When you think of Texas, long distance skateboard racing might not be the first thing that comes to mind. However, Dallas is home to one of the longest running LDP races in the United States. Celebrating it's 12th year, Rock Around The Rock is evolving into an event that should attact competitiors from all across the United States and abroad after some new additions for this year - most notably a sanctioned marathon race.
Currently, organized by John Fisher, his effort is a great example of a dedicated skater doing his part to keep a legacy event fresh. In addition to hosting this event, he also engineers his own LDP-driven products under than name Ecolite. We asked him a few questions about this event and how we can support his tenth edtion.
This event is well into double digits. Why don’t we start with some of the historical background. How did the race start and how did you come to be it’s steward?
In 2013, I was just starting to get back into skating after a 24 year break. I was at a garage sesh, and some guy named Kaspar came by and handed us all fliers for the first ever Rock Around the Rock LDP race. Some of the other guys said that he set a world record in the mile. I went home and skated a mile on a top mount and did not enjoy it at all. I didn't revisit LDP again until 2016 when it became obvious that my knees were done with running. I didn't skate the race until 2017, still on a top mount. I was so slow! It was hard. This is a picture of me exhausted after the race.
By the fall of 2018, I was hooked on LDP. Prior hosts had moved or faded away, so I hosted the event, kinda last minute in late November. I was in the lead pack on a bracket setup, pushing with both legs. It was fun! I've been hosting ever since.
The first running of Rock Around The Rock in 2011.
Tell us about how the event is shaping up this year. Route, location, time those kinda relevant details?
We skate around White Rock Lake in Dallas. It's the best trail in the metroplex, with miles of new pavement in some formerly terrible stretches. The race is on Saturday the 28th of October, starting at 1159 AM. So far, this year is shaping up to be the best ever! I have more volunteers than stuff to do! Everyone is getting into the 10th Anniversary hype: Big sponsors, more miles, and a cookout afterwards! We are adding a marathon option this year. I'm doing a section of it on the adjoining tree lined SOPAC rail trail to break it up a little. This isn't a world record course, but it's pretty and it's fun! Everyone starts at the same time and does an 8.8 mile lap around the lake. There are some places where you can pick the perimeter road (low/no traffic) or the trail. If you are neck and neck, these little choices add an element of fun. After the first lap, marathon people continue on to the adjoining rail trail. Out and back, perfectly straight. Then one more lap around the lake to the finish line. A fast skater could easily win both events.
You’ve made a bunch of changes this year to the event. Tell us what’s new this year, why you’re doing it and how it fits into the future of the race?
If the marathon goes well, we may keep doing it. It fits well with a cookout so the single lap racers have something to do while they wait. We probably have to carry both forward together, which takes more prep, more money / donations and a cook that's not racing. To some extent, the continuation of bigger things depends on how many other people can help in the future. Hopefully this is the start of great things to come!
Trail map of White Rock Lake Park
Any specific tips for riders thinking of participating? (Travel tips, course info, weather conditions, local activities)
Watch the route video and note when I discuss the critical points and places where there are route options. Or just draft a local till the 8 mile point. Weather at the end of October is some of the best we have here. While it could still be almost anything, it shouldn't be 100F.
There will probably be a Halloween garage race the same weekend. Even if the race doesn't pan out, you can count on making a full weekend of skating DFW if you want to.
DFW has plenty of other things to do as well. Dallas has the JFK memorial and a Dallas Mavs game on the 27th. Arlington: Six Flags. Grand Prairie: Epic Indoor Water Park with surf wave. Plus museums, Fort Worth Stock Yards, and more.
For anyone flying in, Love Field (Southwest Airlines) is much closer to the race. Southwest doesn't list on the big travel sites. You have to go straight to their own site. Check in online 24 hrs prior or your seat will suck.
Over the last ten years, what are some of the memorable moments for the event. Any good stories?
A few times we've had 30+ mph steady winds plus higher gusts! 2018 was in November and kinda cold. We had a lot of leader changes and a finish line wipe out by a certain Texas skate shop owner that many know well, bumping him from first to third in sight of the finish line. Matt Rody (photo credits) got it all on film!
A young(er) Cameron McFall narrowly avoids a collision in 2018 (photo: Thomas Finely)
Group photos from the 2022 and 2018 edition.
What is the local skate scene like in your area? Aside from White Rock Lake are there any good routes in Dallas? Do you ever meet up with other Texans to ride?
There is a great cross disciplined longboard crew in DFW called the Skatebirds. There are also a few other LDP obsessed dudes in DFW, and we got to know each other at this race! This route is one of the few in N Texas with a lot of asphalt. The rest is concrete and a lot of them have annoyingly large expansion cracks. That aside, there are around 10 very solid trails in the DFW area. They are working on connecting Dallas and Ft Worth with 60+ miles of trail It's supposed to be done this year. I'll believe it when I skate it.
In a former life you were a pilot and cruised at high altitude in sophisticated aircraft. Now you cruise the ground on a longboard and even have your own company producing parts. How did you make that transition?
Haha, I wouldn't call the A-10 sophisticated or high altitude! It was old school, low, slow, brrrrt fun! That era feels like a different life. Once my commitment was done in the Air Force, I fell back on my engineering degree and eventually got into product development engineering. I suppose it was inevitable that I would end up making distance skating parts as a side gig once I caught the LDP bug.
What’s unique about Eco-Lite Longboards and the T-Zero Bracket tail? How do you see your products fitting into the LDP market?
The name Eco-Lite Longboards comes from the materials I use for decks. It takes a long time to put thousands of miles on prototype decks, but I needed to be sure the unique construction could go the distance (many prototypes didn't cut it). In the meantime, I had the idea for the T-Zero Bracket. The aim was to make the lightest bracket on the market, and sell it at a budget price point. It is intended to compete with shorter zero degree truck brackets. It pumps better than the trucks and weighs less than everything on the market, including similar, longer designs from Asia thst have come out since I launched the T-Zero. For those desiring a longer wheelbase for pumping, there are some longer bracket decks on the market. Unfortunately, they are heavy. I am finally at the point where I feel good enough about the durability of my lightweight decks to start offering them as a semi-custom product. The perfect pairing is now available!
The EcoLite T-zero is available now.
Any advice for someone thinking about starting a niche business/passion project?
Don't quit your day job. Don't rush it. Figure out your goals/niche/competitive advantage ahead of time. I'm just trying to have fun, pay for my hobbies (designing, building, wood working, distance skating), and spread some LDP stoke by helping people out and (finally) sponsoring events.
What are your skate goals for 2024? Where might we see you next?
Since Miami Ultra is on weekdays this year, I'm leaning strongly towards either the new San Antonio stage race or The Chief Ladiga stage race. Less vacation days required and new challenges / adventures.
Bonus Question: What was the most memorable skate session you’ve ever had? OR Bucketlist skate spot/trip?
Ultra skates are the most memorable. You meet so many people IRL, catch up with those you've met before, and you just never know what the track or your body will throw at you.
Bucket list would be a whole summer meeting virtual friends in Europe, skating the amazing European paths, and hit the dutch ultra while I'm on tour. It's probably never going to happen since I'm a father of a big family, limited vacation time, etc., but I can dream.
In 2023, we've experienced fantastic growth in the United States and we're expecting this to trickle down to the event level very soon. Our sport can be extremely isolating and opportunities to socialize in real life can be few and far between. While we strive to have more regional events in the next year, it's important to support the events we have especially ones with rich history like Rock Around The Rock.
At this time, I am currently checking out some travel options and have the intention of attending (anyone want to share a room?) While I understand that people have family obligations and limited resources, please allow me to twist your arm a bit and urge you to take a little skate trip to an event. You won't regret it and the organizers will appreciate it.
Edit by Scott Zee