down and then paid for his admission. Some in the Skate Jam crew were incredulous that this kid was even allowed back in. What kind of message did that send??? But at the end of the day, that kid was a different person. He apologized to Joel. He even stayed late to pick up trash. He volunteered without being asked. That kind of kid, that kind of turnaround… that’s what the All Nations Skate Jam is all about. Don’t miss it next year.

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