How to Become the Worlds Greatest Skateboarder

From Indiana to Orange County by air: The life of Brian Patch

If you want to set the world skateboard-jump record, you'd better be willing to wait. Brian Patch waited 54 feet in the air for more than 12 hours, his head above the rafters of a Van Nuys airport hanger, unable to see the end of the ramp that was made of better wood than anything he could steal in Indiana. He waited through the trampoline-basketball troupe and the squealing Russian-schoolboy power lifter.

When he finally pushed off, tired and geeked-out by the freak show, he considered every inch of the single line of his trajectory—second nature when you learn to ride in a front yard that happens to be Highway 31. You learn to scan and concentrate with such focus you no longer hear the truckers downshifting miles away as they prepare to make the eight traffic signals in Kokomo, "Stop Light City."

Years later, after finally making it to Southern California and now living in Westminster, Patch spoke of the state's "great blessing" and wasn't talking about the weather or the ocean, but rather yard after cubic yard of smooth, pale concrete—everywhere, as if the whole place was one big skate park. The kind of place where someone could just start doing tricks. Where most do.

But Kokomo, Indiana, is where Patch first rode. He rode along the four-lane Highway 31. He rode from here to there and over, by and through whatever spilled out or fell away before him. Today he is considered one of the world's best and most versatile pro riders—a six-time X-Game medallist in competitions ranging from street to vert to crossover to best trick.

When he got a decent skateboard, Patch rode his bike 10 miles into downtown Kokomo to local banks and stores to try the tricks he'd heard and read about. When he got tired of that, he weaseled his way into cars bound for regional skate parks: seven hours to Wisconsin's the Turf, 10 hours to North Carolina's Eastern Vert. He'd talk his way into the back seat of some guy's car, skate and then talk until he found a place to stay the night. He was 13.

We said, "Dude we will buy a whole bunch of ice cream if you'll pull your truck up next to these cars," Patch says. And that's how Brian Patch jumped over two cars and an ice cream truck.

On his first trip to the Turf, he bummed a ride with a couple of guys in their 20s. When they arrived, it was late, so Patch slept on the front seat while one of the guys slept on the back seat, and the other slept under the car. When the park opened the next morning, he forged his mom, Jane's, name on the waiver form, but the Turf people wouldn't take it; they wanted his mother to sign it in front of them. As if. Patch hadn't told her he was going to Wisconsin. She didn't know these guys. He didn't know these guys.

"Hi, Mom. I'm in Wisconsin," Patch told her. "I'm up here with these two older guys, and I need you to get to a fax machine so I can fax you this waiver. Then you need to sign it, have it witnessed by a notary public and fax it back to this number."

He said this to his mother, who yelled at him, but, incredibly, did as he asked. Still, Patch was wearing on her: the road trips, riding till all hours, helping friends boost their parents' cars in order to drive to construction sites to steal wood to build vert ramps. The cops got involved in that incident. Then there was the party at a friend's house that degenerated into a water fight: garden hoses were brought inside, and most of the home's newly hung drywall was destroyed. Then Patch was told he was going to Bloomington to live with his older brother, Jeff.

Bloomington is the home of the University of Indiana. It also had a few more skaters. He gained a reputation and started entering—and winning—local contests. A couple of women asked him to help start a skate shop; it didn't pay a lot, but it kept him in fresh supplies. He started to make his own skateboards and snowboards, but soon, he couldn't make the snowboards fast enough. It was the early '90s, and ski and skate stores were unable to keep the things on their shelves.

Then, with all the thoughtfulness he had given other road trips, Patch decided he should go to Colorado and get serious about the snowboard industry. He sold most of what he had—clothes, shoes, bikes. He left one of his old cars by the road for anyone with a tow truck.

"I gave away everything. That was, like, the stupidest thing I've ever done," he says, though that matter is certainly up for debate, especially with his mother.

He took only what he could fit into his uninsured Volkswagen Jetta, but it turned out Colorado didn't hold much for him. In a short time, the big ski manufacturers had gotten into the snowboarding game, gobbling up the small companies and nailing down most of the shops. He ended up working at a Pizza Hut.

Next Page »