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Extreme Campers

My inner child likes to go fast and jump high, and doesn’t care about the consequences. Yours probably does too, though you may have lost sight of him somewhere on the road to adulthood. Don’t worry, he’s waiting for you in Tehachapi at the top of the ramps at Woodward West, an action-sports camp with state-of-the-art facilities for skateboarding, inline skating, BMX freestyling and mountain biking. That’s where I found mine.

Tehachapi is in the hills above Palmdale. It’s pretty up there, and sort of mountainlike despite being surrounded by desert. I can’t see much of Woodward on the approach, except for a big iron gate and a few buildings mimicking an Old West town. Once inside, I start to get the scope of the facility. Behind a huge, empty cement pool — more like three pools connected by one big spine, really — is a gigantic building, and I wonder what’s in there. My friend tells me “that’s Hangar 18,” like I should already know.

Hangar 18 is 54,000 square feet, and houses vert ramps, resi mats and gigantic foam pits so skaters and BMXers can practice tricks. I feel overwhelmed. This place is huge, and so are the ramps you ride down. A helmet, elbow guards and kneepads are mandatory here. Broken bones flash before my eyes as I gear up.

Not sure where to start, I flag down a friend for the tour and we ride our mountain bikes around the outdoor facilities. They have everything an action-sports enthusiast could want here: There’s a dirt jumping course (phew — something that looks familiar!), and several street courses of varying difficulty. Vert ramps of various heights are spread around, and there’s a pool to jump in when your adrenaline gives out.

We get on a street course with rails, ledges, quarter pipes, hips, wall rides and box jumps. Street courses are meant to replicate the experience of riding an urban landscape, but I’ve never seen so many features in one place. My inner child rallies as I practice my jumps off a little ramp. I’ve watched pros ride their boards and bikes on ramps and in bowls, but to do it myself is a whole different story. With adrenaline coursing through my veins, I ask for more challenging terrain, so my friend takes me to the free-ride mountain-bike course.

We have to go back out the front gate and ride about a mile uphill before we get to it. In one glance I know that I must not be a free rider. There are wooden ramps with vertical drops of 20, 30 and 40 feet that transition into a 55-foot jump. Yes, people actually ride their mountain bikes off these things. My friend warms up by jumping off the “small,” 20-foot drop. I decide I will never have enough protective gear to try it and ask to be directed to the less lethal jumps. The course is challenging and fun, with a series of small tabletop jumps and larger “doubles.” To clear a double, you have to make it over a gap and land on the ramp on the other side. I pedal to get some speed up and pull up on my handlebars as I hit the lip of the jump. Flying through the air feels amazing, and these jumps are designed so well that even I can land them!

Exhausted, I go back to Hangar 18 and watch the other two people I came with (thanks, Mavro!) do backflips, forward flips and tail whips on BMX bikes into the foam pit. There are a few skaters too. The talent level is impressive, the wow! factor even more so.

This place is not for the total novice. While there is instruction available for a few hours a day, you are flying solo the rest of the time the park is open. You need to bring your own gear — including all the protective gear you can muster. In the summer it’s mostly a kids’ camp, but there is adult camp at the end of the season, or weekend getaways in the off-season.

The cool thing is that pros like Shaun White, Tony Hawk, Ryan Guettler, Kevin Robinson or Darren Berrecloth might be right next to you while you ride. How’s that for bragging rights? So if you have any athletic ability at all, take your therapy money, go buy yourself a skateboard or a bike and learn the basics. Then treat yourself to a week at Woodward. Your inner child will thank you.

Woodward West 28400 Stallion Springs Dr., Tehachapi, (661) 822-7900 or www.woodwardwest.com

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