How to Become the Worlds Greatest Skateboarder

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

"I couldn't stop thinking about California," he recalls. "When you grow up in Indiana and you see the skate videos, they're all about California. You think there's something magical, that there's something in the water that makes everyone so good."

So in 1994, he left for California, cramming whatever fit into the Jetta's trunk. Plus, he had a little pocket cash, which he had earned selling bongs.

"It wasn't like I was some stoner," he says. "I was looking at it as more of a business opportunity. I knew these guys wanted bongs, and I knew where I could get them."

So he used nearly all of his money—$300—to buy the bongs at an action-sports trade show and sold them to his buds at Pizza Hut for twice the price he'd paid.

If you want to set the world skateboard-jump record, you'd better be ready to hold steady. Sailing through the air, having left the launch ramp traveling better than 35 mph, his board flying away from him, Patch reached down quickly, almost imperceptibly, and held it firm against the soles of his shoes. It's a delicate maneuver best performed by someone skilled at adjusting—quite literally—on the fly.

When Patch arrived in California, he had little money and no place to stay. He trusted that the brotherhood—which had taken care of arrangements in North Carolina and Wisconsin—would suffice in California, especially with needs so small. "All I wanted was a closet to sleep in," he says.

He'd made friends with skaters Dave Duncan and Christian Hosoi, and they told him about Chicken's place. Chicken's place is on the bend of a Huntington Beach housing tract that's stocked with the kind of furniture you find in summer rentals. Part shrine, part Bat Cave, it is an invitation-only abode that, from the outside, gives away nothing about the wonder within: a swimming pool constructed specifically for skating.

Patch camped at Chicken's, sleeping under the pool table—"It had carpet then, so it wasn't too bad," he says—next to Darby, the calf-size pit bull who patrolled the place. So there he was, a chew-toy, waking every morning to walk the few steps outside to skate the pool, skating so much that he'd eventually injure just about every joint, bone and epidermal sheath. It was everything he'd dreamed about California.

"After a while, I had a wrist brace, an ankle brace, bruises all over my hips," Patch says. "I walked with a constant limp, and I couldn't stop thinking that it couldn't get better than this."

His skating began to evolve. Back in Indiana, it had always been enough just to finish a trick—how wasn't very important. Hosoi and Kelly Rosecrans introduced style to Patch and started at the beginning. Hosoi taught Patch how to breathe.

By the time he was 22, he was ready to turn pro, which is nice if your sport is football. But in the skate world, guys go pro at 15. He was behind the curve and seemed to fall farther when he finished last in his first pro competition. But, as might be expected, he stuck with it and improved. By 1995, he had become famous enough to have skate magazine Big Brother—later to gain fame when it was called pornographic by radio terror Laura Schlessinger—ask him to come up with something for their Stunt Man issue.

Patch suggested a Knievelesque jump over parked cars. The magazine agreed. A few weeks later, they set up a couple of ramps in the Huntington Beach High School parking lot. Patch jumped 28 feet over three cars—an unofficial world record—landing on a ramp that was only four feet wide. But because it was too dark, the photos from the jump had not come out well, so a second shoot was scheduled. The following week, they set up on a side street in LA, but the cops got wind of it and closed them down, impounded the cars and gave Patch a ticket. A week later, they tried Huntington Beach High again, setting up the ramps and the three cars. And then came the guy in the ice cream truck.

"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, towed into the ramp behind a motorcycle driven by Chicken, jumped over two cars and an ice cream truck, a distance he estimates at 28 feet.

When the shoot ended, Patch assumed his jumping career was over, too. But by 1996, he was regularly finishing in the top 10 and was on his way to becoming a team rider for Billabong and Etnies and having helmets named after him.

Jumping stuff just didn't seem that important, though; it was still a stunt. But when he heard that Andy MacDonald had gone 52 feet, 10 inches using a ski jump-like ramp that started 40 feet up in the air, his curiosity spiked. MacDonald's jump was declared a world record by Guinness, and it found its way onto the pages of The Guinness Book of World Records, listed near a photo of Tony Hawk performing his 900. Later, for fun, Patch, MacDonald and Danny Way began jumping after an event at Lake Havasu, and each went 56 feet, the new—though unofficial—record.

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