Departures Decathlon, Part 2

Venice Surf

Last week, in the post titled, Departures Decathlon Part 1, this column counted down five of the top ten athletic endeavors that have been covered so far by the Departures team.

This cataloging ranged from riding horses in Richland Farms to playing handball at those oceanfront courts on Venice Beach; from talking about youth soccer at a State Park to dancing at punk and new wave shows at a Chinatown joint.

This week, we're back with Part 2. The list resumes below with sport number five.

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[Read Departures Decathlon Part 1]

FIVE: Kayaking

Call it a ride that saved a river.

George Wolfe is part of a small cadre of activist oarspeople who put their paddles where their principles are and rowed to the L.A. River's rescue at a moment in recent history when everything seemed to be going so smoothly for the River's revival - until all of a sudden, it wasn't.

A 2006 Supreme Court decision watered down potential protections of the Clean Water Act - saying the Act doesn't apply to non-navigable rivers.

Two years later, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers - and haven't they already done enough for the River? - were preparing to decree that our already-so-put-upon 51-or-52 mile body of water wasn't navigable.

Enter Wolfe and friends, including Joe Linton. The kayakers spent three days making it, slowly but surely, up the River. They carried a permit of sorts, but the group was in all sorts of murky waters.

"We stuck our neck out to do the trip, legally," Wolfe says, "and we didn't know what the repercussions would be."

In the video below, Wolfe describes some of the physical effort required to make it through different parts of the river. Some sections are rockier, he says; others are so smooth that it feels like coasting along on a water tube.

FOUR: Fencing

This one might seem like a bit of a cop-out listing at first. We did at least notice one possible photograph of swordplay in the slide show located here in Departures: Chinatown.

But the real fencing to report here comes from Departures: LA River.

That's where Lewis MacAdams - that Joseph Beuys meets King Nepture meets Gonzo Thompson poet and performance artist who brought the river back to popular attention and political action - recounts his rightly famous tale of cutting a hole in an L.A. River fence and, with friends Patt Patterson and Roger Wong, declaring the river "open."

See the video below.

THREE: Paddle Tennis

Witnessing paddle tennis being played almost anywhere else in the world might be unbearable - and this coming from someone who has covered the likes of amateur lawn bowling, skinny person sumo wrestling and NBA summer pro league basketball.

Less vigorous than normal tennis, less slothful than table tennis, and at least slightly less awkward than badminton, this short court racket game should by no means be transfixing. Especially in this post-Wii Tennis world.

But there's just something about sitting by those Venice Beach paddle tennis courts, eating a piece of corrugated cardboard labeled pizza, watching too the occasional first class baller play hoops and the constant stream of blue ribbon rottweilers amble by.

Something about the sand and the architecture and the snakes on shoulders and the visitors ogling the snakes.

Something that makes a person interested in whatever a guy like Brian Lee is saying, and better still, doing.

Here's Lee telling Departures about his career as a five-time national paddle tennis champion - an incredible achievement - as well as describing his paddle tennis racket business and the 80,000 units he's so far sold.

TWO: Skateboarding

Spoiler alert.... Departures: Venice is bringing home the bronze, silver and gold in the Departures Decathlon.

That's be true even if we hadn't fixed last's week Part 1 to include handball - which in retrospect should be down here at the medal end.

But skateboarding, in our number two position, didn't happen because of regrets such as the above - skateboarding happened thanks to an inventive, active seizing of a cultural and physical moment.

Unsurprisingly, Departures: Venice covers skateboarding history like the X Games cover the ol' Flying Tomato. In short, full on.

In addition to classic sit-downs with legendary Zephyr skateboard team co-founders Skip Engblom (here) and Jeff Ho (here, and more on him in a moment), Departures: Venice also visits with skater Geri Lewis at the Dennis "Polar Bear" Agnew Memorial Skate Park.

Lewis gives an interview - see the video below - while skaters queue up and push off behind him.

Departures: Community checks in elsewhere on the site with a series of Skateboard Stories, including this great read that's irresistibly titled, "I Was the Skateboard Queen."

Departures: LA River joins in, too, with this slide show of the action at the pocket Marsh Park Skate Park.

ONE: Surfing

What more need we say?

Skip Engblom: "My mother's concept was, you can't really destroy the sand."

Jeff Ho: "I used to hitchhike down to Santa Monica and bum boards from people."

And Alen Sarlo: "Back then you had to have eyes in front and eyes in the back of your head because, you know, it was a tough town."

Here's Departures video of the legendary Ho, another co-founder of the Zephyr skateboard team and shaper of surfboards, style, and in the end, international culture. All from Venice.

Recently by Jeremy Rosenberg: Departures Decathlon Part 1

Photo: Via Departures

About the Author

Jeremy Rosenberg is a Los Angeles-based writer, editor, and consultant whose work has appeared in various books, magazines, newspapers, and online.
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