Mid-March in Florida marks the beginning of the annual snow-bird northern migration as whoo-ing and hoo-ing college co-eds drink and flex their way up and down white sand beaches.

If that’s what you’re looking for, the Pow-wow Pro/Am isn’t far off. There was heat, fires, communal stray dogs, and portable toilets that caused the most hardened of men to turn away.

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Written words: Brian Krans
Photography: Kevin Dowling

I was finally able to attend a Pow-wow thanks to support from Be-Mag and Ivan Narez, who missed both the flight to and the flight from Jacksonville. Traveling with him, Victor Arias, other JSF heads created an experience best not told on the record.

When we arrived early Thursday afternoon, the yard—or “gen pop” as it was known to the VIP crowd—was already claimed along the wooden fence, a smart spot because of its shade and high ground, should the forecasted rain flood the grass and dirt field separating the parking lot from the wooden street course. People would be trickling in and setting up camp all day.

Ben Weis earned the honorary Best Housing with a generator-driven bouncy house on the edge of the street course. It was there when we arrived and still up as we left. The rest of the yard was dotted with tents and canopies to shield goers from both sun and the few spots of rain over the weekend.

The original concrete course in Kona includes a halfpipe built out of cinder blocks and a snake run slathered in the scraps of human skin since 1970s skateboarders built it to ride high and wide through concrete waves.

It’s in that landscape of old school spirit that the weekend is able to exist.

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Pow-wow is a four-day fest of slumming, debauchery, and occasional skating. It’s been described as the Woodstock of Blading.

Pow-wow founder Blake Taylor says it’s a weekend of blading and camping, which just so happens to have some competitions in there. This year, however, was three times bigger than the eight years prior.

“It’s not about just the contest any more. It’s about getting people here, camping, doing what we’re doing right now,” he said Sunday night after the hockey and bowl comp.

Athletically, it’s closer to the Olympics, but fewer showers.

This years competition featured nine individual contests: Inline X races on the downhill, best trick, ams, pros, women’s division, 27+, vert, 3-on-3 hockey, and a pool contest.

Eric Hallimen of Rochester, N.Y., skated in every gender-appropriate competition, day, night, and every scene in between. His misty out of the bowl into the downhill course earned him the first-ever second place in the best trick. And he made the finals in vert.

“It was a long weekend, but it was the best weekend of my life. I waited all year for this,” he said. “I’ve been shy with my skating, and trying to make friends and fit in, but the thing I’ve learned is that you have to kind of forget about what people think is cool and focus on what you think is cool.”

His advice: tell your boss you’re going to Pow-wow in mid-March and put in for time off now.

Kevin Lapierre, a four-year Pow-wow veteran, who took third in the Pro/Am, said the vibe and energy of the weekend make it different than another other competition (although he readily admits he’s never been to Roskilde).

“I think people, every time, have fun. No stress because you stay in the same place so you see the people every time,” he said. “It’s so different. You’re going to like it. It’s so much fun.”

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The courses created a few concussions, snapped a few bones, and collected enough fresh flesh to subdue the demon that lives behind it. But since competitive skating dominates the edits coming from the weekend, it should be noted.

Yuto Goto and Chihiro Azuma took full advantage of Jacksonville’s international flights by sweeping the top honors of the pro part of the Pro/Am. Atlanta, however, also took Best Trick and Inline X (winner Julian Bah also took second in the Pro/Am as well).

After the competition, everyone gathered around the nightly bonfire for keg stands, howling at the moon, and bro-blader love. It was bound to happen, and will inevitably exponentiate for years to come.

“We’re only only going to get bigger for Pow-wow 10,” Blake said. “It’s going to be the biggest, baddest Pow-wow. There’s nothing I can do about it. I’m not just saying that. It’s going down.”

After leaving camp, the three amigos—Ivan, Victor, and Pablo—left camp and hit the beach with the three gringos—David, Sophie, and me—managed to get a hotel room, drink too much, sleep too late, ignore 12 alarms (I appreciate you trying, David), miss the flight home, get new tickets at no extra cost, catch one last beer, and get back home only 8 hours late.

This article may be late, but that’s only because the swelling finally went down. I’m afraid the downhill may have torn something in my knee and this rash will never go away.

Thanks, Blake, Jesse, Kona, and everyone else for a great Pow-wow.

My only regret is that I’ll never be able to experience it again for the first time.

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Tips for a Fun Pow-wow:
– Bring a decent tent. You’ll spend limited time in it, but if it’s windy or rainy you’ll appreciate quality.
– Go to Waffle House. All of them. They have food and air conditioning.
– Try the 1-pound Rick Ross Burger.
– If you own something nice you don’t want to lose, leave it at home.
– Don’t fear the rain. It’s only water.
– Hit the beach. The water is cold, but at least it’s break from incessant sweating.
– Be prepared to make lots of new friends and see every old one.
– Wasted drunk people will wander into your camp. Be a good neighbor and offer them a beer, but only one. Most will outstay their welcomes.
– If you’re single, blow up Tinder and see who’s down to smash in a tent.
– If you have a girlfriend, leave her at home, unless she’s down, then bring her, too.
– Pick up after yourself. No one wants to live in your trash.
– Just be your beautiful, chill self and don’t be afraid to lend a hand.
– If you know First Aid and see someone is hurt, get in there!

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