words: Mary Walsh
captions: T. Bird
photos: Ryan “Huggy” Hughes, T. Bird, E-Stone, Mary Walsh, and Jeep Eddy
At 7:45 this morning, the Bear Mountain baselodge was operating at a low hum. The coffee machines behind me were turned off and covered up, only a few boards were outside and the stairwell leading up from the cafeteria didn't yet echo with the sounds of booted steps. But as the clock neared eight, the lodge began to light up with over one hundred eager riders who had made the trek to the San Bernadino Mountains for the 2016 edition of The Launch presented by Volcom.
This winter was a particularly perfect one for The Launch to return to Southern California. Bear was coming off of a nicely buoyant winter. Rogue storms had cloaked the town in deep snow on a few occasions over the past few months and the mountain was still enjoying a high tide, especially considering how warm spring is in the area. The park was plush with packed snow and the Bear Mountain park crew had sculpted, welded and raked the set up to perfection in anticipation of one of the strongest demolition crews in snowboarding.
For nearly a decade, The Launch has been an annual assembly of the best and brightest to strap in and send it sideways in their local and not-so-local parks and streets. The list of alumni is long (Stale Sandbech, Garrett Warnick, Mark McMorris, Spencer Schubert, Hans Mindnich, Max Warbington, Keegan Valaika, and many more), only dwarfed (and of course strengthened) by the ever-growing constituency who grow into the event each year. Individuals whose backlips, handplants, and methods are unnaturally good for riders of such an age. As the wind whipped between tree boughs in Big Bear, California, the list of young talent kept streaming into the Bear Mountain lodge. Red Gerard, Hailey Langland and Jake Pates rolled in with Burton TM Frankie Chapin. The Midwest field was strong with Kyle Kennedy, Benny Milam , Walker and Hunter Murphy, Garrett McKenzie and Zach Zajac, while Colorado up and comers were well represented as well as Justin Phipps, Jack Coyne, Sam Gildea, Ryan Wachendorfer, Cody Warble all signed in for the week. Milo and Mac Malkoski were present and accounted for, as was Graham Haley, Keegan Hosefros, Tristin Heiner, Finn and JJ Westbury, Judd Henkes, Jared Elston, Seamus O'Connor, Jed Sky, Toby Miller, Trevor Eichelberger, Phil Hansen, Drayden Gardner, and Buzz Holbrook. And last but certainly not least, Volcom brought the heavy artillery as they do each year, via young guns like Reid Smith, Marcus Kleveland, Miles Fallon, and Valentino Guseli, and Launch alumni and veterans Richie Conklin, Mike Rav, Parker Szumowski, Christian Connors, and Zach Normandin—among a grip of others that will surely be seen in The Launch galleries and videos this week.
For many of the attendees of this year's up and comer event, this year's Launch was a return to the San Bernadinos after lapping the Bear built Launch park four seasons ago. But even in that short time, the grom guard has advanced; one Launch class has graduated and while they continue to leave their mark in the greater snowboarding landscape, the successors are eagerly sliding into the spotlight once again in this Southern California park oasis.
We'll not mince words and try to build up a bluebird day where there was little sun in sight. Day 1 of The Launch was fully gray, with imposing clouds that moved rapidly overhead. Wind gusts blew folks back, impeding balance when strapping in, providing unexpected tailwinds to the smallest of riders and causing photogs and filmers to dig in their footing. It wasn't a winter storm, but there was definitely some tumult in the atmosphere. But, the weather is only important to note in the respect that it honestly had little affect on the 150 snowboarders that showed up to pick apart the park. When The Launch lane opened at ten am, it was swarmed by the crew who wasted no time sending the massive bottom jump and testing out the multitude of transitions and rails. By lunchtime, when temperatures had dropped a bit and the wind kept on blowing, no one showed any signs of slowing. Panasonics rolled, Nikons fired, as the hip was sessioned by Justin Phipps, Milo Malkoski and Christian Connors. Reid Smith put down a crippler line on a QP tranny to drop. Hunter Murphy and Buzz Holbrook were right-to-left gapping the wallride as a myriad of handplants went down both on the wall and the transition on either side of it. Jed Sky had the send of the day as he gapped from the middle section of the triple-leveled rail and tranny plaza to the down rail. Revision: Jed Sky had two sends of the day because after landing the gap-to-rail, he dropped into the wallride for a casual redirect with more speed than needed, stalled on the coping and acid dropped to the flats on the other side. Jed is, as they say, on one. Gabe Ferguson, Judd Henkes and Zach Normandin opened up the lower jump for the week—stay tuned for more from that zone. Benny Milam was everywhere. Valentino Guseli is only ten and backflipped the step over in the top zone. Richie Conklin was putting down effortless plants as well as kicking off a redirect trend that will likely continue the rest of the week. And this is only a sampling of what went down in The Launch park on day one, with no regard to the less than ideal meteorological conditions. The kids are hungry and a little wind is not going to slow them down. Not at all.
There's three more days left of The Launch 2016 and there's sunny skies in the forecast. Stay tuned to Snowboarder.com for daily updates, photos, and video and follow #TheLaunch2016 on Instagram for up-to-the-minute updates from the collective crew at Bear Mountain.