"the cliffs"

"the cliffs"
Jason Farrell being Jason Farrell
photo by Russell Barbara

in my circle of friends growing up there was a period of time when everyone was buzzing about "the cliffs"
okay... as I had several circles of friends then as I do now it would more clear to say... in one of my many circles of friends there was a period of time when we were all buzzing about "the cliffs"

"the cliffs" were a big part of our mini fringe Bethesda subculture (which co-existed along side of so many mini-subcultures)
I am certain that "the cliffs" exist as a collection of strong memories for many people from this area... many's whose circles came before and after while never intersecting with any of my circles
yet... by a matter of situation and a matter of chance I will take credit for being the spawn of the introduction of "the cliffs" into the hearts and minds of the Bethesda skaters which then filtered on into the DC punk scene
not the genesis of jumping at "the cliffs"
but the genesis... of the interest, fascination, and passion of this cliff during this group during this era

as a preteen child I had seen people jump from these cliffs from the perspective of a two man kayak
the site and the sound were invigorating
I heard the sound of the jumpers shouting and I heard the sound of jumpers screaming
A few times I was excited to see someone jumping from "the cliffs" but it was more frequent that we only heard the sound when "the cliff" jumper connected the water

even though my dad told me that these people were being stupid and that their actions were dangerous
I thought it was cool

on hikes on the billy goat trail I tried to connect the dots where the cliff was from land versus where the cliffs were from water
I found the spot... I knew the paths to get there
I knew the most direct paths and I knew my favorite more technical paths
The Billy Goat Trail and the C&O Canal were my personal playground growing up

lots of hiking and fishing with family, friends, and alone
on my bicycle I would ride from home to the canal
growing most familiar with the section around Old Angler's Inn but also having some good memories of riding my bicycle to Swains Lock to either fish or canoe... we did not rent our boats from Swain's a friend of my mother's lived up that way and we would borrow his canoe
those were freer times

the canal stayed part of my life, but "the cilffs" did not really enter my curiosity

then years later as a teenager kayaking had pretty much left my life there was one time I joined my brother and some of his friends for a rogue kayaking mission
my brother being the only kayak-er in the bunch
I was in one of the two two person boats while my brother paddled around in his single
on this day after some paddling about we stopped at the base of this cliff
two of us scaled the wall of "the cliffs"
we each took a few jumps

it was a rush... I was all welled up with fear
adrenalin... pure adrenalin
it was matter of approaching and over coming fears
it was definitely a rush

it was cool... I had jumped "the cliffs"
it just happened that one time with no talk of going back
then... a few years later I was street skating with my friend Lawrence McDonald
we traversed the area on our skateboards looking for some fast rolling terrain that would give us a rush

from sleepy bethesda to downtown we went
in search of a natural high by riding our skateboards down various hills
no glancing at a map no thought on typography
straight and direct with the ambition of getting to the short narrow brick quarter pipes down by the C&O Canal behind what was then an Open Market but is now Dean and Deluca

Wisconsin Avenue took us downtown...
that road alone offered some excitement from the top of Georgetown all the way down to M Street
then on the way home it was an insane rush riding a skateboard down Wisconsin Avenue past the Animal Hut and the Round Table from Tenleytown to Friendship Heights

it was good clean fun... a tad dangerous... but good clean fun
one one of these hot summer nights Lawrence talked out loud about where he could fulfill his need to get this "natural high"
only "higher"
it was then that I remembered "the cliffs"

we talked about the cliffs... Lawrence wanted to go to the cliffs that moment
I think we got on our bikes and went out there the next day
maybe I was old enough that we drove in the diesel rabbit that I shared with my brother marc

that particular day happened so fast that its memory is blurred under a stack of so many other memories
a short time after that we tried to stage a situation where once person fell in and then the other two people jumped in after to save him
no one was fooled

lawrence and I went to "the cliffs" bringing with us different people on various trips

after introducing Lawrence to "the cliffs" the word got out
the already adrenalin b-town skaters jumped on it
quickly there became a buzz
all sorts of people wanted to go to "the cliffs"
they might have well printed up flyers and hung them in The Sunshine House, Montgomery Donuts, and Little Tavern

people got possessive over the cliffs
I can recall friends\musicians Jason and Lawrence each talking about different photo concepts for future records involving "the cliffs"
each of them feeling greater ownership over "the cliffs"
but... honestly... I never felt that we owned the cliffs... no one owns "the cliffs"
I felt that this spot was more than likely a jumping spot for inhabitants of this area for centuries before we ever stumbled upon it

[feel free to insert the Bethesda Sunshine House Native American on horseback with the sunset and the channel which is the Potomac at the base of "the cliffs" that he is standing]

it was a healthy adventure that involved hiking, climbing, scrambling, and of course cliff jumping

it was simple and pure
potentially dangerous and thought to be frowned upon by "the man"
that may have heightened the excitement
which may have fueled the speed of the approach and departure

swimming in the Potomac and the C&O Canal had been known to be prohibited
these were laws that never made sense to me
I grew up riding my bike to the canal to go fishing
then when I got older we would take our dog swimming there
when the weather was right... we would swim... it only seemed natural

Wide Water by Old Angler's Inn was a popular place to swim
we would sun ourselves like snakes on the rocks... then swim out to the small rock isla

and then there were "the cliffs"

"the cliffs"
getting to the cliffs was one of those "the journey is the destination" sort of experiences
running and racing along The Billy Goat Trail was as much a part of the experience as jumping into the Potomac river

or at least for me... there were countless trips to "the cliffs" that did not involve me or my knowing
who went? I am not sure if it was a Bethesda version of that shampoo commercial where the women tells two friends... and so on... and so on... and so on
it more than likely... I will share this with you... but try to keep it a bit of a secret

the Bethesda skate crew that surrounded Marcus Wilcoxon and Jason Farrell and such latched onto
"the cliffs"
large groups... well... groups larger than the usual three or four people... large groups of B-town skaters and their surrounding friends would rush out to the cliffs and attack things with the same competitive energy that they attacked the ramp

to me... it was about jumping
these guys... everyone was trying to outdo the others

backflips... ganors... diving... and then even swimming across the Potomac to the Virginia side where they scaled the wall to a point on the cliff where the numbers 69 is painted... and then they jumped from there

they definitely took things beyond what I had experienced at "the cliffs"
these cliffs sent them to Dickerson's Quarry where they made similar approaches to an
even higher set of cliffs

it was not confirmed... but it was understood that these actions were not legal
this did not dissuade anyone from taking part
but... the thought that these actions may be illegal may have contributed to the intensity of the approach and the departure
no one wanted to get busted
no one even wanted to get into the conversation

it is best to avoid the conversation

usually we would arrive at the cliffs and we would have them to ourselves
on a few random occasions there would be an overlap of people taking on "the cliffs"

this was not a "boy only" activity... I can remember bringing an assortment of female friends
and seeing other women or knowing of other women who went to "the cliffs"
I think there may have been one case where a women had a ticket dropped under the premise that she was discriminated against as the only woman and the only person who got a ticket
or something to that effect

never on any of these adventures did anyone get seriously hurt... sure... my friend named Bridget got th
e wind knocked out of her... then Charlie a guy from Apple Courier told me he collapsed a lung landing wrong... another time I was trying an "one and a half" off a lower ledge and managed a one and a belly flop... but across the board... it was pretty controlled and pretty safe
it was not some point of no return
it was pretty much good clean fun

we never got in any trouble
we actually most of us never made contact with any rangers or park police
but legend and lore contains multiple tales of tickets and court dates

this was supposed to be a discussion about the law and totalitarianism
but the intro took over everything
there is not time... energy... or concern to try and get that diatribe out on the blog

the effort to protect us from ourselves
it is interesting how the Park Police can be so vigilant about some issues and slack about others
okay... yes... a mention of the lawlessness of the car
the bending... versus breaking of the law
the accepted parameters of flexing the law

come on... no frisbee on the beach? no football tossing on the beach?
I guess that they could not trust people to make the right decision
to understand that it is too crowded or that they could not keep it in control
so... they ban it and make it illegal
instead of expecting people to be safe and smart enough to exhibit some common sense and common courtesy

ice skating on the canal has a "play at own risk" label to it
but so does life in general

Jason Farrell and Swiz

Lawrence and Bells of

Bells of on the Gwadzilla Page

Jason Farrell on the Gwadzilla Page

I bet Hound-dog has so much shit on video that he could build an epic film like Spartacus or Ben Hur

this morning I got a number of comments about posts that made mention of a skateboard team from the area know as THE TOKE TEAM
since I was hardly a skater and definitely not a vert skater my documentation from the sideline may be a tad off
here are some previous posts on THE TOKE TEAM
decadent versus the B-Town squeaky clean
Gwadzilla Search for TOKE TEAM


gwadzilla said...

that last photo may be Hound-dog

I was going to tie him into the mix but the story ran itself
I just typed it

gwadzilla said...


I want to read through it to see if it makes sense
but I have lost steam

Anonymous said...

thats HDP chucking the frontside ollie

Anonymous said...

nice post.....i can relate to everything mentioned...from the cliffs to the sunshine house to the animal hut, round table etc....everything seems to have lost its innocence around here.

gwadzilla said...

funny.. I got major comments on a skateboarding post from years back that connects to this all through an alternate tangent

I may need to pull up mentions of the skate team known as The Toke Team to get some clarification

apparently my history from the sidelines is a incorrect


which is fine...
good to get the correct information out there

Anonymous said...

great post. i was thinking of those photos and faces as i made my way down the canal during my bike packing trip last week.

marni said...

Great story, Joel! Makes my heart race just reading this. Summer,
driving out MacArthur blvd with rites of spring tape playing. We wore that place (and that tape) out. love/miss the potomac.

Note: 1) Jen Ballard was that
lone girl in one of those too-large groups who got collard due to her
huge tattoo being so visible/recognizable from the rangers mount across the river. This was 94-ish, when rangers really cracked down, dressing like hikers but wearing earpieces (judge threw it out). 2) b-town boys already knew Dickerson and (the far cleaner/taller) bakerton quarries from Marcus' west Virginia weekend river house. 4th or 5th grade. Cliff jumping was already on our mind... Tho we were very psyched to be shown one so close to home.