We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.
Folks around the D.C. area have been bracing for the chaos of the presidential inauguration for months. Washington residents were warned repeatedly to expect the tightest security in the city’s history. Nothing in the region was supposed to be able to move this week without the proper say-so.
But on the Sunday before the swearing-in ceremony, the same day the parade rehearsal shut down streets around the National Mall for most of the morning, Frederick, Md.–based renegade skate/snowboarder and filmmaker Mark Nickels, 28, and seven of his pals decided that it was the perfect day for an urban snowboard adventure.
Armed with zamboni shavings donated by a skating rink in Frederick, Brad Jordan, Paul Horning, Jonah McDevitt, Rodney Fox, Austin Hamby, Nate Musson, and Nickels started their adventure on the steps in front of the Department of Labor building on Constitution Avenue NW. Just after 1 p.m., the convoy pulled up to the curb, sprint-shoveled the icy shavings from the beds of two Ford F-150s onto the concrete slope next to the stairs, and strapped on their boards. Then they began to glide down the slope and pull ollies onto the railing. They also made sure to capture every moment on camera for Nickels’ next documentary, Attack of the Winter Wookie.
The run was only the first taste of what Nickels and his boys are hoping will be an entire winter of madness. They claim to have every railing and ledge in the entire city scoped out, and they mean to ride all of them. Nickels’ last film effort was Where I’m From, a skateboarding flick shot largely at D.C.’s Freedom Plaza (Artifacts, “Slave to the Grind,” 7/9/04). “We’re used to doing skateboard renegade stuff, but snowboarding is just a whole new level,” he explained.
It didn’t take more than two minutes for a small gallery of curious pedestrians to gather at the base of the steps and watch the guerrilla snowboard operation. Some of the sidewalk spectators applauded at each jump and trick. A few rubbernecking drivers narrowly avoided accidents on Constitution Avenue when they took their eyes off the road to catch a peek.
“We’re totally going for the shock and awe factor,” Nickels boasted after making his first run. “People have snowboarded downtown after snowstorms before, but this is the first time anyone’s brought their own snow like this. We’re pioneers.”
Unfortunately, the building’s security patrol didn’t share Nickels’ sense of adventure. Twenty minutes after the gang arrived and started shoveling snow, two perplexed guards demanded that the snowboarders cease and desist before they headed inside for backup. The riders squeezed in a few last runs before the guards came back with their supervisor, who made a beeline for the ramp and started kicking the snow off the concrete. Jordan, or “B-Rad,” as he likes to be called, gloriously capped off the session by screaming, “Do or die renegade style! This is for D.C.!” and shooting past the security squad for one final jump while Nickels and Hamby kept the cameras rolling.
With the security detail stunned, the riders threw their gear into their trucks and high-tailed it to their next target, near the corner of 13th and F Streets NW. All the guards could do was scramble to take down license-plate numbers.
“Watching the security lady kick the snow was priceless,” Nickels declared while riding to the second spot. “I got the whole thing with the fisheye lens. It was a total MasterCard moment.”
Fox agreed that the authorities were not to be feared, even with the heightened inauguration security.
“We’re inaugurating rails and ledges,” Fox said. “All they can get us on is destruction of property anyway. And we’re not destroying anything.”
The next stop was even riskier—a golden handrail on a flight of stairs right next to the Warner Theatre, only a stone’s throw away from the White House. But for the riders, the danger of the place only gave it more potential.
“We’re gonna get kicked out of here real quick,” Horning said as he joyously hopped off one of the trucks with a shovel of snow.
Horning’s prediction looked likely to come true when a fire engine and an ambulance rolled up to the building next door. But it turned out that they had arrived to deal with an unrelated medical emergency at the nearby McDonald’s. The snowboarders didn’t blink and kept shoveling. And as had previously happened, the public reaction was instantaneous. People stopped dead in their tracks to stare at the guys running up the sidewalk with snowboards and shovels. James Anderson, a 14-year old skateboarder who happened to be walking by with his board, recognized some of the crew from Freedom Plaza, the easiest place in D.C. for skaters to get busted by the cops.
“Yeah, I know Mark Nickels,” James said. “What is he doing? He’s crazy.”
The group managed to catch only three rides on the railing before an enraged security officer came outside and dialed 911. When she told the riders that they were going to hurt themselves, Jordan calmly responded, “We have helmets.”
Jordan’s reassurance wasn’t good enough for the guard, however, and the police were on the scene in a flash. Nickels and his boys retreated to their trucks and bolted up 13th Street NW just as a police cruiser was pulling up. Fox claimed to have made eye contact with the cop through the window as they sped uptown. “That dude doesn’t know what hit him,” Fox said, as he gave Jordan a high-five. “All he’s gonna find is a pile of snow on those stairs. We vanish like ninjas in the night.”
After regrouping at Bancroft Elementary School in Mount Pleasant and having an impromptu snowball fight with some kids playing basketball on the blacktop there, Nickels and his band decided that they had enough snow left to hit one more spot.
They climbed back in the trucks and headed north on Connecticut Avenue NW. They made a U-turn before they got to Nebraska Avenue NW and stopped at a small park with a long, sloping stairway. It was nestled among Murch Elementary School, a retirement home, St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, and a fire station. It was perfect.
“Nobody is going to bother us here,” Horning said. “This is it.”
The riders dumped the rest of the snow on the concrete and went to work, taking turns slingshotting each other onto the railing and down to the sidewalk. The final hit wasn’t as exciting as the first two. The crowd wasn’t as big, and the police presence was nil. But in a snowboarding sense, it was much more successful. Each rider took as many runs as he wanted. They collected a slew of great footage for the film. The neighborhood passers-by were friendly. McDevitt even helped one woman wheel her grocery cart through the snow they had shoveled onto the sidewalk.
As the sun went down and they headed back to Frederick, Nickels and his crew declared their inaugural guerrilla snowboard operation an enormous success: three good rides, no arrests, no serious injuries, and a hell of a good time. “It’s the winter of the wookie,” Nickels said. “People haven’t seen the last of us.”CP