World Flowboarding Championships – FlowRider®, Ogden Utah
Nothing like going to an event, especially one that has its heart and soul born at Wave Loch. Flying on the only non-stop from San Diego to Utah, I am reminded I am working by some longtime friends who are on the same plane. Their destination? Trout fishing in Park City. Oh well, say good bye, grab a Starbucks and the shuttle to Ogden. When I reach the Marriott, I am informed that they don’t have my reservation. Bummer. I call my resource – “Laz, where am I staying?” I am summarily notified by the event Director, Greg “Laz” Lazarus that we are staying at the Hilton Garden Inn. No prob, I have lived in one of those before.
Check in and cross the street (and see Haley Balderama taking video of the location) to the venue to hear throughout the night that I am staying at the Marriott. Guess the jokes on me! Thanks to Shaun Hancock for that one!! And for organizing the event. There are practice sessions underway, pizza and drinks, chips and salsa, loud music, and all of the FLOW members ripping up the surface. A notable change since my last visit on the tour is the performance of the kids, ie, Juniors. They are killing it! The parents are out in full force, and Mike O’Conner is still shaking the cobwebs out of his head from his 50th the night before. There are competitors from Asia (Eli Limm, Sham Jamal, and Rain), Europe (Quincy Vlitjig, Sam Powell and Megan Barker), and all over the US, the usual suspects – Sean Silveira riding heard on the youths, Nick Nguyen, Brad Spencer, Chuck Wright and all of the top pros, the best Juniors in the world, and young Xana Nash, whom Laz tells me is the real up and comer in the event. The Moore’s are here in full force from Canada, and as competitive as ever.
Chris Granone is buzzing around the venue as always, and his company, WCB is the presenting sponsor of the event. Chris has been involved in the sport for years and is being pushed now by other board companies, which adds more drama to the event. Darth Vader is walking around with some blond – I remember Darth Vader as tall and gnarley, but this version I am looking down at the top of his head. Not as heavy as seeing the real one at the Cinema 21 in 1977, but it will have to do…. I guess. I mean, what has Vader got to do with Flowboarding. I don’t see him doing any kick flips.
That practice sessions go long into the night so I look forward to the competition the next day…….
Awake the following day and have breakfast with Laz, Sean, Nick and a cast of others. The practice sessions are in action, and the parade of competitors and their parents keep funneling from the hotel to the venue across the street. It’s a great scenario. Looking for a wee bit stronger coffee, Sean takes me down the street where I can find a dark coffee with multiple shots of expresso – the keyboard is now on fire! The opening ceremonies take place with the VP of Op’s of the venue, Casey Nielson giving the opening address and the Mayor of Ogden, Mike Caldwell ceremoniously firing up the FlowRider signaling the start of the event. Kids are getting amped, parents are settling in for a long weekend, cameras are firing, drama is starting, and judges are awakening.
There is a brief practice session, and Sean is riding incredibly well. The guy is sooooo smooth and has set the bar for years. When I ask Sean if he is pumped for the event, he says “yes, but I am really pumped for coming to California to surf after. I have a one way ticket!” Well Sean, nothing quite like Fall in the Golden State. My favorite time of the year, and when we left, the first solid Northwest Swell of the year was on target to arrive. Bummer for the surfing Wave Loch crew here to manage the event, but we will manage.
I peek my head into the judging tent and we truly have a stellar field of judges. WFC Barrel champion Eric Silverman, Expert rider Brandon Fenske, stalwart Head Judge Rob Chalfant, Nic Sanchez judging the Junior divisions of Bodyboarding, and Kirsten Barney (former WFC Women’s champion) helping to judge the Female competitors – probably one of the best judging lineups of all time assembled to make the competitors feel at home. Even with the ramped up judging staff, there will always be heartbreak and controversy in our sport. There is no way around it, as the sport is part trick, part style, and very subjective.
As I cross the street, I once again see Shaun Hancock in action, directing Title Sponsor, Pepsi, and their trucks into prime parking spots. Shaun is doing it all; PR (along with ace contributor, Amy), activity management, parking attendant – he is getting it done. Kids are skateboarding in front of the venue, Carbon girls are trying to “Carbonize” the crowd, and every kid in the venue has their social media activities in peak form. It is a long day of competition as we whittle the competitors down to the final events. There aren’t too many surprises after day one, as the top seeds are advancing like clockwork.
There is a best trick completion at the end of day one, with Andrew O’Conner taking the top prize in the Bodyboard division with a rodeo flip over a prone Carter Wood. Theo Koby nabbed the top trick of all of the Flowboarders with a fast plant hard flip – thanks to Laz for that definition at 35,000 feet. Someone told me it was unintentional, but it looked epic. In the best trick comp, the riders do the voting and I was surprised nobody got hurt, as the riders were really going for it.
After the completion of day on, all the staff running the comp got together for a little ride time, with Adam Muller proving to be a bit dangerous to ride with at the same time! Laz, Rob, Barney, Eric, Brandon, Ryan, Adam, Chris, and yours truly got to enjoy the FlowRider® after watching a day of ripping. As we finished, Sean Silveira and Chuck Wright hopped on the wave and put on a clinic. Joining them was Shaun Hancock’s young 9 yr old son, Xandon, who became the “grasshopper” of the evening. He was trying to glean every bit of knowledge from the young masters he was riding with, and they were helping him every step of the way. The camaraderie amongst the Pro level riders is always worth mentioning, as they prove once again, throughout the event, that they exude the best sportsmanship of all the competitors. In a subjective sport, where judging can always be criticized, they always prove that they are man enough to accept the judge’s decision. Even Nick Nguyen and Sean Silveira, who have dominated their respective disciplines like no other, never place blame on anyone but themselves. The other competitors in all of the divisions should surely learn from examples like this. It is what hopefully will set our sport apart from others, and will help build the sporting community of those that FLOW.
After getting off my proverbial sportsmanship soapbox, we ventured across the street to Wings for a few libations. As most of the competitive community had a head start on us, the party was in full swing. Fall is the greatest time of year for sports in America, as the baseball playoffs are in full swing, the NBA is starting up, the NFL is rounding into form, the World Flowboarding Championships are happening, and the NHL is blowing it again (lockout/strike, etc). Good bye fan base – maybe they will start Flowboarding! The TV’s have a game of each on, the competitors and parents are oblivious to anything but fun. Many thanx to Mike O’Conner for providing lots of fun sports talk throughout the event. Nothing quite like someone who can talk about all sports with knowledge!
We leave the bar and venture over to the venue, where at 11:30PM, Adam is still riding the wave. He is somewhat like an Energizer bunny, six hours straight with a few too many libations, and he is riding with fearless abandon along with Nick Sanchez, Carter Wood and a host of others.
As I drag my body out of bed and make it down to breakfast, I am reminded of the night before, as the victims are littered throughout the breakfast area. A little too much fun was had by most, and the Junior competitors were running rampant throughout the Hilton, as they were amongst the clearheaded. It’s a good thing the competition doesn’t start until noon, and everyone is getting prepped for a big day. Shaun is bustling about, a large stage is being erected for the concert, street fairs are starting up, vendors are settling in and it looks to be a great day.
The organization of the FLOW event by Laz is epic, and it starts promptly at noon with the Junior Bodyboard final. After Cameron Lodge’s first run, it is clearly a battle for second place and by his third run, it is a victory lap, with Bubby Koby coming in second followed by Jake Chipman and Ian Olsen respectively.
Up next is the Junior Flowboard final, pitting a young female, Xana Nash, against Nick Sanchez, Tate Freeman, and Jaxson Moore. Style prevails as these young kids are ripping. Jaxson, riding smoothly to start the heat, was the leadoff rider. Followed by Tate Freeman, these two set the bar, but Xana was riding smoothly the whole event and never hit the deck as she completed all of here spins and shuvits both regular and switch. But, it was Nick Sanchez who raised the bar in the Junior division by completing all of the requisite manuevars, along with a kick flip that proved to be decisive. In a division that is separated by very little, it is the kick flip that is the difference. Xana was followed in second by Jaxson and Tate, as the Junior riders continued to surprise with their dedication and training, and this was seen later in the event.
For the first time, a Pro Female Bodyboard Division competed for pure, hard cash. With Tracey Carroll and Cathy Seabert leading off, the drama was due to continue, but they were overwhelmed by the consistent and polished riding of Hayley Balderama and Morgan Seabert. Hayley, who rides the FlowBarrel with consistency and smoothness, brought her attack to the Utah FlowRider and pushed Morgan hard with a vast array of hubcaps, and drop knee rolls but by her third run, Morgan wasn’t to be outdone and cruised into first place with a variety of switch and reverse rolls. Her attack is so smooth and polished, and she proved so once again, followed by Hayley, Cathy and Tracey.
The Pro Female Flowboarders were next to hit the surface and it was a contrast in styles, with Fantasy Surf combatants Vanessa Arroyo, Xana Nash and Austyn Bynon ready to gang up on local Dee Daniels. Austyn led off and set the bar with her smooth riding style, both regular and switch. Vanessa, the 2011 Female FLOW Tour National Champion, hasn’t been competing regularly in the 2012 season, and while she charged through the Semi’s, it caught up with her in the final as she had her troubles and finished in fourth place, and DESPITE landing the first kick flip in history in a women’s competiton in her last run, it simply wasn’t enough. Dee rode consistently the entire event, but it was only good for third as Austyn’s style and consistency prevailed for second. It was 14 year old Xana though, that has started to raise the bar in technical women’s riding. I’m not sure if she ever got her hair wet on the final day, and she added the Female Pro title to go along with her second place finish in the Junior Final. Her riding is so technical for someone so young, as she repeatedly went through her repertoire without fault. She looks to be a dominant young force for years to come.
For me, the hardest division for the lay-person to understand and judge is the Pro Men’s Bodyboard. “Stuff” is happening so fast and furious that not many people can actually follow it. The guys are landing switch to regular and regular to switch out of so many different rolls and variations, huge shuvits, etc, that unless you are an expert judge, you don’t have a clue. Even head judge, Rob Chalfant, told me, “I can’t ever take my eyes off the pro riders now – if you blink, you miss a trick.” Another judge, Eric Silverman told me that this division makes him the most nervous to judge, as the margin between riders is ultra thin. This is obviously a division that would benefit from video replay, but that is for another conversation. What was obvious though, is that from his third run in the Semi’s, throughout the final, Daniel Tarapachak was a young man on a mission. This was certainly clear to me, as his combinations were fast and furious and every manuever was landed on his board and very cleanly. Rodeo flips that only Nick was landing a year or two ago, are now the staple move as the riders are coming out of these tricks both regular and switch. While all of the riders were ripping, it was tough to keep up with Daniel’s energy, technical competency, and consistency. He surprised the crowd by winning the title as multiple National and World champion Nick Nguyen squeaked into second ahead of Nick Sanchez and Andrew Shelton respectively.
The word out from the FLOW Tour this year was that the young JR kids – Daniel, Andrew Shelton, Andrew O’Conner, and Nick Sanchez – would be pushing Nick Nguyen hard this year. Nick, the consummate sportsman and pro, has helped these young kids in their development and most likely to his detriment. But Nick has led the charge for years, is a great example to the young guns, blames only himself when he fails, and I am sure will continue to live up to all of these admirable traits in the future as the elder statesman of the progressive Bodyboard era.
While the Pro Bodyboard division surely had some exciting twist and turns, the drama next turned to the Pro Men’s Flowboard division. While there was plenty of drama going into the final, with Sean Silveira barely squeeking into the final over friend Nick Nguyen, and Chuck Wright pounding out the tricks throughout Semi #2, and Brad Spencer and Theo Koby advancing out of Semi #1 over Carter “moon” Wood and Euro competitor Quincy Vlitjig, the drama in the final was fairly nominal. While Sean fell on his first run and Theo did as well, and Chuck continued his assault, it was Brad Spencer who rode exceptionally well the entire event. His consistency in his trick riding was not to be overcome. In my mind, he was the most impressive rider of the event. Maybe not in terms of style, in which he has plenty, but his kick flip and shuvit variations, landing regular and switch and basically never missing a beat – it was a very impressive display. There was never any doubt as Brad won the top prize of $1500. His exceptional riding throughout the event has raised the bar of multiple trick riding for the next season. It was too bad my camera ran out of juice, as the final featured some exceptional riding, including a very technical final run by Sean that included a shuvit to bigflip combo variation that had he not fallen, might have added some controversy to an event without much controversy throughout. But it wasn’t to be and Brad is a worthy champion as I think he and Xana were both the top Male and Female riders of the event.
In the International Team competition, it was the USA bringing down the Title, with Europe coming in second and team Asia third.
As the event wound down, you could sense a bit of relief from organizer Shaun Hancock, who did an amazing job throughout. The final day was a day of firsts; first Womens kick flip ever landed in completion – congrat’s Vanessa; first Junior World Champion, way to go Nick; first Female Pro Bodyboard division (1st – $600, 2nd – $400, 3rd – $300, 4th – $200,), and the first time over $20,000 has been awarded in cash and prizes. The competitors walked away with a substantial bounty that included cash, wakeboards, snowboards and skateboards. The night wound down, or up, as the party got started with RootBerry, was subsequently ramped up by several bands, and the hotel was a circus of competitors enjoying the food and libations complements of the Hilton Garden Inn.
Which brings us to the sponsors – we couldn’t do it without them. Pepsi, WCB, the Utah Sports Commission, Hilton Garden Inn and Rockwell Time. We can’t do it without the competitors, who have driven the levels in our sport to unbelievable heights, and we can’t do it without the parents, who even though they have “dramatic tendencies” of their own, they support the athletic endeavours of their children throughout.
I would like to thank the Pro Men’s riders, who continue to set the bar for sportsmanship. All of the other divisions can learn from these guys – Nick, Sean, Chuck, Brandon, Brad, Theo, et al – it was a pleasure watching you guys compete and I hope your attitude and approach rinses down to the other competitors. The Pro Women are not far behind, and it is the Jr’s that are going to carry the torch as they push the level of riding.
Thanxksas well to Laz and Rob, whose passion for the sport is only surpassed for their passion to grow the sport. Each year, we get better at what we do, and without them, and Chris Granone, we would not have the sport we have.
Thanx to Ryan “I can’t hear a word your saying” Rosas for driving up to help MC the event. To Adam Muller and Ben Corwin for their social media contributions and eccentricities throughout. The judging of Eric Silverman and Brendon Fenske, as well as Barney and Nick. To the City of Ogden and Mayor Caldwell, the Nielson family, and once again to Shaun, who’s vision made this event happen.
As I was bidding farewell to parents and competitors alike, the positive energy was great. As I think about the FLOW meeting next week to discuss next year’s FLOW Tour and schedule of events, I do so with great anticipation of the 2013 season. We already have the WFC Barrel competition scheduled at YAS Island Waterpark in Abu Dhabi, and we are expanding the Pro/Am series of events in the USA as well.
As we roll into the airport this Sunday morning I spot this green pajama’d person, and see it to be UK competitor Megan Barker. She looks tired and ready for a long trip back to the UK, and traveling with Sam, seems more than willing to follow his lead. As a just turned 19 yr old, traveling on her own for the first time, the event has left a “lasting” impression on her. As I see the lime green “Teletubby” walking down the ramp to her long journey home, I can only hope the smile on her face is equivalent to other smiles on those participants whose journey brought them to Utah. And to Sean, who is coming to So Cal for some surf, there is swell on the way! See you soon and I’ll see you all next year!