Skateboarding was certainly the inspiration for my recent skateboard tour, the 2015 Selah Skateboard Sabbatical, but it ended up being way more then just a skatecation packed with epic locations and terrains of all types to shred. I felt an overwhelming sense of community everywhere I went and by everyone I skated. This feeling was so strong that is ended up becoming the resonating vibration of the trip and helped me to appreciate just how special the skateboarding community is. Skateboarding is way deeper than even just the artistic element it has to offer. This "depth" is achieved by offering belonging and acceptance to many who cannot find that anywhere else. I hope to convey this feeling of community as I recap my experiences of living as a stranger in a strange land during the 2015 Selah Skateboard Sabbatical. NOTE: Street names and spot locations are purposefully not mentioned to help preserve the sanctity of the location for future missions of shred. That being said, feel free to skate 'em if you can find 'em!
July 10th, Day One:
In order to reach a destination, one must commute to said location in some form or fashion. This journey is no exception and begins at 4:00 AM EST at RDU airport in Raleigh, North Carolina. My destination was the City by the Bay, San Francisco, California with only a minor lay over in Las Vegas to delay the beginning of my westerly skate pilgrimage. I choose to hit up SF for a few very key reason's most of which revolved around visiting my homies at Bonzing Skateboards and/or having access to some of the best sidewalk surfing runs known to man kind. I somehow was able to shut my eyes and catch a few ZzZz's on both legs of my flight, ultimately awakening as the plane descended through the fog revealing the behemoth of a bay hidden below the condensation. I had made it to San Francisco International Airport which marked the beginning of my 10 day journey.
After navigating public transportation from the airport to Bonzing HQ, I met up with Mr. Bonzing himself, Austin Graziano, and began to unpack and settle in to my new surroundings. After a quick briefing of the surrounding area as well as a visual overview on a map, Austin sent me on my way to explore as he went on to handle pressing Bonzing business matters. Day one of my trip ended up being a full blown tourist affair in which I desired to see with my little eyes everything stereotypical San Francisco had to offer from the Golden Gate bridge all the way to the Tanner house from the 90's sitcom Full House. Little skateboarding was accomplished as I found it hard to rubberneck at all the buildings and attractions when dodging in and out of cars on my board which opted me to lean toward strapping the board to my back and sticking to mostly walking. As a cherry on top of my kooky shake, Austin was able to snag us tickets to a performance by the legendary San Francisco symphony that evening which allowed me the proper atmosphere to allow my internal clock to adjust to its present location. I had seen the sights and was eager to see what tomorrow, the first full day in SF, would hold.
I woke up early not wanting to waste my precious time on the left coast in bed and arose with intentions to hit the SoMa West skatepark situated only a few blocks from Bonzing HQ. SoMa is a newly constructed outdoor, concrete park that is perfectly nestled underneath a highway overpass which provides protection from the elements and allows skaters a comfortable atmosphere to skate in. I would describe the park as a street plaza with some banked features as well as an over all sloping design that allows the rider to obtain speed for their desired line. There are tons of buttery ledges of all heights and lengths, hubbas of different assortments, a few rails, and even a large quarter pipe housing a beefy doorway obstacle. My best recommendation for hitting this park is to do so earlier rather than later to avoid the crowd. I piddle dicked my morning away and arrived to a pretty hefty crowd around 11 AM or so but was still able to find my way through the lineup and poach a few satisfying runs. Even with the park being as packed as it was, the locals had a killer vibe and there was raddical schralping going down for sure. Over all this park is a great time and definitely worth a visit if you're in the area. After about an hour to an hour and a half I decided to venture on my way and see what else the city held in store for me.
I wondered around skating a few blocks at a time to avoid entering full cruise mode which would have ultimately ended up with me finding my self hopelessly lost. This still proved to be a good time allowing me to find a drive way or hump-de-bump that tickled my fancy while I smashed it a few times in repetition. The variety of obstacles paired with the component of inexhaustible speed makes for combination type skating that mixes and blurs the lines between traditional skateboarding and this new thing being done on soft wheels into perhaps the most beautiful display possible. I was able to take aspects from every bag of skateboarding I posses and use them all on this one perfect medium which personally was very fulfilling artistically for me. After petering around on my own for a while I received news from HQ that Bonzing was about to hit an art show and then get down and boogy with the JSM boys in a collab sesh that I needed to be a part of. There were four of us who ultimately ended up spending the better part of the night buttering curbs in the pursuit of endless slappy possibilities. It may not have been the most X-treme session to ever go down in the Bay Area, but you would be hard pressed to find a group of guys with bigger smiles on their faces then us four that night.
July 12th, Day 3: San Jose:
Day 3 began early in the morning as me and Austin pushed down to the train station in order to catch the first south bound train heading to San Jose. Our goal was to meet up with Bonzing team rider Michael Carson and have him show us around some of local features and road ways. After an hour and a half train ride, we arrived to beautiful weather and a stoked Michael Carson ready and rearing to get to the first run of the day. We quickly scooped Skyler Yu (who makes some radical knives with recycled skateboard handles- check the out @slidersky) and motored to our first downhill run of the day. This particular run is fairly well known and is a windy grip run offering a rider with an experienced tuck the capability of reaching 35-40mph. Some of the turns get pretty tight and really allow the rider to experience the g's through them but never tight enough to require sliding to stay safely within your own lane. Upon seeing a police SUV roaring lights and sirens up the road on our first decent with out being bothered, we figured he must have bigger fish to fry and therefore headed back up to jump out for another run. We proved to be very right indeed in reference to the bigger fish to fry which was reiterated by another two screaming police SUV's that came flying past us as we skated down and then finalized when a huge fire engine appeared through a right hand sweeper just as we were fixing to enter it. The group was on high alert from the two pervious police SUV's and we were safely able to apply strategic foot braking that allowed us to decline to a navigable speed around the newly discovered obstacle. Enough was enough and as a group the consensus was to hit the road before trouble did come knocking at our door. A new destination composed of a walking path paved into precarious switch backs was chosen as a compensation location. Although lacking much actual size these obstacles proved to be very fun and offered a good vibe for the group to get down on.
It is common sense to say that the best and biggest hills are situated in the mountains. This statement is logical and rational to all humans, but to those humans who actively pursue downhill skateboarding, accessing these remote locations and finding these gems becomes an obsession and perhaps even a border line insanity. Bonzing promotes skateboarding in its entirety and absolutely has that mountain flu which explains why 6 individuals would forsake the modern luxuries of power and running water in exchange for the opportunity to experience nature in all her glory while taming some of her magnificent slopes. In other words we packed up the car with long scatboards and went camping! The only information I will share on where we went is that the compass had a hint of north in it most of the journey and very rarely did we have any cell phone service at all meaning that we went deep into the wilderness in search of new roads and rad times. The crew compiled was composed of the most Bonzing individuals around including Austin Graziano, Dead Fred, Chad Lybrand, Yvonne Byers, my self, and Michael Carson for one night. The campsite we chose was mid way down a 5 minute grip run that proved to be an awesome home base hill to wake up and warm up the teams legs on before heading for burlier runs up the way. With a pristine mountain river within close proximity as well it was no doubt that we had scored a great base camp location. Our first day was mostly spent in the commuting faze of exploration but we were settled in with plenty of time for a few runs and a refreshing dip in the river that evening. Upon returning to the campsite to lurk and ultimately prepare grub, Dead Fred discovered what could and should go down in history as one of the most epic dirt ride runs known to man. Team Bonzing does not discriminate and is down with all types of skateboarding which we demonstrated with a dirt ride session for the ages. The day was concluded with a fire and the socializing that is inevitable to follow, as one by one we retired to our tents knowing that tomorrow held a full day of riding mountains.
Sometimes the stars align and hard work and persistence is paid off while other times you just seem to strike out every time you swing. Well ladies and gentlemen, team Bonzing was blessed enough to hit a home run with the discovery of an incredible grouping of switch backs that leave the hair on the back of your neck standing straight up as your rip through them. The entire run does not contain a ton of length but it makes up for it in technical difficulty and straight up burliness. The run starts at a series of woop-de-woops that rival some roller coasters in size, which ultimately funnels you with immense speed into a huge wall of asphalt that has been mounded up into a massive, tight right hander. Upon safely navigating the first beast, you continue down a windy, well graded, stretch of road that brings the rider into a left hand sweeper that requires a pre-drift to round at a manageable speed. Straight after completing this obstacle you are dropped down a 100 yard staright away into a full 90 degree right hair pin that unloads you into another 100 yard straight way that finally dumps you into one last full 90 degree leftie hair pin. Epic! We found this run with enough light to tackle a few runs and test the waters ultimately planning for a full on assault tomorrow. We dipped out of there as the sun was doing the same stoked to have in our back pocket the location of something that had potential to be exactly why we came out here.
Night of July 15th: Sliders Night
The Sunset Sliders are one of the most prestigious skate groups in the world claiming among their ranks some of the most recognizable faces in the downhill/free ride scene making a session with them an event worth having on any Skate Bucket List. This group has helped amass many like minded individuals and has served to facilitate a home more or less for this group of skate rats always looking for a homie to ride with. The Bonzing crew made great time getting back, weaving through the back roads of California while passing orchards and endless fields of corn which was a very aesthetically pleasing way to pass the near four hour car ride. Upon arrival at HQ, Mr. Bonzing and my self gathered what gear we would require for the night moves to come and almost immediately were right back on the grind and haulin' to the meet up with the JSM boys and head to the meet up spot.
The Sliders Session that unfolded was nothing short of legendary. This is a skate group that has been groomed and fostered into the incredible community that it is today, all the while picking up a few pretty sweet amenities along the way i.e. The Sliders Bus. Nothing makes sessioning hills better then having a confirmed ride back up to the top which is exactly what is offered by this psychedelic shuttle. And as if there was anyway to make this situation any better, the driver of this beast is none other then Bus Driver Dave aka Big Dave Tannaci, one of the funkiest humans around. Having Dave be kind enough to fire up the ole girl and shuttle us around that night really allowed me to taste the best of what SF had to offer as far as length of runs. It is indescribable the feeling when bombing nearly 30 blocks of pristine roadway that offers the opportunity to let loose and get sideways if you'd like or just tuck it out and time the lights for a roller coaster thrill all the way to the beach. We hit 3-4 runs that fit this description to a T, and every time we reached the roll out or end of the run, there was Big Dave with the bus doors already open ready to haul vagrants to the next one.
I found it funny when I thought about it after the session was over how despite the fact that I had just experienced one of the most unique skateboarding experiences known the man kind, I was not frothing as hard on the skating that went down as I was on the skateboarders I had got to get down with. I talked with many very interesting skaters who offered me advice and listened to my lame stories of skating back home which really made me feel a sense of belonging even as a visitor. I got to see old friends like Big Dave and even got to meet one of the realest and illest human beings on the face of this earth, Aaron Grulich. AFB is known for his burly skateboarding abilities but I was stoked to discuss his current undertakings as he enters the life of a college student studying mathematics and chemistry and how he is still able to use the healing release of skateboarding to get away from it all. After it was all over with and I was closing my eyes to try and get some sleep, I was having extreme sensory overload at the events that had transcribed earlier that night with the Sliders. The respect I have for skateboarding's ability to create bonds between people grows after experiences of community like that and my hope is that more and more skate groups like this begin to pop up all around the world. JAH Bless the Sunset Sliders and thanks to all the homies for showing me one of the best nights of my life! Cheers!
July 16th-17th: Sidewalk Surfin'
Awakening back in the city to the sound of honking cars rather than honking crows was a stark contrast from the previous few mornings of the camping trip. I had forgone the midway point of my time in California and I knew the clock was ticking making every moment a precious chance to get out and shred. I had experienced nearly every single type of terrain capable of facilitating skateboarding but my hankerin' for sidewalk surfin was still strong and unquenched. To solve this dilemma I hit up Chad Lybrand to show me some runs that he particularly got down on and enjoyed. He was more than obliged to meet this request and the entire day was spent freely skating whatever we came across before, during, and after raging down some drive way dream lines. I was able to leave behind my camera and just skate without the pressure of media collection which was a really freeing experience that I am incredibly thankful to have had. This was not just a day for me to enjoy however; it was a day for Chad to get warmed up at a few spots so that tomorrow we could stack clips for an upcoming Bonzing video project.
July 18: Lost in Transit
Rather than descending through the clouds as I had on my way into the San Francisco airport we were charging head on through the dense condensed moisture in the direction that I hoped was leading me to some ditches. Albuquerque is a city in the desert that sits at the foot of a large mountain chain called the Sandia's. In order to deal with the large quantity of water run off created by the steep mountain side, irrigation channels were created that lead through the heart of town and funnel the water down the Rio Grande river down below. These irrigation channels just so happen to be perfectly transitioned and proportioned for skateboarding offering a never ending sloped wave to slash down and sesh various features along the way. If it hadn't been 4 a.m. there would have been no way to contain the excitement that I was feeling knowing that I was about to experience all of these manmade wonders once again. Upon landing in ABQ and meeting up with my Dad, Bill Dunn, these feelings of excitement were instantly exchanged for feelings of dread and despair when I did not see my board bags come twirling around the baggage claim. I investigated to find that the bag was probably going to arrive on a later flight that evening which would only cut into my skating time a little. True to their word my bags showed up all safe and sound a few hours later ensuring that it was on for the evening session with my Pop's, an experience that will always be one of my favorites no matter where the venue may be.
The feeling I had waking up knowing the Selah Skateboard Sabbatical was on its last day was not a feeling that I relish or enjoyed. I was scraped up and worn out, but the skateboarding that was at my finger tips had numbed all of this allowing me to put it all on the back burner and just skate. The final day started with a dawn patrol down the fastest ditch in town, followed by a meet up with some of my good homies Sabastian Jackson, James West and James Tracy, three ABQ locals who have mastered the technique of skating these ditches. All of these homies skate absolutely everything and are always hyped to try new approaches and strengthen areas of their skating that they are "weak" in. Watching them inspired new lines for my self and even afforded me the opportunity to geek out and snag some photographs of them. I love skating with individuals like this because they are always trying to learn new maneuvers as well which helps fuel the collective creativity of the group. The daylight dwindled away as did our energy as we bombed from spot to spot along various ditches ultimately ending the session. All the homies parted ways and went back to their respective pads while I went back to the hotel room to pack my belongings for another 4 a.m. flight in the morning, this time taking me home.
I need to once again give a huge shout out to all the tour sponsors for all that they provided Beauty Out of Babylon the means to experience just this during this 10 day undertaking. These companies again are Bonzing Skateboards, Rasta Surf Cult, and Predator Helmets. Each of these companies has helped and is helping to continue to foster the skate community in positive areas of growth and I encourage you to support them to help ensure that they can continue to do this good work.
Thank you for tuning in to the social media outlets as the trip unfolded and thank you for all of your support of this website over the past year-ish. Stay tuned for a Photo Editorial to be published containing more epic photo depictions of the roads that we discovered and all the other schralping that was accomplished. JAH Bless y'all and start putting away any extra funds that you can spare toward a Skateboard Sabbatical of your own; I promise they are pretty rad.