Longboarders Looking for Thrills
Around 150 people will take turns this weekend intentionally propelling themselves down from the top of Valparaiso Avenue near Menlo Park’s Sharon Heights Park at speeds of close to 30 mph on longboards with the only means of slowing being ripping the board perpendicular to the direction of the street itself. It’s part of the third annual Menlo Park Skate Jam — a longboard competition that attracts seasoned riders both locally and internationally. Those who compete do so in hopes of winning, or at least earning some bragging rights in a competition that requires nothing less than acute attention.
David Hiltbrand, 22, started the event hoping to provide local “groms,” young skaters, with a venue to practice their skills in a safe environment. The competition has since taken off as “an end of season gem for many traveling professional longboarders,” Hiltbrand said.
Ryan Roberts, 27, has returned to his old stomping grounds as co-organizer and title sponsor of the Skate Jam. Roberts founded Ladera Skateboards and Gunmetal Truck Manufacturing, household brands in the skate community. Starting simply in the Menlo-Atherton High School woodshop, Roberts’ companies have evolved into the international brand he calls a “retro psychedelic, surf, skate, rock, hot rod, old-school style.”
Like many sporting brands, Ladera has team riders and is consistently contacted by skaters hoping to be sponsored. This event is the only legitimate downhill skate competition in Northern California and vital to the local skate community and those interested in going pro, Roberts said.
“This is a unique event where a no-name local kid can get a chance to ride with professionals,” Roberts said.
Eager to promote local groms, Roberts has picked team riders from last year’s event and is thrilled to give skaters another chance to prove themselves and possibly be sponsored as well, Roberts said. Although young, Roberts has been in the game long enough to see a progression in downhill skating as a younger generation has brought in new style and fresh skin. Roberts, currently healing from a skate-induced broken rib, notes the contemporary infusion of tricks and laid-back character generating what is deemed downhill freeriding.
“As longboarding and downhill freeriding gets more popular, it gets more dangerous when people skate on not closed streets,” Roberts said.
Chuck Melber, manager of Palo Alto’s Black Diamond skate shop, has also noticed the substantial growth in recognition and transformation of downhill skating and the importance of organizing a safe event.
“We’re trying to keep it really safe and have a fun environment. We’re trying to show the community that we can have an organized event and that we’re responsible individuals,” Melber said.
Competitors must sign a waiver acknowledging the dangers prior to any skating and are required to wear padded gloves and helmets. The city has permitted the street to be closed Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Precautionary EMTs and police will be there to assist in managing the event. The largest event thus far, 150 riders have pre-registered and will skate down in groups of 10-20. Rounds are organized by style, board type and age. A women’s group set to give female athletes a chance to boast their skills, Roberts said. Cliff Coleman, the father of the downhill slide who’s been skating longer than most of the competitors have been alive, will be judging the competition based on speed, tricks and style, Roberts said. Hiltbarn is grateful for community and individuals who helped this competition prosper.
Ladera Skateboards, Gunmetal Trucks, Black Diamond Sports, Vicious Griptape, California Grown and Orangatang Wheels are sponsoring the event; the Dutch Goose will be serving food and drinks. The proceeds of the event will be donated to the Menlo-Atherton woodshop and La Honda School. From his first hand-sanded skate deck at Menlo-Atherton’s woodshop, to a comprehensive professional international skateboard line, Roberts is proof that with a little encouragement from the community and his peers, a local grom can go a long way. The event is free to attend. Riders are given Saturday to practice the slope before Sunday’s competition from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information visit menloparkskatejam.com. By Samantha Weigel