VERTIGO: Old school skateboarder Steve Caballero at the top of the Mini-MegaRamp.
Christian Hosoi stood atop the three-story structure, staring down the long, narrow wooden descent. He'd dropped in on hundreds of ramps in his life, but this time, on this ramp, was different. His heart pounded. "It was the scariest thing I've ever done on a skateboard," he says soberly. "But once I did it, it went from the scariest moment in my life to the funnest day of my life."
Hosoi and fellow legend Steve Caballero have seen plenty of changes in skateboarding. The most recent is daredevil pro skater Danny Way's enormous contribution, the MegaRamp, and the high-speed maneuvers executed on the 63-foot tall, 293-foot long structure boasting a 27-foot quarterpipe.
Both Hosoi and Caballero will be judging and riding demos at the Mini-MegaRamp Eco-Cup skate contest June 12–14 at the Harmony Festival, a contest with a $40,000 purse. But don't let the word "Mini" fool you; the sucker's huge. Skaters blaze down a three-story drop-in, fly over a 20-foot gap and hit an 18-foot quarter pipe at full speed. Hosoi and Caballero first tried it earlier this year, and both describe it as a combination of horror and elation. "From how high it is, it looks really skinny," Caballero says. "And once you go down, you've gotta jump the gap. There's no turning back."
Yes, the thrill is huge. So is the danger. In 2007, pro skater Jake Brown bailed out of a 540-degree McTwist on the MegaRamp during the X-Games and fell 45 feet onto the hard ground. Hosoi was there as a judge, and immediately got on his knees to pray that Brown would survive. "Really, we all thought he died," he says. "When he ended up standing up and walking off and holding his hands up, I was like, I couldn't believe it. For the people there, it was so death-defying. Seeing him walking off the ramp blew everybody's mind."
Brown—his slam is considered the worst wipeout in skateboarding history—is alive and well and will perform at the Eco-Cup in Santa Rosa, as will fellow pros Bob Burnquist, Omar Hassan, Pierre Luc Gagnon, Lincoln Ueda, Andy MacDonald and Adam Taylor.
The MegaRamp and its mini sibling have their share of critics who denigrate the offshoot phenomenon as being too gimmicky and not "real" skateboarding. Their squawking increased when Way used the MegaRamp to famously jump the Great Wall of China in 2005, a trick right out of the Evel Knievel handbook.
"There are people who are pretty much gonna hate on anything they don't understand," Caballero says. "As for me, it's just another avenue to be creative and push skateboarding to the next level. That's what skateboarders are always trying to do and achieve. With the MegaRamp, that's what they've done. So for anybody to bag on it and say, 'That's not skateboarding,' they're pretty ignorant towards what's going on."
Hosoi agrees, and stresses that the MegaRamp can't be fully experienced by watching online. "It's something that you have to see live," he says. "Your heart stops, and you really can't believe it. You're just amazed by it. That's what people want—people are looking to be amazed. That type of energy and excitement keeps people alive. People tend to wanna go out and live a little. It pushes them to try hard as well and to really be somebody."
The Eco-Cup Mini-MegaRamp Contest and Rail Jam goes down June 12–14 at the Harmony Festival, Sonoma County Fairgrounds, 1350 Bennett Valley Road, Santa Rosa. Free with $30–$40 day admission to festival; ages seven–12 only $10. http:-/www.harmonyfestival.com
Like skateboarders today, Steve Caballero and Christian Hosoi grew up around skateparks. But back in the late '70s and early '80s, there were scant few of them around. "They weren't free, either," explains Caballero. "It was a real privilege to actually go skate a skatepark," adds Hosoi, whose dad once managed the Marina Del Rey skatepark when Hosoi was only 10. "It was like a dream for us kids, like an amusement park."
During the 1980s, insurance issues closed most skateparks, but skating refused to die; from '85 to '89, it became more popular than it had ever been. The push to build skateparks resurged, and in 1998, California designated skateboarding a "hazardous recreational activity," virtually eliminating all municipal liability. Skatepark construction exploded.
"I think right now is the best time in skateboarding because of all the different places available," Caballero says. "We've never had so many skateparks in the history of skateboarding. It's insane. And they keep building them! More and more! They're not stopping!"
The North Bay is home to some of the best skateparks around; most stay open from dawn to dusk, and most require helmets or pads, although enforcement varies.
Healdsburg The Carson Warner Memorial Skatepark features a shallow, 4-foot, U-shaped miniramp with good coping and big, loose transitions—it's great for beginners—which is connected via a spine to 6-foot, clover-style carving bowls. Nearly half the park is taken up by a great street area, with quarter pipes, hips, rails and a large funbox. The park's layout makes for interesting combinations. 1300 Grove St.
Napa This 16-year-old park, small and out-of-date, has a short snake run, an extremely tight bowl with no coping, a metal quarter pipe and a small street area. Yajome and Clinton streets.
Novato Sometimes the simpler designs are the best. This park features large, expansive bowls, connected together with smooth concrete, plenty of hips and fast coping. Lots of open space and deep, seven-foot transitions are great for fast runs. With rails, stairsteps and street area. 1200 Hamilton Parkway.
Petaluma Its humps, banks, volcano, three- and six-foot bowls and long rails are good for beginners. 900 E. Washington St. (Petaluma's skatepark is eclipsed by newer public parks nearby, and by Petaluma's Ramp Rats, a privately owned indoor park of mostly wooden ramps for BMX and skateboards at 1004 Lakeville St.; $5–$15 admission fees.)
San Rafael The huge McInnis Skatepark—which cost over $1.6 million—features a washboard bowl with various heights of mini halfpipes; a cloverleaf bowl with three small, tight pools; a key-shaped bowl with a volcano-shaped middle; and a nice 7-foot-to-11–foot-deep peanut pool. 350 Smith Ranch Road.
Santa Rosa The North Bay's oldest skatepark—and pro skater Tony Trujillo's stomping ground—is still dear to the hearts of old-schoolers. A long snake run that gets deeper and deeper into a large bowl is the main attraction, providing endless combinations with a Zen-like flow; a funbox, stairset, curb and rail are here too. Locals still talk about the day that Tony Hawk stopped in for a session in 1995. 1725 Fulton Road.
Sebastopol A gem with a perfect mini bowl; a huge banked street area with large funbox; a deep, hipped halfpipe-style bowl with cradle extension; and a smooth, perfectly transitioned deep pool with vert. In Sebastapudlian fashion, it's outfitted with a living-roof tool shed, a flow-form water sculpture, a bio-infiltration area for managing storm water and several community garden plots. Great for all skill levels. Any graffiti, the park closes for a week! 6700 Laguna Park Way.
Sonoma This older skatepark has held up over the years, with a shallow bowl connected to a three deeper bowls and numerous banks, quarter pipes, rails, a funbox and a stairset. More coping would have helped, but it's still decent. Verano Avenue at Arnold Drive.
St. Helena (under construction) Due to be finished this year, this park will feature a huge bowl with a cradle extension, a smaller cloverleaf bowl, lots of banks, stairsets and rails. One of the few area skateparks not designed by Santa Cruz's Wormhoudt Inc., the Crane Park location—right over the home-run fence of the baseball diamond—is being built by Grindline Skateparks and looks outstanding. Crane and Grayson avenues.
Windsor The Pat Elsbree Skatepark is perfect for beginners, with two huge, shallow bowls of loose transitions and no coping; these connect to a deeper washboard vert pool for the more seasoned. Benches and rails abound, with a pair of quarter pipes. 9680 Brooks Road South.