words: Mary Walsh
captions: a collective effort of Mary Walsh, Ryan Hughes, and Mike Yoshida
photos: Ryan “Huggy” Hughes, Mike Yoshida, and Chris Moran
It’s been a hot September in Southern California. Temperatures have been reaching almost 100 degrees and the green palm fronds that dot the coast are a far cry from the colors of fall foliage. As the end of September grew closer, it still wasn’t feeling much like autumn. The fix: a short drive from the beach into the San Bernadino Mountains for Hot Dawgz & Hand Rails. Each year, this rail event-slash-vendor village-slash-season opener kicks off winter for snowboarders across North America, whether present at the proceedings in Bear or witnessing from afar via the webcast. For the riders involved, which this year included Frank April, Jordan Small, Scotty Vine, Bode Merrill, Jaeger Bailey, Madison Blackley, and many, many more, it’s the first time back on their boards in some time and an opportunity to start their season with a bang, as well as possibly a large, novelty check with a grip of cash tied to it.
For the eleventh annual installation of the event, Clayton Shoemaker and the Bear Mountain Park Crew outdid themselves with a course that was split into two distinct sections. On looker’s right was Zone 1, featuring from left to right, stock down rail, down flat, flat tube, and an up-flat to banked wallride redirect. On looker’s left, Zone 2 featured a double line. The upper area consisted of a flat goal post with closeouts on either side and a down bar situated on looker’s right. The lower area, from left to right, had a flat awning to banked redirect, corrugated tube perpendicular to the fall-line over the planter box, a flat-to-flat rail, triple stair set, and flat down rail. The options were plentiful.
The competition was broken into two hour-long heats and no finals. The riders were divided into two groups, with each spending one heat in each zone. No elimination and plenty of time allowed competitors to feel out the different areas of the set up and maximize their use of the features. Spectators piled into the space between zone 1 and 2, heads swiveling to take in everything going down. When the riders began to drop at 2pm, it was hectic at first as the course flow developed, but after a few hairy moments, everyone got the hang of things.
Bear definitely outdid themselves on the course this year, and the field of competitors wasted no time in destroying the rails, tubes, and walls that had been precisely laid out. Luckily, the park crew didn’t seem to mind. The event that HDHR has grown into continually redefines the term “rail jam,” reinventing what both riders and spectators expect when they arrive at the resort in late September. This year, in addition the high level of snowboarding and complex layout, the Bear crew essentially created two separate rail jams, occurring simultaneously to decide one podium. It was defiantly the next level of jib competitions and while vantage points to see the course in its entirety were hard to come by, there was little lost in the translation as for spectators, the proceedings were literally all around. And of course, if any action was missed, that’s exactly why there are webcast replays.
The women’s side of the field was stacked this year, with a solid representation from female shred hotbed SLC. Nirvana Ortanez, Isabella Borriello, Corinne Pasela, and Madison Blackley joined Bear’s Melissa Evans and Mammoth’s Mariah Dugan. Isabella got bolts on a legit front 270 onto the down bar. Madison was nailing switch boardslides on the same feature. Melissa Evans stepped to the up-flat awning in zone 1. But it was Mariah Dugan, whose aptitude across the litany of features earned her top honors at HDHR 2014.
On the men’s side the forty-plus riders came out firing, without any sign that this was the first time many had ridden in months. Highlights are best viewed in the webcast replay and in the forthcoming HDHR 2014 recap video. Frank Bourgeois flew out from Quebec the day before the competition and any signs of jet lag had evaporated by the time Heat 1 began. Stylish handdrags on the zone 1 awnings were further proof that this French Canadian rider has something to prove and we’re excited to see more from him this winter. Fellow Quebecois, Big Frank April showed up in heat 1 and laid out proper tricks all over the rails in zone 1. Masato Toda was putting down a bunch of interesting 360 line, including 50-50 front three tail grabs to threes through the trees. The SNOWBOARDER Movie’s Jaeger Bailey took a gnarly fall to his back right at the beginning of the competition, but it didn’t slow him down at all, which is further testament to his drive. In heat 2, Jaeger came out firing in heat two, including putting down a crazy 270 to frontboard on the zone 1 down bar. Zak Hale was riding with consistent style all day, despite losing his claw hat every single time he dropped in. At one point, he purposely tried to destroy a tree in zone 2, which is not indicative of his environmental views. Bode Merrill was taking casual drops and put down a one-footed backflip that was a crowd pleaser. A new name to take note of, Whistler’s Braedon Wheeler showed up and turned heads with a style that belied his age of only fifteen years. Tommy Gesme, Riley Nickerson, Jordan Small, Jonathon MacDonald, Scotty Vine, Christian Hobush, and Dillon Ojo all were on point throughout the competition as well. Stay tuned for the recap video for more from these guys.
While Bear Mountain locals have well-deserved reputation as some of the most fluid park jibbers in snowboarding, at this year’s HDHR, visitors brought the upset swept the men’s top three. Luke Haddock, a hardworking rider from Vermont, brought his A game for his first appearance in the coveted rail event. A proper three onto the down bar on looker’s right was one of a plethora of tricks that earned him third place and bragging rights to take back to the East Coast.
Denis “Shred Heat” Leontyev has infiltrated American snow culture over the past few seasons, but at the 11th annual Hot Dawgz he officially stamped his snowboarding passport by taking second place in this iconic event. While Denis traveled the furthest distance to be at HDHR, he also has the most claim to local status of any of the top finishers. Moscow’s toughest earned the standing with a bevy of dizzying lines, including a 50-50 front five to front blunt 450 line in zone 2; a 50-50 nollie frontflip out backside 180 on the goal post; and a front 270 gap, 450 off on the flat-to-flat
And then, of course, there is first place. Johnny O’Connor sent it to California two days before HDHR putting his faith into the price of a cross-country ticket and rental car that was more than he bargained for. While the trip out west for Young JOC started rocky, it all ended well for this East Coaster who’s limitless style and stand-out performance landed him in the top spot and earned him a cool ten g’s for his troubles. Johnny’s snowboarding is proper as hell and while the many highlights are best video-viewed as opposed to listed out in type, here’s a few: front 180 onto the up awning in zone 1 50-50 switch back 180 out; switch back three on the down tail to switch frontboard on the flat down in zone 2.
As the crowd filtered out of the base area, the wind began to pick up and sunset shadows overtook the base area. Temperatures were supposed to reach near freezing after dark, the first cold night Big Bear has seen this fall. It’s a well timed switch to the cool season; another Hot Dawgz in the books, another winner to doll out ten percent at the AV Nightclub, and another winter starting to churn in Southern California. Thank you, Bear Mountain, for again ushering in the season.
A huge thanks to Bear Mountain, Clayton Shoemaker, Rio Tambara, Mindy Clark, and the park crew, all of the sponsors, and of course, all of the riders.
The post Johnny O’Connor wins the 11th Annual Hot Dawgz & Hand Rails appeared first on Snowboarder Magazine.