Press "Enter" to skip to content

Rippin’ the Rio

Does Oaky Joe Munson care about anything besides his crop? You bet he does. He cares like crazy about his daughter, Millie, and his son, Milo, and about Norcal skateboarders who compete for prizes and for glory. Hundreds of skateboarders aged 12 to 18 descended on sleepy Monte Rio on the Russian River to take part in the "Rippin' the Rio 2021 Festival" on a hot Saturday afternoon in October. The skateboarders came from Willits, Ukiah, Healdsburg, Windsor, Forestville, Santa Rosa, Sebastopol and the State of Maine. A few were professionals and had corporate sponsors. Most were amateurs who love the action sport that was included in the 2020 Summer Olympics held in Tokyo. It was the first time that skateboarding was an official part of the games, for both men and women. 

Not long ago the sport migrated from surfing. The original skateboarders caught wild waves in the Pacific Ocean and mastered them. 

Moms and dads, family members and friends watched the competition in Monte Rio, cheered, applauded and marveled at the feats that seemed to defy the laws of gravity. Skateboarders flew through the air and landed safely, mostly. Jessica Thornton from Guerneville is the mother of four boys, though only her ten-year-old, Ryker, accompanied her to the festival. "Skateboarding is fun," he told me. "I started two years ago. I've learned that when you fall you get up and keep going unless it's serious." James Mammele who came with his son, Jonas, said, "Once I lived to skate. Then after my son was born I stopped and became a dad. When my son took up skating I went back to it. He put fuel in my tank."

Millie Munson, who is almost 18 and the daughter of Joe Munson, a fierce advocate for the sport, didn't begin to skate until the pandemic arrived, mostly in "Seb Town" as she and her friends call Sebastopol. Skating brought Millie and her pals outdoors, into the open air and away from the Zoom Gloom of computer screens. It acted as a kind of antidepressant. 

At the Monte Rio festival, Millie won first place in her age group. Her brother, Milo, took third place and is already dreaming of first place next year. Millie told me, "It's important to practice skateboard manners: don't cut in front of someone when they're skating; take turns; and if you're older look out for those younger than you." 

Good manners ruled the day, due in large part to the kids themselves, though adults aided them. 

Kenny Reed, the director of the festival, boasts an impressive international reputation. Now 45, he started to skate at age 10. He has taken his boards on the road all across the U.S. and to Eastern Europe, South Asia and the Middle and the Far East. In the process, he has made the phenomenon globally respected, though in some places skateboarders are regarded as troublemakers and so the sport is illegal and prohibited. 

Still, there isn't a corner of the world where skating isn't a vital part of teen and pre-teen culture. Reed himself lives by the slogan, "Have Skateboard Will Travel." He raises money for a non-profit foundation called "Salad Days of Skateboarding" that serves underserved communities. He has sent dozens of boards to places like Bhutan and Pakistan. 

Eric Kirkwod wore a bright pink dress shirt that made him stand out in the Monte Rio crowd and visible from every direction. He signed up the competitors, kept accurate records, acted as the master of ceremonies and provided commentary on the moves and the tricks like "slashing" and "carving." At the start of the competition he told the crowd, "Thanks for coming" and with a twinkle in his eye and a lilt in his voice added, "Skate or die." 

Several D.J.s kept the records spinning. "I play what's fitting," Tony "the Tiger" Manfre said. "I play what gets the energy flowing." Over the course of several hours he played hip-hop, jazz, funk and rock 'n' roll that appealed to all ages and generations. The teens and preteens seemed to feed off the music and off one another's boundless energy. 

"Skate Park Danny," as he's known, made sure to return lost items to their owners. Nobody likes to lose a skateboard. Everyone smiles when a lost board is found and returned to the owner.

If any parent had doubts about the sport and about the health and wellbeing of their sons and daughters they seemed to be dispelled. Jessica Thornton was one happy mom. James Mammels was one happy dad. So was Joe Munson. "The kids...well..urr," he began. "The kids, well, they're all right." 

Oh, and in case you're wondering what "rippin'" means, as in "Rippin' the Rio," a 14-year-old-skateboarder explained to me, "it's when you're skating super gnarly and intense." 

Donations are always welcome and can be sent to Monte Rio Recreation and Parks District, 20488 CA-116, Monte Rio, CA 95462.

(Jonah Raskin is the author of Field Days: A Year of Farming, Eating and Drinking Wine in California.)

Be First to Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *