We all know skimboarding – shattered bones and bruised egos caused by sliding on wet sand atop a glossy piece of plywood, right? Wrong. In fact, if you made it out to Skim Jam this past weekend, you may have witnessed something quite unlike what you imagined – a full-fledged sport, complete with sponsors and professional competitors.
Still can’t picture it? Imagine a combination of skate and snowboard-style tricks, varials, pop-shove-its, 360s, all done using the shorebreak as a continually re-forming ramp. The event, put on by Zap Skimboards and Skim City, is a fast-action, high-adrenaline spectacle…to put it lightly. It’s a tradition as well. Though the timeline isn’t certain, skim veterans estimate the competition began in ’84 or ’85 through a partnership between Sandblaster Skimboards’ Harry Wilson and Kitty Hawk Sports former owner Ralph Buxton.
The contest has certainly evolved since the early days when it was held in front of the Ramada in Kill Devil Hills. “There were 70 to 80 people then,” said Skim City’s Greg Krolczyk, whose company took over operation of the event in the late ’90s. “It moved up to 100 to 120 skimmers when we were doing it, and five years ago we had 191; that was when we decided we needed to cut it off at 175, and just let the heats fill up. This year we had 197, and still had to turn away 25 to 30 people. It’s now the largest skim competition in the world.”
Numbers aren’t the only thing that’s changed about the competition. Krolczyk said styles and tricks have come a long way too. “A lot of that is credited to the progression in skateboarding and progression in snowboarding,” he said. “If they can do it on skateboards and snowboards, these guys are trying to do it on skimboards.”
Now, this all sounds very impressive, but it’s no secret the Outer Banks doesn’t even compare to places like California or Cabo when it comes to wave size, so what does it have to offer? “The Outer Banks is actually a pretty prime spot for a skim contest,” Zap team rider Jason Wilson said. “We didn’t get quite the swell we were looking for, but across the board it’s pretty consistent skimming, there’s always a wave here, and there’s so much coastline so it’s hard not to find some nook or cranny that doesn’t have some nice shorebreak.”
Like Wilson said, the swell just wasn’t all there this weekend. Two days prior to the contest, waves were setting up perfectly at 5th Street, but a steady Southwest wind flattened things out a bit. The contest began Saturday morning with the Mini’s and Boy’s divisions, and moved into the Men’s and Women’s Pro heats as conditions improved. Ahead of schedule, officials decided to take advantage of improving waves, and hold the Pro quarterfinals Saturday afternoon. Sunday was increasingly eventful, with cleaner and bigger swell for the Pro’s semifinals and finals later in the afternoon.
“It could’ve been better, but it was fun. There were little liners and waves to boost off,” Zap team rider Max Smetts said. “It looks like it’s gotten bigger today, it’s going to be highly competitive as always.” Smetts finished fourth in the Pro contest behind Victoria rider Morgan Just in third, and Exile riders Brad Domke and Austin Keen in second and first, respectively.
Smetts was right when he said the contest got highly competitive. It’s all about impressing the judges at Skim Jam – veteran skimmer and owner of Everglide Performance Wax Pete Rash said, “the way the competition is now, you really have to find that edge, the one trick that somebody else has never done to move you on.”
Exile rider and First Place winner in the Pro division Austin Keen said Skim Jam is more challenging than many other of the UST events, because heats are stacked differently. “I was particularly not stoked to see I had Brad Domke, Sam Stinnett, and Dave Scott all in my semifinals heat. I really wanted the win, but seeing that really doesn’t make things easy on the mind,” he said. “Everyone was killing it, and I think since round two things just turned on to a whole ‘notha level!”
Keen said it was a combination of his speed and experience riding in similar conditions that put him ahead of the competition. “The waves in the finals were very similar to what I grew up skimming on Tybee,” he said. “I had a lot of people telling me that I had more speed on the waves than the others, so I think momentum on the wave is what set me apart. I’m sure a couple lofty boosts didn’t hurt either.”