Words & Photos: Tristan Kennedy
A week ago today, the Whitelines Rail Jam came to the slopes of the UK for the first time, bringing badass riding, big tunes, and bare people to the indoor arena of The Snow Centre at Hemel Hempstead. OK, so we're always gonna blow our own trumpet a little bit on this one (we mean like shout about it, not what Prince does in the privacy of his own home) but seriously, there was a pretty damn impressive turn out, and the riding did go off in some serious style.
A lot of this was down to the effort put in by the DWA (Diggers With Attitude) crew at Hemel, who shaped one of the sickest parks any indoor dome's seen for a while - complete with a street feature consisting of the Whitelines down bar, a box to gas-pipe, and the SCUK Box set up as a ledge over a set of icy stairs. Alongside this was a line of two kickers, while side by side rails at the top of the slope, the Whitelines rainbow rail, and a C-Box buried in a bank provided the rest of the entertainment. Fellow event organisers FBBB put us in touch with a man who had a garage full of insanely-large speakers, and a head full of stories of the illegal raves he used to run back in the nineties. Once we had his epic soundsystem in place (and the sounds of the awesome DJ Hungryman to accompany the session), we were ready to roll.
Like the original board test Rail Jam in Kaunertal Austria, the event started with a gentle jam session, giving all the riders a chance to get used to the park, and strut their stuff all over the slope. Locals like Sam Cullum and Lannig Canu were whipping out all sorts of steezy shit over the kickers, while Dan Wakeham, who'd travelled up from Plymouth for the occasion (and to skate the brand new Hemel bowl) was getting properly stuck in too. The event sponsors Lib Tech had set themselves up at the bottom of the slope with a full complement of 2011-12's sickest new sticks for people to test out for free, and Mikee's FBBB assumed his usual position behind the microphone, calling out tricks, bigging up riders who were doing well, and abusing people when they fell over. After a couple of hours of messing around, and a quick break for a reshape and a pint, the rail jam proper began, with the DWA's epic urban-inspired stairset taking centre stage.
With Mikee egging them on from the sidelines, riders dropped in and threw down their finest moves for the first 45 minutes in an open jam session. Neil Campbell, Chris Chatt and others had come down from Milton Keynes to bust out a few steezy front blunts and tail-presses. Rowan Biddiscombe (who's now a local, having decided to base himself in Hemel for the summer) was whipping out stylish back boards tucking his knee in and grabbing indy down the rail. Calum Paton did a fine line in front 3 to 50-50s, and Dan Wakeham got stuck in with a few solid back lips.
There was also impressive riding from Ed "Sideshow Bob" Castle-Henry, and young Josh Ogden was killing it. While most of the action was happening on the down bar, the rest of the setup was by no means left alone. Katie Ormerod and Becky Menday, two of the UK's brightest future prospects (and already damn fine shredders in their own right) were destroying the box to gas pipe side of the set with various tech combos. On the other side, the SCUK Box was used as a skate-style ledge to gap the stairs by the likes of Emily Williams on more than one occasion - freaking out photographers James North and Andrew Jay, who'd set up their flashes underneath it!
After a select group of eight men and four women were whittled down to a final, the action began in earnest. Again the format was open, allowing riders like the ever-stylish MK local Gazza Andrews (the winner of the Kaunertal rail jam) to really excel. Tricks like a super-solid cab 270 onto the down bar and a stalefish gap to back board made him the standout rider of the night. But while it became clear that Gazza's consistency and big bag of tricks would earn him first place, the judges were having a real battle deciding on second and third. In fact, there was effectively a five-way tie going on, with Nathan Onions, Calum Paton, Cody Heirons, Chris Chatt and Neil Campbell all riding so consistently, and stomping all manner of technical shite so cleanly, that it was impossible to pick between them. With the jam session extended, each one was given a couple more runs to prove themselves - and to try and break the deadlock in the judges minds.
In the end, the difficult decision was made, and the places were announced as follows: First for Gazza Andrews, second for Calum Paton, and Chris Chatt in third. The women's battle, which had seen Katie and Becky matching each other trick for trick, was eventually won by Katie. Becky took second and local lass Alise Balode, who'd been super-solid all night, grabbed a well-deserved third place. Meanwhile young Josh Ogden romped his way to the best junior title after a sick night's riding that saw him prove that elders are not necessarily betters. With cash prizes (in the form of crisp 50-pound notes) Whitelines subscriptions and a whole bunch of other goodies in their hands, the winners went home smiling. But as always with the jam format, the competitive aspect was only half the fun. The idea - of getting as many people as possible out on to a sick park setup - had come through nicely, and (though we say so ourselves) a sick night was had by all. You can watch the full video highlights of the event here.
Thanks to our sponsors LIb Tech, FBBB, Gnu and Quiksilver, and here's to the next one at Castleford on Friday, August 26th. See you there!
WHITELINES RAIL JAM HEMEL HEMPSTEAD
1) Gareth Andrews
2) Calum Paton
3) Chris Chatt
1) Katie Ormerod
2) Becky Menday
3) Alise Balode
1) Josh Ogden