Volcom's "BigWest SouthDown" European Skate Team Video
Photos and Words by Jelle Keppens
Film and Edit by Yves Marchon
The Promised Land
It’s hard to visit places that haven’t been visited before in skateboarding, so why bother and go on a quest to look for the unknown, without even knowing if you will run into something skateable? Don’t get me wrong, I’m always down for a little adventure to the underworld, but everything is just a lot smoother when the path has been paved before. So with the Damn Am taking place at Volcom each spring, and having some of the Euro riders out there, the decision was easy to just add a couple of weeks of skateboarding to it. The promised land is big enough to offer a lot of different options.
So after doing a little research and some back and forth with the Volcom U.S. team captains, the decision was made to start of our journey towards Vegas and make a giant loop downwards to Albuquerque, NM, then swing by the Mexican border and back up to Los Angeles through Arizona. It was still early spring, so that hot pocket of the States would still be bearable we thought. We got ourselves a big ass van, fitted it with some young and older talent, stashed the trunk full of bags, a generator and boards and off it went.
What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas
Or at least that’s what they say. All we did was skate and we’re not keeping that from you. Anyone else would hit the strip and go find his luck at one of the casinos, at least that’s what I think everyone should do who visits Vegas… We had the perfect excuse, it was Daan Van der Linden’s 18th birthday. I hear you all thinking… casino, stripclub and make it rain! Not for us, Skankie, that’s what we call him, is a skate rat and he wanted to celebrate his b-day, by just skateboarding. So here’s what we did: After spending the day in one of the many ditches getting tricks done, we hit a nice Italian restaurant, filled with pretty ladies, who where more interested in us than their own dates. We later found out through the waiter they were all call girls. We’re in Vegas remember. We had dessert and some of us left the table early, Ant Travis, being one of them, and while doing so, left the Red cam he borrowed from Russel Houghten under the table. We soon found out and decided to sneak it out through the back of the restaurant and hide it in the second van, just to fuck with him. He didn’t notice a thing, only until we were half way to Skankie’s birthday spot. He started tripping and called the restaurant to look for it. Nowhere to be found of course. Lesson well learned. After we made clear it was a joke, we forced our way into a school and lit up a runway so Daan could unwrap his birthday present. A perfect rail he ended up hitting with a switch backside smith grind.
Breaking Bad in Albuquerque
We left Vegas in the evening and drove til late in the night to Flagstaff, AZ on Route 66, halfway to Albuquerque, where we would spend the night. Since Flagstaff is not that far from America’s biggest monument, the Grand Canyon, we all decided it was worth the little detour. It would be stupid not to go see it now that we where this close. All I can say about it is it’s hard to capture how big it is. Especially from above. I think you need to take the walk all the way down there to really realize it. Nevertheless it was impressive, and while we were up there checking it out from one of the lookout points, a thunderstorm closed in on us. Some girl’s hair all of a sudden rose to the sky because of the static electricity in the air. It didn’t take us long to get the fuck out of there.
We drove the rest of the day and woke up in Albuquerque the next morning. A place known for it’s many ditches! You probably remember the ad and video of Slash (Bryan Hansen) backside carving this ditch with the best style. That ditch is in Albuquerque and it’s called Indian school and is about 1,6 miles long. After meeting up with our guide Jake, it was the first thing he took us too. We drove all the way up to what’s probably the highest neighborhood in Albuquerque where the head of this giant snake sits. By the time you carve half way down, you have a cramp in your legs! It’s epic.
But wait that’s not the only thing ABQ is famous for, so we found out. At one point, we passed by this big ass carwash building, and I signaled the car in front of us to pull over and asked if this was the carwash from Walter White, better known as Heisenberg. You guessed it, the bald guy from Breaking Bad. Jake told us the whole series was shot in this town and next thing we knew we were on a tour to all the Breaking Bad stuff. Even more epic!
The Worlds Biggest Chili
After 2 days of getting the highest amount of tricks ever in ABQ, we moved on to the Mexican border to spend the night in Las Cruces at a motel that hosts the world’s biggest chili. You know, those red spicy peppers. It was in fact a giant sculpture of a red pepper on the driveway of the motel. I think Axel licked it at some point, because the morning when we woke up he felt like shit. His stomach hurt and he couldn’t keep any food in.
Railroad Ghost town
On the way from Las Cruces to Tucson, we passed by an old sign that said: “Railway Ghost Town – 16 miles”. I suggested to pull over so the guys in the back could have a smoke and Axel could get out for a second because he had been struggling in the backseat for a while.
As we took the exit, we drove straight into some kind of trailer trash park. I opened the window and asked the first person I saw if the Ghost town was still around. She said it had been closed for over 5 years, but we could drive to the back and park next to it and check it out from the parking lot, because it was all fenced in. So we did and 10 minutes later she came driving up and asked if we wanted to see it from the inside. Of course. So we followed her around behind her fork lift, filled with bags of cement, passing more trailer park junk. She explained to us she owns the town and she used to guide people around all day long, and closed it down 5 years ago after her dad got shot in the town. She said she hasn’t showed it to people ever since, but we looked like nice guys so she took the effort to give one more tour in town. It was amazing, everything was left untouched since it had been deserted in 1870. Everything was packed with dust. Before we knew 3 hours had passed and we gained the woman’s heart. She gave us each a souvenir and wished us a safe trip, all but Axel. Because he was still feeling bad and stayed in the shade next to the car.
Extra time in Tucson
Arizona was hot, and it wasn’t even summer yet! I remember the water of the hotel pool being like a bath tub and the water of the hot tub almost too warm to be relaxing. Even Axel seemed to feel a little better and was able to enjoy the cold beer at the poolside. We ordered pizzas and got a visit from Aaron Suski, the good old Suskawoo, who would show us around the next couple of days. The night passed and by the morning Axel, the Crusher was feeling sick again. He decided he would sleep it out during the day and sent us on a mission without him. After hitting a spot, and realizing it was too hot to skate, Suski proposed to go visit the infamous cactus reserve on the way to a concrete park in the middle of the cactus fields. Those cactuses are truly amazing! We learned that they only grow an arm every 75 years. And we saw thousands of them kicking it with at least 5 arms! That’s at least 375 years young. Very impressive. The view on the way back from the park was even more stunning with the sun setting. A view I will never forget and I would love to see again one day.
By the time we got back, Axel was still in bed puking up everything he ate or drank. Even water! By the next morning he couldn’t even get up again, so we decided to call 911. The fire department came to pick him up and straight to the hospital he went, to later find out his appendix had burst! Gnarly.
He had to get surgery right away, and we had to extend our stay in Tucson, switching hotels every day since everything was fully booked. 2 days after the surgery he still hadn’t recovered and after visiting him he really didn’t look that good. We couldn’t skate much since we didn’t want to leave him by himself the whole time during the day. Christian, the TM took good care of his rider in need and everyone was worried.
You get bored really fast being stuck in a hotel room all day, me and Yves Marchon tried to do a mission walking to a second hand camera store for a few miles, but by the time we got back we where completely dehydrated. The heat is gnarly, you really need a car with AC to move around! The only option was to go out at night, and so we did. Eniz, Harry and I visited this bar who’s owner was called GOD. Yes, no joke, the guy had officially changed his name to God. The place was pretty amazing! The walls where filled with photos of him and celebrities, from presidents to actors, to even Bruce Lee. Apparently God, formally known as Jim used to be an actor in action movies, as a stand in double for martial arts scenes. He gave us a tour of the bar, and we found out about some weird shit in there. He had a S&M room, I’m not going to go into detail. And the condom vending machine in the women’s toilet was attached to a super loud alarm, inside of the bar, so every time a woman buys a condom the alarm would go off and everyone in the bar would know about it. The place was crazy! The second night, me and Eniz walked downtown and ended up at some random party with a great vibe going on. It was a sex worker party, or better said, a fund raiser party for sex worker rights. Pretty interesting stuff, from a kissing booth to a dress up photo booth. Good times.
Family BBQs in Phoenix
After 5 days of Tucson and waiting for someone to come over to take care of Axel, we had to leave him behind and continue our tour, since we had hotels pre-booked along the way. It took us about an hour and a half to Tempe, Phoenix. We checked in and tried to get a hold of our guide. We were supposed to hook up with Joe Hammeke, but since we got a delay of a few days, he had already left town for another mission. Luckily we got a contact who sent us the coordinates to a spot. A backyard pool, a gnarly one! So we drove there, into some sketchy looking neighborhood. When we turned into the street I had the feeling it was a place we didn’t belong or were welcome. But we parked the car and went around the back as instructed. We passed a few fenced gardens and noticed everyone was having a family BBQ and not paying attention to what we where up to. We hopped a fence of an empty house and hit the jackpot! The pool coping was super rough and had never been grinded before. It must have felt good for Alain to make his first mark on there. We got there pretty late so we had to get the session on fire as soon as possible. Maybe too soon for Skankie because he ate shit gnarly and limped for the next 2 days struggling with bruised hip.
We were supposed to go to Borrego Springs for a weekend of camping with some of the Volcom U.S. guys from the team, but since we were behind on schedule, we had to skip that part of the trip and shortcut to Palm Springs. The resort town where many go to relax, except for us, I mean, for Eniz and Harry, because they left some sweat behind in a ditch trying to get their tricks in the bag.
It’s a bummer we couldn’t enjoy our time out there a little more. We stayed at this super nice 60’s tiki motel with totem poles and torches in the garden, that got lit up at night. The hot tub was the biggest I had ever seen and story goes even Elvis and Nancy Sinatra used to visit that place whenever they went to Palm Springs. It’s horrible to say but sometimes skateboarding can be a burden. You get to a place where you wanna hang out a little more but you can’t because you have to move on.
I had figured out the coordinates to only 1 spot before leaving on the trip and it would fit right into the schedule. I would keep it a secret until we where halfway through the trip and make sure it would happen.
So the day comes we have to drive back to where we started from, Costa Mesa, CA and on my request the little tour happened to visit the spot I had always dreamed about. We drive to the coordinates I had found and right when we got out of the van we stumbled upon 2 guys who had just returned from a session at their spot. We asked them if they could give us further directions and instead they proposed to join us. After a climb over a fence, a walk through the bushes, hopping from rock to rock, crossing a bridge, we finally found ourselves in a ditch that would lead us to the holy grail. Baldy Pipeline. Salba territory!
Do you wonder what happened to Axel after we left Tucson? Well, he couldn’t get his food in and his condition got even worse. Doctors soon found out the wound had got infected and they had to drain it and re-operate on him before they could send him off. From there it he went straight to Los Angeles and a first class flight took him back home to discover in a Belgian hospital they did a lousy job in the Tucson hospital. So under the knife he went again. At the end it took him about 6 weeks to recover. If only he went into the Ghost Town to get the lady’s blessing, it would have probably never been that bad!