White Knuckles on the 101: Vancouver to San Diego and Back Again Text and photos by Brian Caissie
Waking up very early knowing you’re going away for a month for a break from your day-to-day is easy. But the idea of a road trip brings thoughts of the unknown—exciting and scary at the same time. The concept of taking to the open road has been made into hundreds of movies and books, and fills our dreams with images of escape. Just watch European Vacation or Road Trip and you’ll see why anything is possible and why we, as humans, find it so interesting.
We all know that if you want to make it in skateboarding, California is where you have to be; not all the time, but most of the time you have to move there to make it. Take a look at all the big name pros and you’ll find them spread out along California’s coastline. Every year, it seems, a lot of Canadians with potential and motivation make the move there to take the next step and see how far they can push their abilities. It’s easy, really: if you want to get better, then skate with people who are better than you.
My good friend Will Cui (China tour guide to the stars) and I had the idea to drive the 7,000 kilometres to San Diego from Vancouver and back without a real plan. We’d just visit friends who made the move south, to see what they had for spots, sun and beaches. Escaping a wet, cold Canadian winter was reason enough.
If you ask anyone who’s done this drive, they’ll say, “Take Highway 101”. It’s a longer drive, but full of twists and turns and follows the ocean the whole way down. We took it instead of the busy, boring highways through the countryside. Along the way, we stopped in each town to fill up with gas and check out the beaches and the sights, eventually landing ourselves in San Francisco, where we stayed for a week.
Every winter, a lot of the Canadian scene vanishes to San Fran to skate the streets and enjoy cheap eats. Plus, the city has a new skatepark, which is great. So we hit that, then set the cruise control and drove to L.A. and Hollywood. We hiked up the Hollywood Hills and went to the classic spots we’d all seen in the videos.
What Will didn’t know at the time (but by reading this, he knows now) was that while he was sleeping, I drove 170 km/h on cruise control. We made great time that way. Never straying too far from the coast, we drove along the winding roads to Huntington Beach, then all the way to San Diego, where we couldn’t go any farther. Will decided to get crazy and went to Tijuana, Mexico with SK8MAFIA. He said they just walked across the border without even showing passports.
After being in California for a month and keeping busy, as most do there, I’d come to realize that with constant sunshine and all the major brands as your neighbours, it’s the best place to be living your dream as a skateboarder. The crews we hooked up with are all hard workers and busy skaters; go down and skate with these guys and you’ll see how lazy you really are. It’s very motivating, and I can’t wait to go back. Maybe next time, though, we’ll rent an RV and camp along the way…. Anyone want to come?
Will Cui takes the twisted path to the beach on the Oregon Coast, one of our favourite places we drove through.
Ryan Decenzo, Backside Smith Grind. Getting to Huntington Beach was high on my list, and I knew it would be a big part of the trip. I grew up shooting with Ryan Decenzo, and was excited to see how far he’s come. Now I see him on TV skating all the contests against the biggest pro names out there. Huntington Beach is small but full of good spots, and a lot of skaters live there, so it’s a nice community; it’s also amazing weather every day. Ryan, Scott Decenzo and TJ Rogers all live together, and as you can imagine, it’s a sweet house full of skate mags and videos. They also have flatbars and a small skatepark in their backyard. They got together with Kyle Berard to design a little skate zone, which has a quarterpipe, a ledge and a nice, long strip for run-up. It’s also equipped with a firepit and barbecue for the ultimate backyard jam. This was the warm-up each day, or where they’d invent tricks to bring on the street—a pretty smart idea. We skated the quarterpipe a bit before we hit this backyard pool; it’s very different since the pool is mostly vert, but you gotta hype yourself up before you skate a legitimate backyard pool. The guy who owned the house said they were just changing the water and it would be filled again soon, so we headed right over and got in a good session. The coping hadn’t been grinded yet, so the first 50 Backside Smiths Ryan did stuck every time. After it slowly wore down, it was good to power through. We had an interesting session, as most of our crew are street skaters, and watching them become more comfortable throughout the day was amazing to see.
Will Marshall, Switch Front Crook. San Francisco, I gotta say, is my favourite city. It has hills and amazing buildings, and the people are also kind of crazy, which is my style. Anyone you meet in the street will be all ears, listening to your story and where you’re from, then they’ll tell you their crazy story—it’s fun. We stayed in S.F. to explore the city for a week and meet up with Dan Zaslavsky, who’s been shooting photos here for years and knows every spot. Look him up if you’re lost. There was a bunch of guys there escaping the long Canadian winter and deep snow conditions, so Will Cui and I got a hotel downtown and tried our best to hook up with them to skate. Everyone was so excited to be there, and Will Marshall was on a tear at every spot we went to. No surprise there, as I’m sure you all know how he rolls: late to the spot but gets the most footage. Must be nice to land your tricks as fast as Will does. This famous bench spot on the waterfront is a must when you come to S.F. Not only is it a good skate spot, but it’s also on the water, so you get a view of the Bay Bridge. There are coffee shops near by, and lots of girls jogging by and checking us out. So basically the perfect spot. Also, Pier 7 is close by with a bunch of other spots to hit as well, so you can spend all day here and not get bored.
TJ Rogers, Switch Crooked Grind. This school is not a weekday spot at all; TJ Rogers’ tone and Hoops’ face told me the seriousness of security there. They explained how they’d been there three times trying to get this and always got kicked out—sometimes just for looking at it, they were sent off the property. So I went in with low expectations, thinking we wouldn’t get to skate. Within minutes, a lady in a golf cart drove up and started yelling at us: “Not here, boys!” But she ended up joking with us, and we were able to skate ’til we got it and then leave. It’s a great feeling to walk away on your own terms. TJ had recently bought his own car, and had been a busy bee searching for spots and going on his own missions. Sometimes I’d awake at 9 a.m. to find that he was already out getting a spot ready or had just filmed new GoPro lines. It made me feel lazy. These are the guys who keep me motivated, and I was lucky enough to spend a few weeks with them at their house.
Scott Decenzo, Switch Backside Heelflip. Every city has a ghetto spot or DIY setup. Luckily, Los Angeles is full of construction all the time, as buildings keep coming and going. This huge, one-block-sized empty lot is full of gaps, angle iron and different levels. The guys have been building here for years, and they have plans to build more this year. Scott Decenzo has been on a serious mission to film this year. (I’m sure you’ve all seen the new Plan B video by now and know his skating keeps getting better and more tech.) Our first day shooting was a hot one, and Scott decided to huck down this large gap. Hoops filmed to hype up the session, and was yelling at Scott. All Hoops’ antics were amazing, and the result was Scott laughing through the air during this Switch Backside Heel. Scott is always on his own mission; we went on a few bike rides around town looking for new spots, and he’s always thinking of what’s next.
Michael Ray, Ollie up to Over Noseblunt. Once people know you’re in town and down to meet up to shoot photos or film, the day sets up quickly. Michael Ray was staying close to us, so he met up with us a few times to skate. It rained a bunch the night before, with lightning and thunder waking us up for breakfast. It hailed so much that the entire Huntington Beach looked like it was covered in snow. Everyone was having snowball fights and building little snowmen—really weird for Southern California. When we got to the spot, there was a lot of flooding; even the swing sets at the school were in two feet of water. I took advantage of the puddles and decided to try a reflection shot, adding a bit more to an already great skate spot. Every spot we went to, Michael got a photo or video clip, and that’s the energy a tourist brings on a trip: Most likely you won’t be coming back to the spot twice, so you might as well skate hard.
Jordan Hoffart, Frontside Kickflip. Growing up, we all build spots, whether it’s fixing a barrier, parking curb or building a manual pad in the backyard. Jordan Hoffart is a crafty guy—he’s pretty much an artist if you ask me. Lampshades, fireplaces, dining-room tables: whatever it is, Jordan is always on the move and working on projects. Now that he’s bought his own house with a huge backyard, the ideas in his brain can become a reality. Jordan went the route of a mini dreamland, building a full bowl with pool coping, a pyramid, ledges… basically, it’s a skatepark in front of and behind the house. The drive through California was a great experience. I’ve come to learn that it’s easier than you think to get up and go. As more and more people I know head to California to live their winterless dreams, I’ll be going there much more. I highly recommend getting a car and chasing the sunshine all the way to the beaches.