Advertisement

A slide line for scaring parkgoers

They start with three — side-by-side, waiting patiently as one of their teammates runs full-speed at them, bouncing off his knees and over their bodies.

Then there are four, five and six. The record is 11.

Advertisement

They are the Decayed Brigade, a group of "sliders" that formed four years ago to take their unique brand of Halloween-themed entertainment on the road — preferably a very smooth road.

Members can mostly be spotted at Knott's Scary Farm come late September and early October, but they also work the summer horror convention circuit, skidding into events like ScareLA and the Midsummer Scream.

Advertisement

Sliding is the act of taking a running leap, landing on well-padded knees and sliding across with the goal of scaring those walking through haunted attractions.

"Scaring people is like jumping out of a plane 100 times a night," says Decayed Brigade's Paul Frechette. "The adrenaline you get when seeing someone jump out of their skin is just exhilarating. Sliding just adds another element of physicality and fun."

Decayed Brigade and other groups are part of the greater evolution of an activity that combines hobby, sport and performance.

The origin of sliding

Like most origin stories, there are many characters and a slowly evolving plot line. Film director Braedon Freeland originally planned to create a 10-minute YouTube video on the subject, but when he started digging and interviewing he found enough material for a full-length feature documentary. His "Sliders of Ghost Town: Origins" premiered in January.

But in short it all started with a group of bored Knott's monsters goofing around in the mid-'80s.

"It went from trying to grab feet in 1985 to what it is now," he says.

Westminster resident Bobby Albright, an original slider, played the Lion Drummer of Ghost Town in 1986 at Knott's.

"As most ideas at Halloween Haunt come about, it was a slow night, really," he says. "You're dealing with creative people here — actors, musicians. We would do certain things just to create new scares. We were messing around, again experimenting."

He happily remembers early reactions. One woman climbed over her boyfriend's shoulders in fear, falling over the other side.

"They heard something, and they didn't know where it was coming from," Albright recalls. "It was a whole other reaction from the guests. It really caught people off guard."

That group didn't have the repertoire of tricks theme park visitors see today.

"What the modern slider is doing now, I kind of take it akin to what the modern skateboarder is doing," Albright says. "When I started sliding I went maybe 3 feet."

The gear was a lot clunkier too. They wrapped their knees with cheesecloth, put on volleyball kneepads, shoulder pads and chest protectors.

"If you watched us suit up, it was like you were watching us prepare for a football game," he says.

Knott's Scary Farm historian Ted Dougherty says it wasn't until the late '80s that a monster from Camp Snoopy introduced metal gloves and skateboarding kneepads.

"In the monster community, the actors refer to Todd Stubbler as 'the Godfather Slider' since he paved the way to the modern era of sliding," says Dougherty, a former Ghost Town slider. "There was definitely sliding before Todd, but he took it to the level guests are familiar in seeing nowadays."

Where art, athleticism meet

Anaheim resident Rissy Dollins is in her third year of haunting the streets of Ghost Town as "gross, disgusting mess" of a ghoul Calamity Jane. She started sliding in early 2014 and received her Knott's slider certification last year.

"What we're doing can really hurt somebody, if you're not careful," Dollins says. "We're, one, doing it in the dark. Two, with all the fog machines out there, and never knowing how people are going to react. You really have to know what your body is doing and how to control it."

Sliders stay in shape to avoid injury and keep guests safe.

"It's kind of like the Scary Farm sport," she says. "It's very physically demanding."

In addition to regular practice to build up stamina, equipment is an important component.

Sliders personalize their styles, and equipment is customized accordingly. While no two sliders will likely have the exact same gear, they all wear kneepads, gloves and shoes. Much of their gear is homemade.

Kneepads are typically of the skateboarder-type, which have replaceable caps.

"They cover the entire knee. They're very, very thick-padded. They're very heavy-duty pads," says Dollins, who can go through a pair of caps in a weekend.

Though footwear varies widely, from boots to dance shoes, Dollins opts for comfy, durable running shoes.

Dollins and other sliders take the inserts from steel-toe boots and attach them to the toes of their shoes with industrial glue.

"That's what hits the ground as you slide, so it doesn't slow you down or tear your shoes up," she says.

To protect her hands, Dollins uses heavy-duty mechanic's gloves. She takes electrical conduits, unscrews the pieces and glues the rounded edge portion to each finger.

Sliders also attach metal washers to the palms of their gloves to creates smoother slides.

"When I scare using sliding, the reactions are amazing because nobody expects anybody coming at your feet," she says. "I've made people pee their pants. I've gotten people to drop on the floor. I mean it's great."

Chris Maggio of Corona plays a pig demon monster who slides to scare people waiting in line at The 17th Door haunted attraction in Tustin. He's been sliding for 16 years.

"I think how most people get started is they go to Knott's Scary Farm when they're little and they see the people sliding around there and they wanna do it," he says. "That's how it started for me."

He was 11, and after a visit to the theme park, he and his friends went home and procured kneepads.

"We started off by just laying down some plywood on the grass in the front yard, and we would slide on that, and we would add multiple sheets on plywood," he says.

Beginners work to control their slides so they don't go too far out — or too fast — or run into people. As they improve, they can start to test their skills on various surfaces, changing the dynamics. A smooth, warehouse-type surface, for example, offers long slides, but can chew through kneepads because of the added friction.

"It's basically like any process: Practice makes perfect, and there's always something new to be learned," Maggio says.

Just like their gear, sliders develop a technique that works for them as individuals.

Rowley Sandoval of Long Beach has his own way of coming into a slide at the Queen Mary's Dark Harbor. At 6-feet-8-inches, he's spent 10 years falling from a much higher distance than most. Sandoval aims for controlled baseball-style slides.

"For my body size, it's a little difficult, but I can still do it," he says, as he describes running and jumping into the air as high as 5 feet. "To have that mindset, it doesn't matter if you're big or small. If you know you can do it, you can do it."

Ice packs become necessary

Advertisement

One thing all sliders have in common is the pain they feel at starting a new Halloween season after not practicing for a while.

Advertisement

"Every year, we all try and hit the gym right before Haunt," Dollins says. "We all try and do a lot of sports training but to this day, I still have yet to come out of opening weekend and being able to walk right. Every part of my body, my feet, my hands, my eyes, everything is in pain."

By the sixth week, when the sliders are used to the physicality and no longer sore, the season ends.

"It's just a part of the game," she says.

Sandoval says massages, ice baths, hot tubs and stretching aid recovery.

"I'll train throughout the summer for it," he says.

Decayed Brigade members, who slide regularly throughout the year and focus on more tricks than the typical haunted attraction cast member, are quick to point out their various injuries — sprained ankles, gashes, cuts, dislocated jaws, bruised elbows.

"What we're doing to our knees and our cartilage and just tearing it apart … pounding and pounding," says Greg Daniels of Decayed Brigade. "It's just like motorbike racing."

Nevertheless, their commitment doesn't seem to lag.

"A lot of us are pretty much gonna do it till our bodies give out," says Decayed Brigade's Chase McCullough.

After watching video of sliders in action, Ben Butts, physical therapist at DynamX Physical Therapy in Buena Park, was impressed with the athleticism and elements adopted from dance.

"I guess it's as intense as any other extreme sport that we look at, whether it's skateboarding or maybe even snowboarding … so there's a degree of danger to it," he says. "When you look at that, it's impressive ... there's definitely great core stability."

A sense of community

Jon Cooke, slid at Knott's for about six years before becoming a Scary Farm design specialist.

"Every year, I still go out to Ghost Town to slide, remind myself why I started doing this whole thing in the first place," he says. "When you work haunt, there's a certain obsession about it. It's an excuse to be out with your friends that share that passion."

When he first started working at the event as a monster, he heard about weekly slider practices.

Ranging in age from 13 to 46, the 22 members of Decayed Brigade compete, tease and roughhouse but also lend support and trust.

Their team mantra, "We are group" — the result of a typo — is taken seriously.

Advertisement
Advertisement