The Oath and the Last Straw"I want you to take the oath." Evan said. "Swear that, as a skater, you will never divulge the location of the pipes, under any circumstances." "I swear." was all I needed to say. We were old skate partners and the gravity of his words were not lost to me. I knew he meant it and he knew I understood. We made plans for Sunday.
I was glad to have plans with Evan. He was an old buddy who I hadn't skated with for a while. I had been spending too much time playing and skating with my bandmates in JFA. There was some unspoken tension between us. I had told them I couldn't afford to go on a tour in the coming summer and they hated my girlfriend. I was feeling like I was rolling in a different direction than the rest of the band, knocking the whole thing out of alignment.
At about 9:00am that Sunday Evan Jones came to pick me up in his blue MGB. I stashed my skate gear in the back as we talked about the new pipes on the Central Arizona Project. I had listened to his stories about their perfection.
We headed east. I had some suspicion that the next section of pipes would be east of Phoenix. As they built the CAP there were successive sections of pipes that were skated. The last section was 50 miles west of Phoenix and years before. A pipe is a rare treat. There are only a handful of concrete pipes over 18 feet in diameter in the U.S.A. Of that handful most are full of water or are so out of bounds or illegal as to make them impossible to ride. This section was still under construction, still dry and not yet a bust.
The MG's tape deck was blasting the appropriate punk sounds; GBH, Suicidal Tendencies, Killing joke. We were punching the dash and the doors to the music. The MG couldn't go fast enough.
When we got to Florence Junction and headed south it hit me; the pipes had to be a siphon under the Gila river. I asked Evan and my guess was confirmed. The CAP canal must tunnel under a river to cross it.l Water flows into the pipe on the high side, goes under the river and flows out on the low side. It works like siphoning gas from a tank.
We crossed the Gila by Florence and turned east on the first road. After about two miles we turn off and wander through a construction zone. A gaping hole lays open before us. It has a truck ramp down that the MG was not built to take but Evan bounces the little car down anyway.
"We gotta keep the car outta sight in case they have patrols" he says as the car grinds over a rock the size of a milk jug.
The trench is huge, about four stories deep. On one side is a dirt channel heading south away from the river. On the other side is nirvana. A 24 foot tall pipe dropping at about an 8 degrees slope. At the mouth of the pipe it transitions from round to square then the walls fall away to the V shape of the canal. This is skate heaven. We take tentative rides even before we put our pads on. We know there is no reason to push now; our limits would surely be tested before the day was over.
After we get padded up we start to get into the flow of the pipe, feeling its size and power. Pipe riding takes one continuous motion. Jerking or stalling will either sap your energy or pitch you into the center for the most unforgiving type of slam. As we get into the flow we thrust our wheels and wood higher and higher past vertical. We hoot in turn and push each other higher. We leave wheel marks at the 10:30 height and drive for 11:00.
My concentration peaks as I freefall from a high backside turn. I unleash every ounce of my energy in the controlled thrust across the bottom of the pipe and up the other side. I tuck my knees around my head, almost upside down, and ride the ceiling. The wheels bark in protest as I redirect the board for another freefall, another thrust.
We were taking a water break when voices echo down from above. "Hey, someone's already here." I recognize the voice and I'm not happy. Bam-Bam scrambles down the road into the canal followed by Brian, Scott Pappa, Don and his girlfriend Eve.
My bandmates had heard of the pipes and had been searching for the crucial connection to show them where. Since Evan made me take the oath I had to turn my back on my own band members, my daily skate buddies. I knew I was going to be in trouble but I didn't think I would get caught in the act. Scott Pappa was a pipe dog from the old school. He had sniffed out the prize and led the way for the crew.
Bam Bam was screaming at me. "Traitor! Why did you hold out on us?" Don and Brian were determined not to let my betrayal stop them from enjoying the pipe. After a few terse comments and a few praises for Scott Pappa they warmed up in the pipe.
Eve's photograph of us silhouetted in the pipe with Scott Pappa skating in the background later became the cover of JFA's "Untitled" album. A chance meeting captured as a symbol of unity of purpose.
After that Sunday things fell apart rapidly between us. It wasn't just any skate spot, it was a pipe, and I had held out on them. They never thought my oath to Evan was an excuse. In their eyes I should have never taken the oath. My betrayal wasn't easily forgiven. As it turned out it was the last straw in our imminent split.
Michael V. Cornelius
© M.V.Cornelius, 1998