Rob Kingwill’s US Open Recollections

(Snowboard Life Editorial Directors note: Rob sent this one in about two weeks after the U.S. Open, but I lost it on my hard drive and just found it again. Sorry it took so long, Rob. Thanks for all the stories this year! — John Stouffer)

The Open: An event of legendary status. Eighteen years of competition and debauchery on the East Coast. This year was no different. It’s the biggest show in snowboarding¿the best riders in the world trying to show each other up in front of a huge crowd.

The finals were a collection of ten of the best performers in snowboarding. I’ll admit it, I am a bit of a show off. Ever since I started riding I have always loved performing for a crowd and nothing pumps me up more that 4,000 drunk Vermonters screaming and pounding on the banners.

I love the US Open. I’ve only been there three times, but every time has been so much fun I can’t wait to come back. One of the coolest things about the Open is getting to ride with all of my heroes. People like Brushie, Haakon, and Noah, who had a profound influence on me growing up, and are now my friends. I still get excited when Terje shows up to ride the pipe, but now I can talk to him. How cool is that?

What if they had an NBA All-star game that was open to anyone if you are good enough to play with the best? How cool would that be to just show up and get to shoot hoops with Jordan and Bird and Kobe?

That is what the Open is like for me¿I get to go play with the legends. It’s so cool to ride a good pipe with the very same people who I aspired to be like when I got older. I still get their autographs. Brushie and Haakon will always be inspiring figures in my eyes.

There are always tons of people at the Open: tons of spectators, tons of competitors. It took two days of competition to cut the field down from over 200 to 80, then from 80 to 40, who would compete on Saturday for a chance to play in the finals. I was stoked when I made it through the first round to the real game on Saturday. I had to get up extra early on Saturday so that I could try and qualify for the Boardercross before practice in the pipe. The Boardercross was a great warm up¿lots of kickers and rollers to warm up my legs, and work on my edging. The whole thing turned out to be a total fire drill because the organizers couldn’t get the timing put together fast enough to actually run the time trial before we had to go ride pipe. Oh well.

I rolled up to the pipe about five minutes before practice started and looked around. Forty of the best halfpipe riders in the world, all tuned up and ready to lay it on the line. I could only hope that I could make it through two harsh cuts, from 40 to twenty, and finally twenty to ten people who would make it into the final jam session. I took a deep breath, it was going to be a long day.

The pipe was pretty sketchy early in the morning. The snow on the walls was some of the hardest, most aggressive snow I have ever encountered. It ate deep gashes into the P-Tex on everyone’s edges. We call it ice burn, but worse than I have ever seen anywhere. Just imagine what it would do to your body if you dragged it across it. “Welcome to the cheese grater,” I yelled to Powers as he dropped in. The finest cheese grater the East Coast has ever seen. The pipe was just this side of perfect¿Pat Melandowski is truly an artist. Thanks buddy. Anyway, I made it through the first cut, and the second, just trying to go big and ride smoothly. The judges must have liked something about my riding–so I kept doing it. When it came down to the cut to the finals I thought I was definitely out–but I made it in in ninth place. Stoked. I had just made it to the finals in the biggest game in snowboarding. One of ten people picked out of a crowd of over 200 rippers. Now that is something to be proud of.

The finals didn’t seem like a contest to me this year–the jam format lets you just ride and ride–so you can concentrate on havingg fun and landing your best run ever–not what the judges are going to score you. If you screw up, you just go back up and try again. The only thing that I regret is not being able to watch all my friends who made the finals pushing their limits–you couldn’t see much at the top, and you couldn’t see anything on the snowmobile ride back up. My whole strategy for the finals included one thing–going as big as I could. I haven’t really been practicing halfpipe much recently–I’ve ridden a total of four days in the pipe since the Goodwill Games three weeks ago, so I wasn’t feeling overly confident hucking my hardest tricks in that big, rock-hard ice sculpture. I did feel confident in pushing up my straight airs to my highest level. The drop in wasn’t very big, so every run in the finals I had Snowboarder’s Mark Sullivan pushing me into the drop in so that I could get more speed. I hope that I stoked the crowd out–they are the true judges.

I ended up ninth. Not exactly the win I was looking for–two in a row would have been cool, but as I’ve said before, you can’t win them all. Anyway, I had a great time riding in one of the best contests in snowboarding. Hope I make it in the finals again next year.

The Boardercross was fun as well. Not a lot of the halfpipe kids made it up on Sunday morning–but I saw Haakon, Wescott, and Lamoureux checking out the course.

Crossover riders are a dying breed–not too long ago it was cool if you could race and do freestyle. I still think it is cool. I’ve got tons of respect for riders who can do it all. Justin Lamoureux and I couldn’t resist doing spins off the first jump–Justin actually did a cab 540 in his qualifier run and qualified 28th or something. Now that is cool.

The Open 2000 was an unforgettable experience, as usual. Big pipes, sick riding, tons of people celebrating snowboarding and spring, and cops galore. If I didn’t know better, I would think that the entire Vermont police force converged on poor little Stratton that week. You couldn’t go anywhere without big brother breathing down your neck. The U.S. is supposed to be the land of the free. It sure didn’t feel very free to me last week. Do we all really need to be protected from ourselves? If everyone would take responsibility for their own actions, maybe we wouldn’t need so many cops.

Just a thought.

Well hope you enjoyed my little insight into the Open. The Dream continues…