When I decide to write about something that happened to me, I usually wait a week before putting too much down on paper. The delay gives time for the cream to rise to the top, so to speak. The big things get bigger and the smaller unimportant things fade into obscurity as though they never happened. It’s a good way to keep an eye on the bigger picture, and gain an understanding for a larger story, the larger conflict. This was my trouble in composing a write-up for the 2013 Ithaca Skate Jam hosted by Comet Skateboards in Ithaca NY. There was no conflict, and unfortunately, with no conflict, there is no story.
The more mature of us skaters typically have a way of shrugging off the excess buffoonery associated with the savages of the skateboarding kind. But, no matter where we go, there are the unavoidable haunts consequential to our kind of anarchy. There’s always someone who rubs someone in all the wrong ways, there’s always someone who tries to take something that isn’t theirs, and there is always someone who finds a way to hold a grudge, pick a fight, or destroy something precious.
Maybe not anymore. Maybe it’s ok to have faith in the human race again.
For those of you who don’t know Jason Salfi, you should try to. I had two conversations with him over the weekend, both of which lasted for less than fifteen seconds, and still the guy managed to make an impression. He speaks softly and carries a big stick complete with calibers and volantes. He barrels downhill with stillness. His skate-face is one of serenity, and with his helmet rattling around on his balding head, he looks like the world’s gnarliest Hari Krishna coming to blast your face off with a spontaneous fistful of nirvana. Gently.
Jason opened this year’s event by telling over the megaphone a short anecdote about the day he met with the city council to petition the sanction of this year’s jam. From his retelling, he went in expecting to have to put his foot down and talk numbers, and throw in a few politic buzzwords like “freedom” and “murrica”, maybe plead a little and suck up a lot. Apparently, though, he didn’t have to do shit. A council member started the meeting by telling Jason what a huge risk they had taken in allowing the 2012 event, and how glad they were that they had. That’s what happens when you do your job right.
Anyone who has hosted any kind of event, big or small, knows the inherent headaches of involving sponsors, pushing paperwork, pacifying locals and dealing with countless unforeseen jam day catastrophes. To have a locale not only condone a jam in the same place twice, let alone invite it is a rarity demanding of respect. I guess Mr. Salfi really knows how to cross his T’s and dot his I’s.
His motives are clear when you see him fly down a hill. Some company heads just want to make the most “progressive” gear available, some just want to have the best and fastest riders, while others just want to make money. Jason clearly just wants to ride his skateboard, and he wants other people to ride their skateboards too. By the end of the day he had proudly hosted the second annual Ithaca Nontest.
Skater behavior was at an all-time weird. The typical M.O. that I witness is an every man for itself deconstruction. Push off the line, throw a slide here, dodge another rider there, maybe at some point do one or two of the moves you’d intended to before you started, half watch the other skaters on your way back up the hill and take another run until you get tired and sit in a circle to play a glass kazoo with your friends. Anyone who’s seen this hill in person knows that it’s steep as hell and about as icy as a fudgesicle on Christmas day, so those first few steps were somewhat more frantic than the typical jam, especially when you factor in ramps and banks.
Boards and bodies were flying in all directions all day. Standard protocol is to duck and weave and make your own solitary way through the carnage, but at this particular event I observed a universal reversal in decorum. The majority of effected parties moved towards the chaos, plucking each other back up to their feet and going out of their way to return a stranger’s estranged skateboard. Nameless spectators braved an unrelenting flow of downhillers in order to drag downed competitors to safety at the side of the road and either see them back on their feet or stick around the rest of the entire fucking day to attend to their medical needs. I personally visually accounted for hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of unattended camera/computer/cellular equipment belonging to various unnamed owners left unattended on the stretch of slope we skated and I have yet to hear a single report of theft.
Is it that we’ve been led by example to a higher morality? Is it that the need for gnar outweighed any other darker impulse that on another day would have manifested in a crime? Is it that the hill was just too damn steep to bother trying to make a getaway on?
I won’t lie, I’ve had certainly more than one beer to lubricate the process of understanding and journalizing this event, but it would appear that I’ve gotten more silly than insightful. Maybe I thought being inebriated would solicit some more profound theme that I could draw upon or a moral I could extrapolate from. While continuing to drink and re-watch event footy its becoming more and more clear that there was no higher theme, no dogma, that Ithaca 2013 was devoid of animosity; making for no protagonist, and no antagonism, and me with nothing to write about except skateboarding.
Maybe that’s the bigger picture. Maybe we don’t need any bad guys to have a couple hundred good guys in the same place. I’ve always been more of a cynic, apt to placing blame on frail human nature and having low expectations of those I see day to day. I’m used to humans letting me down. Maybe that’s why I can’t seem to wrap my mind around a single day on a single hill where not one single evil act was committed.
There was bloodshed. There was flesh on the asphalt. Boards and bodies were broken, yet all were willing and unrepentant sacrifices to the skate gods. Perhaps collectively we do have a higher consciousness that spans the synapse between our material minds and unites us to a higher cause, however trivial it may be to go up and down and up and down a hill over and over and over and over again. Maybe that’s what makes us different, maybe that’s what made us susceptible on this one day to transcend any selfish motives. Everyone else is stuck in their own rhythm, their own pattern, eternally contrasting with the rhythms and patterns of the world unrelated to their own. We skaters have little more in common than our boards, but maybe that’s all it takes. Maybe we let ourselves get caught up in each other’s rhythms in New York and maybe we let ourselves join in. Maybe we liked it. Maybe we sounded better together than we did on our own so we all joined in and drowned out everything else leaving nothing but the thrum of the unified adrenaline pulse in the base of our skulls and the clench of our hearts and our inevitable smack into the haybales.
Maybe I’m just drunk.
Regardless, the 2013 Ithaca Slide Jam was a resounding success, and a win not only for comet, not only for the riders in attendance, not only for the city of Ithaca but the entire fucking human race. Good job guys. Good job Salfi.
Don’t let me fall asleep without drinking my weight in water, and remember- no matter who we are, where we came from, or how good we think we are, we’re all just going down a hill. And that’s it.