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.

"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.

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.

And the crowd went wild. Fifty eight feet. The Guinness people were happy because they had something to air between Sprite commercials, and Patch was relieved that he could face his counterparts. But before he could celebrate, he had to be interviewed by the TV host as if the jump never occurred—there was no point in wasting videotape on a loser.

"So, do you think you can make it, Brian?"

"Well, I hope I can make it," said Patch, tired and geeked-out.

If you want to set the world skateboard-jump record, you'd better be willing to put up with a bit.

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