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Red Bull Step-Up Project

Author: Ivan Mennim
Date: 04-15-2005

For a few days at the end of March, the almost painfully scenic resort of the Hidden Valley, Orakei Korako, was commandeered by a group of professional wake skaters, in order to provide a picturesque backdrop for Red Bull's Step Up project. Conceived by Red Bull New Zealand's athlete and event manager Ivan Mennim, Step Up involved creating a customised rig of banks and hubba ledges, setting it up in the Hidden Valley's thermally charged river, getting some A-list talent in to work it, and documenting the entire process. Thomas Horrell, Aaron Reed, Scott Byerly and Brian Grubb were flown in from Florida to ride alongside kiwi local Justin Sweeney, and the gang came through with plenty of bangers over the four days.

Step Up's rig consisted of a 40 foot long box, six feet above the water, with a mellow on-ramp, a bank/wallride down one side and a couple of hubbas off the end. Although a frustrating drop in the river's water level prevented the on-ramp from being fully utilised, the boys were more than capable of starting from the trough and hitting the hubbas despite the quick set-up time and shallow landing. Highlights were definitely Reed's backside lipslides and front board shove-it, Horrell's switch 180 out of the box and Grubb's ollie into the wallride.

Step Up was fairly unique in that there was no public or competitive element involved - there would be no pressure of a demo or run time. Thus the guys were given free reign over the box, skating at their own pace, driven only by the goal of getting the pics and clips. When the water level dropped too low during the day the boys were out behind the skis filming lines, so there was never really any "down time". Needless to say in four days there were plenty of exposed rolls and full tapes, and everyone walked away with their share of tricks in the bag.

Aside from being the ideal remote location for a project like this (it is almost literally in the middle of nowhere; the only communication with the outside world was made via satellite phone), Orakei Korako provided many more sensual stimuli for all who stayed there. The thermal rivers and waterfalls were utilised at all hours, as were the naturally heated outdoor hot tubs on the resort's main balcony (which, conveniently enough, overlooked the river and, of course, the Step Up rig). Caterers provided three very square meals a day, and the visiting Americans were more than taken with their fantastic Kiwi cuisine.

The trip was capped off with a moonlit trek up into the nearby glow worm canyons on the last night, with everyone (locals included) floored by another New Zealand scenic overload: thick native bush at all sides, hot water streaming underfoot and galaxies of glow worms providing an eerie light overhead.

It was hard for Step Up not to be a complete success, and everyone involved was more than pleased with the results. Although the box has been dismantled and the crew have gone their separate ways, the DVD is now in production and the photos are on the wire, ensuring that the moves, malarky and memories are preserved. The only complaint any of the guys had was that certain tricks weren't landed, but with any luck everyone will be back again next year for round two!

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  • Red Bull Step Up Project Photo Gallery

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