"Have you noticed, when you're on, it doesn't feel like they're buckin' at all?" one bullrider asked another.
The other was taken aback by the question.
"Nope," he said.
The Redwood Coast Rodeo, held Saturday at the Del Norte County Fairgrounds, treated about 800 spectators to numerous tests of endurance. No single rodeo event, of course, lasts more than 30 seconds. They are endurance events because the riders, ropers and steer wrestlers must simply endure when faced with physical forces more powerful than they.
Five guys from Crescent City, none older than 18, readied themselves to ride bulls over the course of two hours.
They chatted idly among themselves. They prepared their equipment. They scouted their 2,000-pound competition andndash; lying in pens within a stone's throw of the riders' area.
They watched the other events, cheering on other competitors while soaking in the crowd noise.
"I think the hometown rodeo is best because you know everyone in the crowd," Hunter Sturdevant said.
Sturdevant and his brothers Hunter and Colin (they are triplets) have competed for 10 years apiece as members of Crescent City's first bullriding family. Donald Phillips, who attends Sunset High School in Fort Dick with Hunter, has three years of experience. Another schoolmate, Thoran Lundback, had never ridden a bull before Saturday.
"There's nothing else like it," Phillips said. "I've rode dirt bikes, I've surfed, I've snowboarded andndash; this is something."
Riders need to stay on a bucking bull for eight seconds to be eligible for placing -and prize money. A sense of balance is key, as well as the mental toughness needed to weather the bucking andndash; and the anticipation.
"There's a lot of confidence back here," Phillips said.
Toprepare for the real thing, the Sturdevants and Phillips practice with a drop barrel, a mechanical simulator. All that practice, they admit, only benefits you to a point.
"You don't get the same feel as a real bull," Hunter Sturdevant said, referring to the unpredictability of a live animal. "I don't think it works."
Each rider's utmost goal is to win the event, but the jocular nature of the riders' area diffuses some of the tension. The riders are familiar with one another through the California Cowboys Professional Rodeo Association circuit, of which the Redwood Coast Rodeo is a part.
"You are going up against friends, but it's different," Phillips said. "You're kind of competing against (the bulls)."
And they fight back.
"I got my world rocked," Jordan Sturdevant said, recounting a past ride. "It put a hole in my vest (with its horns), took off my vest, took off my helmet and kept on coming."
In the end, no bullrider hung on for eight seconds Saturday. Hunter and Colin Sturdevant each lasted around four seconds; Lundback, a second and a half.
Two injuries, however, hung over the event like dark clouds. An official suffered a head injury while attempting to corral a bull and was taken from the Del Norte County Fairgrounds in an ambulance. Rob Bohannon, who is also a member of the Rodeo Committee, was treated and released from Sutter Coast Hospital for a concussion and a black eye.
Phillips was bucked into the air, landing on his back after a three-second ride. The bull appeared to step on his right wrist with its hind leg before it could be corralled.
Phillips re-entered the waiting area, holding his black-and-blue right wrist to his body, walking gingerly. The extent of his injury was not known, but a smile was spread across his face.
"It was a good ride," he said. "He had a lot of power."
Casey Meroshnekoff of Red Bluff won the day's first event, bareback riding, with a judged score of 71. Blake Hirdes of Turlock won the calf roping competition (13.6 seconds) and Luke White of Madera scored 74 points to win the saddle bronc event.
Linda Johnson won the breakaway roping competition with a sterling time of 3.6 seconds. J. Cody Jones of Ukiah won the steer wrestling event (5.5 seconds), Roxie Jimeniz won in barrel racing (17.67 seconds) and Lonnie and Shawn Manning won the team roping competition (6.5 seconds).