The last weekend of Visalia Skate Camp is titled Element Week. This year Element brought out the goods with Jeremy Wray, Jake Rupp, Colt Cannon, Elias Bingham, Jeremiah Vance, Jesse Hotchkiss, the Twigs, and filmers Vern Laird and Dave Bergthold. I didn’t think I was going but a last minute phone call to Visalia Skate Camp Director Dave Metty and Ryan Dewitt (Element Team Manager) put me and my photographer friend (and fellow Ohioan) William Prokop on the road.
We arrived just as lunch was being served and apparently there’re some rules that I didn’t know about. All I know is that when I walked through the door with my food, everyone pointed at me and yelled, “Ohhhhhhhhhhhh! It took me a second to figure out why, and I’d like to tell you, but unfortunately I can’t. You’ll have to figure it out for yourself, just like I did.
After lunch we made our way to the street course. It was fun to see Colt Cannon and Mike Manidis skating alongside all the campers. They took time to answer every question asked, giving advice and encouragement, and enjoying every minute of it. Colt even helped judge the game of SKATE. He’d give some of the kids rebates depending on how close they came. One of my favorite tricks attempted was the “truck jumper. It’s a simple but difficult trick, and if you watch the video clip, you will see why.
Next up was the “Tinderbundle Scramble -- a challenge that had participants scrambling around trying to find anything that burns. The object was to make fire using one tinder from a bed of coals. The first person to do so recieved a prize from Element. Key ingredients to this challenge included cattail down, pine needles, and fluff. I’m not quite sure what natural fluff is, but it sounds cool. Other challenges like this one were a daily part of skate camp. The non profit organization Elemental Awareness organized these challenges. Other survival skills had the kids digging holes to sleep in, making fire, setting natural traps, and they even learned stalking steps that allow you to sneak up on animals (or whatever it is you’d like to sneak up on).
Along with being able to skate whenever they wanted, the kids also got to make there own mini board. Colt participated in this little craft that involved the cutting, routing, sanding, and screening of a board. I’m not sure what Colt’s going to use his for, but all the other kids used theirs to get Colt’s (and the whole Element team’s) autograph.
We skated until dark and then we all met up for the daily campfire. Everyone who comes to Visalia Skate Camp has to do a skit in front of everyone. It’s fun to see what the kids come up with. The councilors told me that they’ve been doing some of the same skits for over 40 years now. Jeremy and Colt both remembered taking part when they were younger and enjoy watching everyone else do them and see how the skits have changed over time. Afterward, we all went to the recreation room for a viewing of Closure, Dan Wolf’s new video. It was way too good, and it left us all itching to go skate, but we had to wait until morning to unleash our energy.
So with all the campers off to bed and the rest of us having way too much energy, someone needed to do something. We ventured off to the nearest bar for some pool playing, relaxation, and of course karaoke. There we heard the most monotone rendition of Neil Diamond’s song, “Sweet Caroline. The culprit was none other than Element Team Manager Ryan Dewitt. When we arrived back at camp, a few of us (I’ll say no names other than my own) sat on a ramp talking when we heard a voice say, “Don’t turn around, I don’t want to see your faces, otherwise I’ll have to kick you out for the weekend. Just leave now and get back to your cabins.
Well, William and I had no cabin to go back to. We were camped in the back of my truck. So we wandered to the other side of camp and up into the woods. I’m still not sure who yelledd, but I’ll bet he learned some stalking steps from the Elemental Awareness crew. Now, getting back to the truck involved me using some of my own spy techniques. I remembered advice given to me from an old boss who was in Vietnam, “Shadows, stay in the shadows. He now uses this tactic to sneak into illegal fishing places. I had to bust it out to sneak back to my truck -- It worked! I thank whoever saw us on the ramp for not kicking us out.
I have two words for you: WATERMELON FOOTBALL. This is a game that’s played in the lake with a greased up watermelon. Everyone wears life vests upside down to help keep you afloat. I didn’t know how important that was at the time, but I soon learned. The object is to get the watermelon to the other side and lift it over a rope to score. At one point I had the watermelon and decided to go underwater with it. A bad mistake and lesson learned as I was held under by flailing little groms trying to take the melon from me. I finally let go and while surfacing I took in a mouthful of water. Choking on some water I mellowed out for a minute, but I soon rejoined in the mayhem and our team took home the win.
Next on the agenda was the lake launch. This has to be one of the most fun things you can do. Launching on a skateboard into a lake. That means you can try virtually any trick you want. Sounds easy but it’s really not. The shoes end up weighing like twenty pounds, and the board has a little life vest strapped to it. It definitely hinders your ability to do certain tricks, but it doesn’t hinder the fun at all. I could have done it all day if it weren’t for the beatdown I received in the watermelon football game.
The rest of the day I watched the Element team skate with the campers. It psyched and impressed me how much these guys spent with the kids. I guess that’s why the same kids keep coming back year after year. One of those campers is Preston “Butters. Nicknamed that by Manidis three years ago, Preston “Butters is now on his fourth year.
Later that night at the campfire everyone heckled the Element Twigs. They all handled it well as everyone gets there fair share in sometime. It’s still funny to see, though, and it’s great how they’re referred to as “Twigs. Everyone kept saying, “I want to be a Twig. I believe by the end of this night everyone had at least 30 to 40 new friends. A camp well done!
Before the last night ended, Jeremy Wray and Colt Cannon did a Q&A session. They spent a good thirty minutes answering tons of questions and telling skate stories. What a good way to end camp--giving everyone a chance to hang out, ask questions, listen, and laugh.
The next morning everyone skated while waiting for their parents to come pick them up. I noticed the Twigs were kind of bored, so it was Pine Cone War time. The teams were William and me against three little twigs. We battled for control of “the fort, and after about an hour the Twigs suffered a casualty. Just as I launched a pinecone grenade at one of the Twig’s legs, he bent down for more ammo, which left his face directly in the line of fire. A direct hit and they had to call for back up and a medic. After a few minutes he realized he was fine, and we both laughed. afterwards. War was back on, and a few twigs were taken hostage. They called for a truce, so we had to stop the torturing
Hesitant to leave because of the threat of holiday traffic, William and I took the gamble and lost. As we sat in traffic the Element team skated the Vagabond pool. Happy Labor Day!