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Acts of good faith grace Hood River Skate Fest

Manna Skateboard Team and top national Christian bands treat locals to day of fun, worship

Skateboarders and music fans from around the state really got into the spirit — the holy spirit — last Wednesday when Nothing Events hosted the second-ever Skate Fest at the Hood River Rotary Skate Park.

The all-day event not only attracted a variety of local skateboard ambassadors, but it also brought in a lineup of eight nationally acclaimed Christian music bands and one of the top skate teams around, Manna Skateboards.

“It’s not every day you get a world-class team to come to Hood River,” said event organizer Mike Sullivan, whose focus is promoting faith and Christian music throughout the Gorge. “Some of the bands here today are mainstays on T.V.U. (a Christian MTV) and charge up to $3,500 to do a show. But most of these guys came just for the free windsurfing lessons.”

Hood River WaterPlay donated money and lessons to Skate Fest, and was one of four primary sponsors along with Subway, the Hood River Hotel and Kathleen Cervantes. A.V. Tech of Vancouver and “Sleeping Giant” also contributed time and equipment to the cause.

Bands such as Kutless — which currently owns the No. 1 single “Your Touch” on the national Christian music charts — Falling Up, Zealous, Friends of the People, One Shot and more played throughout the day on a makeshift stage inside the park’s half pipe.

“We all enjoy watching skate, but none of us are very good,” said Kutless lead singer Jon-Micah Sumrall, who is originally from Medford. “Our idea for coming out here today is to hang with the local kids and maybe touch a few lives. Playing music is what we love to do, and festivals like this are a great way to share it with new people,” he said.

Sumrall and fellow band members Ryan Shrout, James Mead, Kyle Mitchell and “Stu” attended Hood River Skate Fest last year, but commented that this year’s production was a big improvement.

“We’d love to come back,” Sumrall said, “but we’ll have to see where we are next year.”

Kutless is currently one of the hottest acts on the Christian music scene and hopes to cross over into the mainstream realm in September. They have sold more than 10,000 of their debut CD since it was released July 16, and continue to tour up and down the West Coast.

Doing plenty of touring themselves is the Manna Skateboard Team, based out of Columbus, Georgia. Three team members — Tim Byrne, Dave Nelson and Jud Heald — passed through Hood River on their way to Portland, where they put on a demo Thursday at the original Skate Church. They are currently in Seattle, giving a two-day demonstration at the Lewis-Pollo Festival.

“We just tour around the country and skate different places, while trying to promote positive feelings about the lord,” said Heald, the sixth-place finisher at the EXPN Invitational, held in Atlanta in May.

“Skating has such a dark reputation, and we want to bring some light to it by showing that we can still do what we want to do as long as we put Him first. What’s even better is, we don’t have to get into trouble or deal with some of the other negative stuff associated with skating,” he said.

The Manna team was founded in 1994 by company owner John Garretson, who, like Sullivan, enjoys promoting Christian events like Skate Fest. The team travels the country in a 14-foot trailer and offers demos to various communities, while keeping an eye out for other faith-based skaters to join the team.

“Our team is made up of seven guys, but it’s not limited to that,” Heald said. “If we found some super-rad kid in Hood River who’s on fire for the Lord, we might pick him up.”

Whether Heald and the Manna Skateboard Team return in 2003 is not yet known, but Sullivan is already hoping to garner similar support for next year.

“Skaters are usually shunned so bad in society, and we just want them to know that somebody loves them,” he said. “This year’s Skate Fest was so much bigger than last year’s, and we’re hoping next year can even top this.”

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On a less-brilliant note, Sullivan said he was disappointed in the way Wednesday’s event came to a close. After more than six hours of music and skateboarding demos, the Hood River Police came by the skatepark to remind event organizers that the “conditional-use permit” for music had ended at 6 p.m.

“It’s too bad that the city took a free youth event and shut it down for no reason,” Sullivan said. “Everyone was having a good time, and just because a couple neighbors called, it didn’t have to end so early. It’s really sad to see that there’s still a part of our community that’s so resistant to youth and skaters.”

Hood River Police Chief Tony Dirks said that the officers stopped by the park at 7 p.m. — one hour after the permit expired — and did so, not because of a complaint, but because they observed the permit had expired. “To my knowledge, there were no complaints,” he said.

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