How to Become the Worlds Greatest Skateboarder

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

Patch asked Billabong to help him with his own shot at the record, and the company built the ramps and provided a location behind its Irvine warehouse. On July 21, 2000, a day before the jump, Patch saw that the ramp needed to be adjusted and asked the construction crew to make the changes. They told him sure. No problem. Go home and get some rest. Don't give it another thought.

"I found out later [the crew] had taken off about 20 minutes after I did," Patch says.

The jump was supposed to go off the next day at 1 p.m. There was a DJ and a caterer. Everything was ready—except the ramp. At the time he was supposed to be jumping, Patch was on a forklift adjusting the ramp. He had planned to gradually increase his jumps at 10-foot intervals, in the end soaring 75 feet. But by 6:30, the sun was going down and the media and VIPs were getting antsy. The gap was set at 70, and Patch got behind the motorcycle driven by Chicken, who, pressing, brought him into the ramp too fast.

The last thing Patch says he remembers is leaving the ramp and thinking, "Oh man, this is gonna hurt." His feet hit first, whipping his head to the ground. When it hit, it made the hollow sound that accompanies a dull ax laying into wet wood. Various other body parts soon followed with, witnesses say, Patch screaming. And then nothing—just Patch, unconscious, on the concrete.

If you want to set the world skateboard-jump record, you'd better be ready to keep moving. You don't land a jump like the one Patch attempted as a gymnast would, sticking it; you land as an airliner would, rolling through the contact. If you don't, you risk failure or, almost as bad, a landing that is flat and ugly, the rider squatting—what skaters call "stinky" because it looks like someone going to the bathroom.

Following the Billabong crash, Patch and his board didn't get together for a week—their longest separation ever. He describes his maladies: sprained ankle, sprained wrist, "upper and lower spinal tweak," strained neck.

The Guinness people had called Patch about a TV show they were putting together around extreme sports records. Patch told them he would rather do it as a competition with MacDonald and Way. But MacDonald had a previous engagement in Germany, and Way passed, so Patch said, "Okay."

He arrived in Van Nuys with his mother and brother early on Jan. 21. He had been told he'd go first but then had to wait for hours through the drama that is acrobatic trampoline basketball-dunking only to find out upon its completion that he had been bumped again, this time by Baby Hercules, the Russian schoolchild who would attempt to power lift several times his own body weight.

Patch waited—for hours. He watched the crowd become increasingly bored, waiting until the Guinness people disallowed Baby's lift because they said the boy's relatives/spotters were doing the lifting. It had been nearly 12 hours since his arrival, and Patch had been allowed only a few practice jumps. Now, as the überkinder's tears cut grooves into his spray-on tan, the producers asked Patch if he was ready, as if he was likely to wander off somewhere with a 48-foot-high ramp in tow.

Finally, at 10:30 p.m., he started taking his runs and, on the third one, completed a 53-foot jump.

A world record! The announcer said so.

Patch was directed to hug his mom and was interviewed by the show's host. Patch smiled but was frantic. He knew he hadn't really set any record, that he was three feet short of what MacDonald, Way and Patch himself had done in Havasu. If the show were allowed to end now, he would have to explain time and again about the particulars, would have to bear being called a poseur and a fraud, though, no doubt, in the more musky tones employed by skaters.

He asked to jump some more. Grudgingly, the producers agreed. A couple of runs later, Patch went 56. Even better, the producers said, but Patch was still panicked. The producers told him they were packing up. Patch talked. Finally, the producers agreed to allow two more jumps, but that was it.

On his first try, he pushed too much to one side and failed. He was down to his final attempt and took his usual precautions: checking his trucks to make sure they were rock-tight to keep him on line and examining the ramp for dust and the proper line, the way a bowler surveys a lane. And then he pushed off, like going over a waterfall, no ride in, just falling. He fell fast and felt weightless, pushing hard to stay on the board but not so hard to push him off course.

Then he was off the ramp, the board drifting away for a moment. Grabbing it back, he felt the board veering to one side. If this were another jump, he would have bailed, but this being his last chance at getting the record and saving his name, he stuck with it, coming down on the landing ramp flat and ugly, sticking it like a gymnast. The board wobbled as he fought to stay on, squatting like a bear in the woods. Stinky, stinky, stinky—and he didn't care. Style had been crushed under the heel of old-school Indiana. He finished the trick.

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