by Patti Hurst
I’ve always passed on the really intense bowl sessions. If I know it will be a snake session – where two or more skaters try to claim the next run by dropping in at the same time – I stay home. When a session heats up, I sit down, pop open a can of beer, and watch the show. Snake sessions can be dangerous and, as a mom with a full-time job, I can’t afford to be seriously injured.
When the Kennedy Center sponsored the Finding a Line event here in Washington DC, we all knew it would be 10 straight days of snake sessions. The enormous front plaza of the Center was transformed into a skatepark. There was a custom-built, 4-foot, wooden bowl with pool coping! Music acts performed at the bowl’s edge while very experienced skaters charged the bowl day and night. Most of the time, there were dozens on deck fighting for runs. These sessions were the most intense I’ve ever seen. It was common to see three and four people skating the small bowl at once.
On my first day there, I watched from the deck as (mostly young male) skaters dropped in on each other, and frequently collided. My heart raced and my breath quickened as I imagined colliding too. I considered unpadding and watching from the sidelines. That wouldn’t have been so bad; it was a great show, and the music was fabulous.
But I wanted to skate that bowl! And I wanted to get over my fear of snake sessions. It wasn’t pretty, but I survived! In fact, I skated there several days in a row without serious injury. And, I learned a few strategies for reducing risk during a snake session:
- It’s always a good idea to pad up and wear a helmet, but it’s especially smart during a snake session, when you can just about count on collisions.
- Before you step up to the coping, learn the lines of the people skating with you. I watched until I knew where each skater was likely to go and what tricks each would likely miss. This information allowed me to predict when a run was likely to end, and where. It gave me a few precious seconds to prepare to start mine.
- Wait until a skater misses a trick on the far side of the bowl. If the run ends near you, your path is blocked until that skater exits the bowl and, by that time, it’s too late. The people on the far end of the bowl have already claimed the run.
- The instant a skater on the far side of the bowl misses his or her trick, shove your board up to coping with your foot. If you wait until the skater is out of the bowl, it’s too late. If you set your board on the coping any other way, it’s probably too late. As you are shoving your board to coping, quickly scan the coping to see who else has a board on. Watch out for people rolling in as well. Then, make a judgment about whether you can safely drop in without hitting those skaters head on.
- When you decide to go, don’t hesitate. Put your head down and go. Once in, look to see who else is in with you.
- Many people choose to take a line straight across the bowl, as if it were a miniramp. This minimizes the chance that you will hit another skater as you drop in. You can continue with a carve line from the next wall once the question of who has that run is settled.
- From there, adjust your line as needed to navigate around the other skater(s). It helps to have solid front and backside skills, and a few basic lip tricks, like axle stall and rock-fakie, so you have options. Don’t expect to ride your best. The key goal for any newcomer to this kind of session is to stay on your board.
- Some people will exit when they realize you’re in the bowl with them, some won’t. It’s up to you to decide whether to keep skating with the people who dropped in with you.
- If you do keep skating, read the line(s) of the other skater(s) in the bowl. If a skater is going high for a lip trick, you go low. When you miss your trick, get out fast! If you can’t get out fast, get your board and move out of the way of oncoming skaters until the coast is clear to get out.
- Accept the fact that collisions will happen. Get low and try to avoid direct impact. With luck, no one will get served.
Of course you don’t have to skate a snake session if you don’t want to. If you’re not feeling it, there’s no shame in sitting it out. And you probably shouldn’t skate a snake session until you have solid bowl skills and feel very comfortable at large, mellow, sessions. If you do decide to take a run, pat yourself on the back when the session is over! You’ve just survived your first snake session!