Ithaca Skate Jam 2017: Looking Back on the Northeast’s Favorite ‘Nontest’
by Donny Williams
I must admit, I traveled to Ithaca with a poor attitude. I set up my boards and registered for the slide jam the night before I left. Lo and behold, I checked the weather before bed and saw a 90% chance of thunderstorms all weekend. Great!
My fellow OS teammate Jared Beers picked me up at the airport early Thursday morning. We ate cheeseburgers bigger than my head for breakfast (I made mine last through lunch and dinner, too) and headed to Sussex County, New Jersey – home of Jared and Original Skateboards HQ. A miserable mist spritzed us as we departed for Ithaca the next morning.
The small city of Ithaca is tucked away in a valley beneath the steep hills of New York state. Fog hangs over the high-altitude residential areas and the days are often cold, even in the summer. Several local waterfalls double as cliff diving spots in the warmer months. Cornell University sits perched above Ithaca. The college has a variety of castle grounds-style street spots begging to be explored (and kicked out of).
Inversely, my hometown of Savannah, Georgia does not have (m)any hills. When it rains, we aren’t out skating on the two and a half slopes in the city. Ain’t worth it. Fortunately, Jared reminded me that when you fly all the way up to Ithaca, you just gotta send it. Jared dragged my sorry ass to the hill the morning of the jam. I threw a couple slides and the rest was history.
Event organizers Jason Salfi and Mike Juddah made sure the event ran as smoothly as it could in the middle of a thunderstorm. Juddah liked to remind us that we were welcomed by repeating, “Ithaca loves Skateboarding!” throughout the day.
The slope was stoked. The usual group of east coast riders and local groms stuck out the precipitation at the peak of Buffalo street. I caught up with Adam Westfall, a southeast ripper who I met at my first slide jam. Adam is notorious for “Doing it for Dale!” and competing in slide jams barefoot. Big Dave chummed with the locals and Matt K. lurked on picture patrol.
“Honestly, I was not feeling that 3 hour drive from Jersey to Ithaca. All that way to just sit out in the rain! But Donny was already en route to visit me, so the trip had to happen. We rolled up to a soaking wet hill, but I had the most fun that I’ve had on a skateboard in ages. To top things off, we even had a crisp parking garage session that night with the boys. Overall, 10/10.” – Jared Beers.
Beers and I did what we could to represent Original well in the slick conditions. We had a good time throwing endless techslides down the river…er, road. I hit the usual early grabs off the kickers and got sent flying into the curb a few times. Jared Henry and Eric Jensen were some of the few skaters brave enough to take on the slippery coping in the sopping-wet street course on the road perpendicular to the slide jam hill. My new friend Trevor Sassaman dropped some wet tech freeride on his Arbiter DK.
Local shops from the city of Ithaca came through with a variety of complimentary goods for participants and spectators.
“There’s only one burrito left,” Mike announced over his megaphone. Boards hit the pavement as skaters made a mad dash to the row of free amenities. I’m not sure who got the final ‘rito, but I bet it was shared. That’s just how us longboarders roll! In fact, I left my burrito on the curb too long and ended up sharing it with a Golden Retriever. No hard feelings, bud.
Jose Miguel Chavez Galdamez traveled all the way from Chile to skate Ithaca and may have done the gnarliest trick at the jam. Galdamez spent at least hour hucking huge kickflips off the mid-hill launch ramp. He even rode away from a few!
Jared Henry is probably one of my favorite downhill skateboarders. He also helps build the ramps every year at the Ithaca Jam. I introduced myself at the top of the hill in between runs.
“I’m looking forward to the skatepark contest tomorrow,” I told Jared.
Jared smiled. “Yeah, man! There’s like a 50-50 percent chance of that happening.” He then proceeded to do a 50-50 off the batwing, the infamous dual-kicker pyramid at the top of the hill. The spectators cheered and the other skaters tapped their tail to the asphalt in unanimous approval.
Jared Beers and I checked out of our hotel the next morning and drove a block away to inspect the puddle situation at the skate park. Sure enough, multiple micro-lakes had formed overnight and made sad islands out of the park’s buttery features. The park contest got rescheduled for a later date due to the inclement weather. I was unable to attend, but after watching the locals kill it on the slide jam hill, I’m sure the park contest was rad.
Disappointed, but well-conditioned for bad weather by that point, Jared and I enjoyed some complimentary coffee at the park with Mike Juddah, then drove back to HQ. Back in Jersey, I got to skate a monstrous DIY skatepark with the warehouse crew before I flew home. Jared, Tyler, Ashley and I ripped all afternoon, and even got to test out some top-secret prototypes. The new decks ride great. I love their kicktails, but that’s about all I can say for now. Ithaca Skate Jam 2017 was a slippery rip!