Up until now Yorkshire's most famous battle was the battle of Towton in 1461, the bloodiest of all English battles - well not any more! On the 15th Aug 2009 the county once again bore witness to a great conflict; the sound of metal clashing against metal, bodies flying everywhere - and yes, there was even some blood. Thankfully however, unlike the battle of Towton, The Summer Heat Railbattle didn't notch a body count of 28000, and the aforementioned blood was a small paper cut sized wound on Josh Fawcett's finger where he'd scratched himself on the edge of his ski...
We arrived at the Castleford Xscape as the 40 odd field of competitors was warming up. The organisers, Unity Productions, had done a great job, and the competitors had the best indoor rail course we've ever seen at their disposal. At the top, three options; a flat-down, a down, and a flat-down-flat, all with street style kickers onto them. Next up a choice of a flat-down or a 10m long straight rail and after that an up and over style kicker with a down-box that someone had thoughtfully placed on one side of the landing, and then down to a pipe at the bottom. All the way along the course there were mini rails and boxes at the side of each set of obstacles for the more sensible folk there.
With the warm up over the riders were divided into two heats, with each heat getting an hour on the course to impress judges in a jam format competition. It was early in the first heat when we saw Joe Tomlinson casually launch a 450 japan onto the down-box, that we knew this was going to be a special night. MC, and British freeski legend, Pat Sharples didn't quite know where to look for his next soundbite with people spinning, pretzeling, lipsliding, switching up and disastering all over the place, and it was obvious from the worried expression on head judge, Charlie Smith's face that this was going to be a tough one to call.
After the heats the riders were given an hour to use the course as they liked while the judges retired to deal with the ominous task of selecting some finalists from the heats. Eventually though they managed a list, and it was back out to the slope for what would be an unbelievable last session.
James Woods, Josh Fawcett, Joe Tomlinson, James Machon, and Harry Hancock stood out for their technical jibbery around the course. Joe was killing the Kicker to box, with smooth spins, and Josh nailed a couple of switch 630's. For the women Katie Somerhayes stood out as a contender for the top prize, with technical rail sections and switch 3 shifty's and 5's over the kicker, special mention should also go to Kerry Daines who broke her collar bone while trying a gap 450 over the kicker onto the down box, and from where we were standing she was a whisker away from nailing the damn thing, in fact there may have been a collective gasp of envy from the blokes in the competition.
Meanwhile 11 year old Tyler Harding was putting all the older kids to shame throwing down switch backflips as easy as he might fall off a log (although judging from his rail balance perhaps that's not such a great comparison in this case!). On the other end of the scale, Jamie Lawson represented for the over thirties, looking like he belonged among all these talented groms. Really though the night belonged to James 'Woodsy' Woods, who killed it all evening, mixing it up on every obstacle with simple styley tricks such as his tail slide down the 10m rail or hugely technical tricks such as his 450 rewinds onto the gap to down box. And at the end of the evening he pushed even further almost nailing a flat spin 450 onto the box on his first attempt, just ending up slightly over his noses and having to come off short of the end.
Bottom line, if anyone was worried about the state of British freeskiing they needn't be...especially when there are sessions like this being organised in the UK. Big up to Rob, Andy and Charlie for making it happen!
1st James Woods
2nd Harry Hancock
3rd Josh Fawcett
1st Katie Somerhayes
2nd Kelly O'Donnell
3rd Sissy Herant
1st Tyler Harding
2nd Joe Hydes
3rd Ryan Harris
Prize for Steez went to Joe Tomlinson
Prize for best crash went to Kieran Patel who managed to get his skis caught under a rail, land on the damn thing slide down it on his face, and then ride past the judges casually muttering 'Whoops-e-daisy'.
For more info, full results and if you want to check out the competition site click here.