John the Baker is going to skateboard the length of the bay — from Richmond all the way to San Jose — again. And if the persistent punk rocker happens to lose a leg or other appendage in the process, he can find comfort in the fact that the three-day trek is a fund-raiser in part for a nonprofit for athletes with prosthetic limbs.
On May 21, the skateboarder, whose real name is John Eppard, will host the Skate Til You Die! skate-a-thon, an event to raise funds for Adaptive Action Sports and his and other local bands. The event will span three days, at least twelve cities, and around sixty miles. Money will be raised through benefit shows on each day and by sponsored donations to Eppard and other participating skaters.
"Instead of just like skating all night until we're broken, we're gonna skate in three days," Eppard said. "Have a show, skate a little more, have a show, skate a little more."
The fund-raiser will start with a show at Burnt Ramen Studios in Richmond. After the show, skaters will embark on a moonlit ride to the house of Eppard's band mates in East Oakland, where they will rest up for the next leg of the trip. In the morning, they will skate to Hayward for an early show at Dreamland, where his band, Instant Asshole, will play with other local bands. After the show they will continue the skate toward San Jose and — after another sleep stop — will celebrate with a show powered by an outdoor generator.
It sounds like an endless and exhausting endeavor. But Eppard is used to powering himself over long distances. In 1991 he rode a bicycle from San Jose to New York, and he has skated across the Dumbarton Bridge to Palo Alto at least five times (an eight-hour ride). At 46, Eppard says skateboarding is his primary form of transportation, and he's never had a driver's license.
Skate Til You Die! will be his second time making this particular trip. He first completed the skate in 2006 with fellow long-distance skateboarder Jared Power, who also has enlisted in the upcoming benefit. Their first attempt was at midnight. After a show at Burnt Ramen Studios, the two pushed off toward San Jose along with Eppard's girlfriend and another companion. The quartet mainly followed the Bay Trail and made it to their friends' East Oakland house three hours later. The next morning, sans Eppard's girlfriend, the group traveled on to Hayward, at which point the third skater ducked out. Eppard suspects a call to his mom and a ride home were involved.
A parental bailout was probably a smart move at that point. Eppard and Power made it to Sunnyvale — sixteen hours later and utterly exhausted — where they stayed at the house of their foundered friend and his mom. "We got there at 11," Eppard said, "but we were done around 8." Having accomplished their goal, the next day the two took a well-earned BART ride home. Meanwhile, Eppard had confirmed his suspicion that he could transport himself nearly anywhere in the Bay Area by skateboard as long as he stays close to the water.
It's this well-tested theory that became the impetus behind his skate-a-thon. "Skate Til You Die! is to inspire people to go beyond their physical limits and what they perceive might be obstacles too hard to overcome," Eppard said. "And to do something good for other people."
That second motivator is what transformed a lengthy adventure into a charitable cause.
Eppard met Amy Purdy, the co-founder of Adaptive Action Sports, while skating around Lake Tahoe for Skate the Lake — a skateboarding benefit for breast cancer awareness. At 19, Purdy lost both lower legs to a sudden illness, and now with two prosthetic limbs she still shreds on skate and snowboard. She started the nonprofit to provide support to other disabled athletes and artists.
"I learned a lot from observing prosthetic legs," said Eppard, who had knee surgery 25 years ago. "I learned about the physiology of my own leg by observing the mechanics of the mechanical leg."
Eppard has overcome his share of gnarly injuries: Last year he impaled his leg on an open-ended rail at a skate park in Pennsylvania. A year earlier, he was stabbed in the stomach by a disgruntled stranger while skating in East Oakland. After each injury he was back on his board within a month and a half.
Simply put, Purdy's persistence inspired him, and half the funds from his skate-a-thon will benefit her organization. Specifically, Purdy said that donations will go toward a skate tour for the Adaptive Action skate team, a skateboard camp for kids with disabilities, and a skateboard jam at the ESPN Summer X Games.
"It's amazing what you can do on a skateboard and what the skateboarder is willing to do to create awareness," Purdy said by e-mail. "We are truly grateful that John is supporting us through his skate event fundraiser."
The rest of the money will go toward a van big enough to transport two touring bands. "A lot of bands do benefits to go on the road, and the money goes just to them for their tour," Eppard said. Though a new van would benefit his own band, it would also enable other bands to accompany them or borrow the wheels for their own tours. "We want this to be something that builds a sense of community, that's long lasting over many years and can really help kids get out on the road and see the world," he added.
So far, Eppard has rallied about twelve sponsors, ranging from skateboard companies like Bones and Powell Peralta to local punk record labels like Tankcrimes and Alternative Tentacles. Bobby G's Pizzeria in Berkeley is donating free pizza and water for one of the benefit shows and the skaters will get Cytomax energy drinks from a Benicia-based company.
"On these long trips, hydration and reduction of fatigue are huge obstacles to overcome, and the Cytomax really helps," Eppard said. "I'm going to punk rock hell for that — but I really mean it, that shit saved my ass."
Even with maps and their combined memory, it's easy to get lost on the Bay Trail's twists and turns and at spots where the trail breaks off altogether or is engulfed by the bay. "We learned the hard way," Power said, recalling a ten-mile misstep on his first trip that added a combined twenty miles to his journey.
Power said the route involves a fair amount of coasting but still leaves him sore. "It's an easy pace, but not that easy," he said. "It's definitely a lot of pushing." And aside from the bay view, there's not a lot happening on the trails.
But the three shows that punctuate the event, along with the slight absurdity of the venture, should help break up the tedium of each day's fifteen- to twenty-mile skate session.
And though there are only three skaters enlisted so far, Eppard said the distance shouldn't discourage others from joining. "There have been a few people who have been saying they'll do it," he said, "but it's intimidating to a lot of people. We have a lot of 'maybes,' and we won't really know until the day of the show, probably."
Despite all his efforts at sponsorship and fund-raising, Eppard is incredibly casual about the fundamentals of the event. He implores people — even those who aren't officially registered or who can't find donors — to skate the length of the trip or just a few miles along the way. "We're real soul skaters," Eppard said. "Me and Jared are going on this skate and we're gonna do the distance — but not everyone has to skate the whole thing."
As he wrote so astutely on his blog: "This skate is about friends, community and music and supporting people to use alternative transportation and alternative limbs!"
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