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Flashback to October, 2012: The Freebord Rider Awards were in full swing as almost 100 riders and friends from around the world gathered in Las Vegas for our big annual party and awards show. Those who weren’t nursing hangovers from the night before were well on their way to epic levels of inebriation at the open bar. The shiny glass trophies were all lined up on stage, the crowd was growing anxious, and the main event was about to begin. While everyone else was taking their seats and gorging themselves on free booze and chicken wings, I was upstairs in my hotel room – alone, sober, and pacing back and forth more nervously than B Rabbit at his first rap battle. I was about to give the hardest speech of my life.

What happened in Vegas stayed in Vegas, until now. It’s high time that the rest of you hear the story I told that night. While this story may make me look like a golden-hearted philanthropist, the truth is I did this for completely selfish reasons. I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t make this effort. I did it for me.

Here is what I said that night:

“Always a bridesmaid, never a bride! (that got a little laugh. I had just come up short, again, after being nominated for RotY). First off, it’s great to be here with everyone after another great season of freebording. This is no secret to most of you here, but we have an awesome community around our little “sport” – the way I describe it to people who don’t know is like this: You wouldn’t go on the internet and say to a stranger: “Oh, you like tennis? I like tennis too! So…how about I come to your house in France and we can play tennis together?” But that’s exactly what you see in freebording and so much more. So to those new faces here, welcome to the Freeworld!

“So earlier this summer I was riding on Lombard street and a young Australian couple approached me and asked, “Do you take donations?” – I was confused by the question until they explained: “Well we’ve just come up from the piers and Embarcadero, and there’s all sorts of performers down there, dancers, artists, magicians, making money by entertaining tourists, and well, you’ve just given us the best show of the day so how about I give you a couple bucks?”  I said, “Okay that’s not really why I’m out here but sure, thanks. I’ll put it toward the helmet fund.”  When I said those words ‘the helmet fund’ I knocked on my helmet with my knuckles and the idea was born.  I would use this opportunity to raise a bit of money 4ST. I wasn’t really comfortable asking strangers for money but if they stopped me to take a picture or ask if I’m dropping again, I would kindly request a donation for skateboard safety and helmet awareness. I would never mention Sam or 4ST specifically but I would sometimes tell them that 42 skateboarding fatalities were reported last year in the US alone. Lots of those were helmetless downhill riders, and the average age of the deceased is just 17.  Those stats hit home for a lot of people but of course nothing hits home for us in the Freebord community like the loss of our friend Sam Trowbridge. Not only was Sam far and away the most progressive freeborder in the world, but he was so well-loved in his community, as he was in ours.”

(That’s where the difficult part comes.  I really wish I could’ve said more about Sam’s awesomeness here, but i was choking back tears at this point and any more eulogizing and I wouldn’t have been able to finish. Sam’s death devastated me in a way that nothing else ever has. When a kid would tell me that I inspired them to start riding, as Sam often did, and knowing all of the fun and thrill and joy and friendships that it has brought them, I can honestly say that is one of the most satisfying feelings I’ve ever had – a feeling like I’ve made a real difference in elevating a lot of people’s lives. Sammy took that torch and ran with it at full speed. He inspired countless riders and made quantum leaps of progression in both riding and film-making. I was so damn proud of him.  Not only was Sam the epitome of all those things I value so much in our community, but he was so much more to so many people. Sam was the happiest, friendliest, wisest, most talented, artistic, creative, and humble kid that I ever knew and his potential in life was limitless. For the world to lose such a gift, for his parents to lose their only child, seemed to instantly outweigh and demolish any good that ever came out of freebording. I wished he had never started freebording. I wished I had never started freebording. I wished there was no such thing as freebording. My greatest pride had become my deepest grievance in an instant. I was utterly crushed. A year and a half after the tragic news came in, when I gave this speech, I was still constantly haunted by it.  This was my feeble attempt at some sort of redemption.)

I was an emotional wreck at this point, but the rest of the speech went something like this:
“Thankfully, the 4st campaign is making a real difference. While just a few years ago helmets were considered optional, now it’s totally taboo to ride without one. All of the ads and promoted material from Freebord will now and forever feature helmets on every rider. There’s no doubt in my mind that one day my helmet with the 4ST sticker will save my life. Same goes for everyone in this room and riders across the world. In fact I’m sure it has happened already (Utah rider Braden Sten then raised his hand to confirm). Sam’s memory and 4ST saves lives, period.

“So I’m donating $100 of what I raised to Helmets in Hands, a helmet charity organization out of Kansas City, and $100 to the Ian Tilmann Foundation, another helmet charity dedicated to a fallen rider. Both of these organizations promote helmet awareness and provide cheap or free helmets to riders in their community. But you know where my love is, I saved the big wad for Freebord and Sammy (I removed a stack of bills several inches thick from an envelope) and I’m proud to donate the remainder to the 4ST campaign. I wish I was able to raise more. It’s *not* a very lucrative endeavor. As far as calories burned per dollar made, I may have been better off pulling a catamaran or something. All together I hiked over 16 thousand vertical feet for this money. I consider that just one small step toward correcting my irresponsible actions of the past, the horrible example I set by not wearing a helmet for so long, and the very least I could do to respect and honor Sam’s legacy. So in Sam’s memory I donate this $416, these are the actual bills I collected, to Freebord and the 4ST campaign. Thank You.”


Editor’s Note – Although we currently don’t have the 4ST stickers and pledge site operational, we hope you will still take a pledge to always wear a helmet and continue to spread the 4ST story. 

Mike Hoppe

Hi, I'm Mike Hoppe. You may know me from such Freebord films as Paved For Us and Slides of Summer. I started freebording in May of 2000 and I'm old as dirt. When I'm not shredding the hills of San Francisco, I enjoy snowboarding, baseball, and owls.