While skate and snowboard parks are commonplace these days, kiteboarding’s equivalent, slider parks, are still incredibly rare. To my knowledge, there is only one freestanding kiteboarding park in the world and it is located in Hood River, Oregon. The east coast has a slider park at REAL Watersports in Hatteras, NC, but because the features need to be brought in and out of the water for every session, it is not always available.
Hood River’s slider park is made possible through the efforts of the Slider Project, a community of kiteboarders dedicated to maintaining and advancing slider riding as a part of the sport. Sliders require a significant amount of upkeep, but a freestanding park like the one at Hood River allows anyone to show up anytime during the season and get their jib on. While this may pose a liability nightmare somewhere down the road, it currently operates smoothly and consistently draws the top kiters as well as up-and-coming talent from around the world to the Gorge ery summer.
This segment of the sport is incredibly small, but is becoming increasingly popular amongst professional and recreational kiteboarders alike. The 2015 Triple-S Invitational was a slider specific event with more prize money for its podium than any PKRA (now the VKWC) stop in 2014. Most of the Triple-S competitors travel from all over the world because slider events (let alone opportunities to train for them) are few and far between. Other events have come and gone, such as the Ro-Sham-Throw-Down and the Islamorada Invitational, but as of last year there was no park event in Hood River, a location that to many, would seem to be a no-brainer.
Following this year’s Triple-S, a group of riders met up, myself included, and decided that we needed to put together a second event that would take advantage of Hood River’s permanent features. From afar, creating a kite event might seem easy, but convincing athletes to show up without prize money is hard and production costs add up while sponsors are hesitant to throw money at a fledgling competition without a proven track record.
With these challenges in mind, Eric Rienstra, Brandon Scheid, Craig Cunningham, Colleen Carroll, and myself setup an informal meeting to solve these problems and lay the groundwork for a successful slider park contest in Hood River.
We started by figuring out the “who.” As this was a slider focused contest with the end goal of creating one comprehensive piece of media, we decided to invite all of the riders from the Triple-S Invitational invite list. We figured this would be a good baseline for keeping the skill level high and the chaos level low. Reaching out to riders and discussing possible dates, we picked a weeklong competition window in August when most of the riders were available. Since we had no sponsors and very little time to prepare, the prize purse was set to zero. The winner would receive nothing more than a makeshift trophy and a year’s worth of bragging rights.
Then came the important questions: What should the format look like and how are we going to judge it? All of us are huge fans of Rob Dyrdek’s Street League and wanted to try to capture as much of the jam style format as possible. The problem with jams is that they’re fun for the competitors, but they usually lack excitement for the audience. The average Joe doesn’t know the difference between a blind Pete and a blind Fredo, let alone a Moby Dick 540 and dum-dum (yes, those are all real tricks). With this in mind, we decided to come up with a format that would allow riders to showcase the best of their technical abilities, while maintaining the competitive pressure and overall viewership.
We divided the contest into three sections. Starting with the Tech Section, the riders received three hits on each feature in the park. No rider would benefit from their favorable side (regular/switch) because we planned to change up the kicker’s direction. We wanted riders to demonstrate their best tricks, but with three scores per feature we had hoped to encourage a little bit of risk and consequently, a lot of progression.
After the Technical Section, we moved into the Line Section. In this portion of the contest, riders had to hit three features, one after the other, similar to a slopestyle ski or snowboard course. However, if a rider crashed, that run was over. The monotony of repetitively hitting one feature and one-trick pony flat water freestyle contests are part of the reason that kiteboarding isn’t as spectator friendly as other extreme sports. The Line Section allowed riders to showcase their style and flow by linking multiple tricks together.
The final day of the Hood River Slider Jam was the Build Section. Upon entering the contest, all riders were warned, “if you plan to participate, plan to build.” During scheduled lay days, riders worked together to build extensions onto the park’s existing features. With the addition of some pipe and culvert tubing, we were able to increase the risk factor and technicality to really put the riders’ abilities to the test. A few of the competitors even opted out of some of the features as they were “too gnarly.”
Without prize money, the judging was done by the riders. Steven Borja with ESBO.tv organized all of the footage from the previous day and created a rough recap of every single hit each rider performed (a sort of instant replay style of judging). After the event, all of the competitors gathered to watch the footage and score each hit on a 1-10 scale. An average from all of the hits were taken and the best score for each section counted.
Since the main idea was to build a sponsor driven event for the future, we were going to need to prove that the media exposure from this year’s event would justify a sponsor’s investment. We hit up every single camerasavvy person on our list and pitched them a week of hard work and little promise of compensation. Luckily, professional photographers Steven Borja, Andre Magarao and Toby Bromwich believed in the uniqueness of the slider event and volunteered to help.
The media focal point was the final event video in which the scores were imposed onto the video with recaps to give it a Street League feel. Most of the time it’s hard for non-kiters, or even recreational kiters, to comprehend what is difficult and by placing the actual scores on the screen with the trick performed, we helped engage viewers and distinguish that line.
The biggest challenge in a grassroots event is maintaining structure; Unlike most contests with an Event Coordinator and a Head Judge, the Hood River Slider Jam gave everyone a chance to step up and wear any number of hats. The end result was a fun and competitive event in which we made something very special from nothing other than the hard work of passionate people.
Words by Rich Sabo
This story first appeared in The Kiteboarder Magazine’s Fall 2015 Issue: Volume 12, No. 3. Read about the second running of park riding’s premier homespun contest in the Fall 2016 issue by subscribing here: