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By Isak Howell

JUNE 22, 1998: 

Albuquerque's Deadly Ditches Attract Skaters Nationwide

As the city spreads the word about the dangers of ditches, the number of skateboarders who come to the Duke City for what is considered the best ditch skating in the country continues to rise. Engineers have unwittingly created a recreation magnet which has been lauded for years in such national publications as Transworld Skateboarding and Thrasher magazine.

"It's like they had skaters in mind when they made them," said Nate Coan, skater and manager of the Northeast Heights Beach Zone. "This is the land of the ditches. You won't go anywhere in the world and find ditches like this."

Albuquerque is a regular stop for traveling pros, and they often call the shop asking for directions to the famous ditches. One magazine featured a list of the nation's best skating ditches; Albuquerque had three of the top five.

What's so special about the drainage ditches? "Ditches in other cities are never as consistently good as these. You've got everything from tiny ditches with kinked walls to huge 30-foot ditches with smooth transitions," said a skater known only as DJ. From catching air to high-speed longboard cruising, the ditches offer long stretches of smooth, windswept concrete.

Besides skaters, the ditches attract bikers, walkers and rollerbladers, all drawn by the traffic-free chutes. "You have to keep an eye out uphill because there might be a biker just screaming down," said Riley Hubbs, a local skater with 10 years experience.

The ditches, while void of angry shop owners and pedestrians, are consistently sites of injuries and deaths. According to Heather Heller, Assistant Coordinator for the Ditch and Water Safety Task Force, an average of five people die each year in Albuquerque ditches (north-south irrigation channels) and arroyos (east-west drainage channels). Ages of victims range from two to 87. The Task Force reminds arroyo users that within 10 seconds, a massive wall of water can barrel down the steep-walled arroyos at up to 50 miles per hour. The Task Force admits the usually-dry arroyos are a temptation to a variety of users, but insists that activity in arroyos and ditches is always unsafe, in part because they can flood far from the rain. What skateboarders call ditches are officially arroyos. Ditches are the trenches along the river, dangerous for their undertow and slippery banks.

No skater Weekly Alibi spoke with seemed overly concerned with the dangers of the ditches. "Most of it's just common sense. I've seen some water coming through here, but of course you're not going to skate when it's raining or when the ditch is wet," Hubbs said. "You just have to be smart about it," added DJ.

Of course ditch skating is also illegal and skaters routinely risk apprehension by the authorities on charges ranging from criminal trespassing to noise violations. Skaters who are caught are sentenced to community service, stiff fines and even evenings in jail.

Skaters are frustrated at the lack of legal places to skate and the unjust harassment they feel they endure. "That's the problem with skateboarding right now, it's illegal everywhere," said DJ.

"There is plenty of the stereotypical we-have-green-hair-and-want-your-daughter type stuff," said Coan.

"Some cops will say you're trash and others won't bother you," Hubbs said.

There seem to be high hopes for the public skate park the city has planned. "The park is definitely what this city has needed. Almost every other major city has one if not two or three. Even small Colorado towns and Santa Fe have parks," said Hubbs. Hubbs did not, however, expect the park to curtail skating in the arroyos.

There are drainage ditches in many cities, but few have received the attention Albuquerque has. The smooth, sloped walls make them perfect for both skateboarders and horrific flash floods. With a little involvement, maybe the city will create something that has the magnetic quality of the ditches--without the danger of floods or arrests.?

To reiterate, there are three facts you should commit to memory: 1) Ditches and arroyos are dangerous; 2) It is illegal to skate, swim, walk or otherwise inhabit them; 3) People do it anyway. Weekly Alibi strongly urges individuals to stay away from ditches and arroyos.

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