Archive for: July 2014

Flyboarding — it’s a thing, right here in Austin

By Barbi Barbee, ChinLin Pan, Alisa Semiens

You bike alongside Lady Bird Lake, and all of a sudden, you see a guy standing on a board up in the air with water spurting out from under his feet. What the heck is he doing?

You’re actually witnessing flyboarding in action.

Flyboarding, also called water jetpacking, is a relatively new water sport about 3 years old. Someone stands on a water jet pack — the Flyboard — connected by a firehose to a jet ski, driven by another person. The water pressure from the jet ski moves the person on the Flyboard in the air.

French jet ski racing champion Franky Zapata invented the Flyboard in spring of 2011. Flyboarding has grown popular in the U.S. The balance and ride of the Flyboard is often compared to a snowboard. Photo by Barbi Barbee.

French jet ski racing champion Franky Zapata invented the Flyboard in spring of 2011. Flyboarding has grown popular in the U.S. The balance and ride of the Flyboard is often compared to a snowboard. Photo by Barbi Barbee.

“There is nothing else on your mind, except for what you are doing and just how much fun you are having,” said Damone Rippy, the youngest professional flyboarder to compete in the 2013 Flyboard World Cup at age 15.

Since its inception, there have been a few Flyboard World championships. Rippy finished in fourth place at the 2013 Flyboard World Cup in Doha, Qatar and in first place at the North American Championship in Toronto.

To train for these championships, Rippy practices about four to five times a week at Aquafly where he works.

“[There is] a certain training regimen that I have to complete before the day is over and that either comes to landing a certain amount of backflips in the air or doing double backflips or doing a certain new trick, or keep on trying it,” Rippy said.

Because the sport is so new, one of Rippy’s coaches Christopher Vance explained that the community of flyboarders is like a family.

“We have what’s called a flyboard family. Everybody pretty much knows everybody at this point,” Vance said. “The competitions that we go to, we all get together and have fun, we go out and drink and eat together. But when the competition starts, it’s very competitive. Not cutthroat, but everybody wants to win.”

French jet ski racing champion Franky Zapata invented the Flyboard in spring of 2011. Now, the sport has taken root in Austin.

UT alumnus Ed Hughes owns Fly Lake Austin, one of several rental locations in Texas that instructs people how to flyboard.

Fly Lake Austin owner Ed Hughes dives under water using his Flyboard, which uses water jets to propel riders to perform a number of trick, such as diving or back flips. Photo by Barbi Barbee.

Fly Lake Austin owner Ed Hughes dives under water using his Flyboard, which uses water jets to propel riders to perform a number of trick, such as diving or back flips. Photo by Barbi Barbee.

The first time Hughes flyboarded was January of 2013 when the temperature was about 50 degrees Fahrenheit. He immediately fell in love with the sport after reading about it on the Internet.

Since he opened Fly Lake Austin last year, Hughes has taught people of all ages, ranging from 6 years old to 80 years old, and people who loved sports or couldn’t swim.

Besides the Flyboard, people can try flyboarding on a Jetovator, another water sports accessory that allows the flyboarder to redirect water and propel and elevate into the air.

“The Jetovator is a very similar apparatus. It flies on water power from a jet ski,” Hughes said. “It’s more like a motorcycle than a board that you stand on. It also has to hand controllers that the person on the Jetovator controls the up and down with that. There’s a little more control for the rider on that.”

Hughes teaches with both the Flyboard and the Jetovator. While some people prefer one or the other, most people like using both.

Hughes has seen flyboarding become what it is today and how popular it is — or lack thereof — among Austinites.

Hughes soars above Lake Austin on the Flyboard. The Flyboard can send riders over 30 feet above water. Hughes uses a 60 feet firehose, which allows him to elevate higher in the air. Photo by ChinLin Pan.

Hughes soars above Lake Austin on the Flyboard. The Flyboard can send riders over 30 feet above water. Hughes uses a 60 feet firehose, which allows him to elevate higher in the air. Photo by ChinLin Pan.

“People are becoming more and more familiar with this,” Hughes said. “Yet every weekend, I see people that say they have never seen anything like this before. Or they’ve only seen it on the Internet.”

Hughes believes some people stray from flyboarding because it appears dangerous or they feel they cannot grasp the Flyboard or Jetovator.

“A lot of people are intimidated by these machines, but they’re easier than wakeboarding and most people are up and flying in two to to five minutes once you get them out on the water,” Hughes said.

Like most sports, Rippy says, people can get hurt, but it also takes time “to learn the techniques and get in the zone.”

Rippy says that his young age helps him avoid injury in competitions.

“I can bend easier than some of the people and I heal very fast when I get hurt,” Rippy said.

For people who are not professional flyboarders, the risk of injury is low, when they are in capable hands of an instructor. Hughes encourages people of all ages to try if they’re interested because “it’s way easier than it looks.”

Through Roller Derby, Women Gain Confidence

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Lauren Glass, known as Pirata Roja, sits with her skates after a roller derby practice. Photo by Marshall Tidrick

Lauren Glass has an alter ego. As does Penelope Nederland and Shaun Lee.  Roller derby within the Austin area has allowed women to freely express themselves through movement.

Lauren is typically called Pirata Roja, Roja for short. Shaun is Donna Pologize and Penelope is Fifi Nominon. All of these women have been able to fully come out of themselves and be who they wish to be.

“One thing I love about roller derby is that it takes people from saying, ‘Oh I can’t. I’m not good enough; not strong enough.” Roja says. “ And they are able to and capable and they are strong enough and its way beyond anything they ever imagined.”

According to USA roller skater, Fifi Nominon, roller derby is a sport most associated with women and the involvement of men has recently developed over the past seven years.

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Penelope Nederlander, known as Fifi Nominon, skates as the jammer during a scrimmage against the male team, Austin Anarchy. Photo by Marshall Tidrick

“It is one of the few sports that exists that started as a female sport and has grown massively in popularity as a female sport with a men’s sport coming after,” Fifi says.

Fifi and her team, Hustlers, scrimmages with a local men’s roller derby team, Austin Anarchy, and throughout the game there was an even playing field.

The women and men played equally and there was no buffering on skills based on genders.

“People usually think basketball, then women’s basketball, soccer then women’s soccer,” Fifi says. “When you think roller derby, you think women’s roller derby.”

For many current skaters, the thought of never being able to play roller derby was changed to action and success after joining.

Libby Heeren, also know as Tesla, remembers saying, “I could never do that, but it sounds like so much fun.”

Soon after that the never could turned into a possibility.

“I hadn’t been on roller skates in 20 years,” Tesla recalls after she bought her first skates from the skate shop Medusa’s. “Roller skating is addictive, even when it’s new and scary.”

After joining this past June, Tesla has experienced a complete turn around within her self confidence.

“I’ve fallen in love with my body, something I never thought I’d ever say,” Tesla says, “I look down at my legs now and think, ‘I love you, legs. You do amazing things.’”

Shaun Lee, also known as Donna Pologize, has experienced a similar increase in confidence due to her own roller derby involvement.

“I was always kind of the weirdo on the outskirts,” Donna says. “Then roller derby happened and I have never felt more at home. Derby is a sport, but it is also a family.”

According to Donna, roller derby has provided her with some of the most beautiful friendships imaginable.

After the bout against the Bar Belles and Clean N Jerks, high fives are given to the crowd. Bar Belles won with 192 to 172 against the Clean N Jerks.

After the bout against the Bar Belles and Clean N Jerks, high fives are given to the crowd. Bar Belles won with 192 to 172 against the Clean N Jerks. Photo by Marshall Tidrick

Lauren Glass, known as Pirata Roja, has likewise developed extreme friendships through her own roller derby experience.

“I have about 300 Facebook friends that I actually want to hang out with and like.” Roja says. “Not everyone can say that.”

Through a difficult time with thyroid cancer, Roja experienced immense support and love from her roller derby friends.

“I had so much support. People came every day to drop things off at my door.” Roja recalls. “My entire room was filled with flowers and I have enough Sudoku puzzles to last me three lifetimes.”

The empowerment contagion has continued to the younger generations within the junior derby league.

Roja smiles as she talks about her own daughter’s experience in the blossoming from a quiet, reserved girl into a self-confident and self-secure young woman.

“The moment I realized the change within her was one day after school her teacher told me what had happened that day during recess,” Roja says with a smile.

Apparently that day during recess, there were two boys arguing; one was bullying the other.

The Clean N Jerks smile after scoring points from the round before.

The Clean N Jerks smile after scoring points from the round before. Photo by Marshall Tidrick

Roja’s daughter, Madison Glass also known as Madi Vul, would not stand for it. She stomped her way over to the two young boys and stood between them.

Eyes piercing into the bully’s eyes, Madi Vul said, “If you want to pick on him, you’ll have to get through me first!”

It still makes Roja smile with pride to know that her daughter was able to find her inner confidence through roller derby.

“Oh my gosh! That’s my daughter!” Roja recalls. “She now thinks she’s kind of this superhero in herself too. She feels like she has the inner strength to not only stick up for herself, but for other people too!”

Roller Derby 101

Roller derby has multiple different strategies and rules, but here is the simplified version of the game as a whole.

A breakdown of the roller derby track and positions of players. Photo credit from Glasgow roller girls.

A breakdown of the roller derby track and positions of players. Photo credit from Glasgow roller girls.

A game, known as a bout, is played with five players from each team within the derby ring. One of the five from each team is the jammer; identified by a star on their helmet. Their main goal is to pass as many opposing players as possible. Each player the jammer passes is a point for their team. Another position, identified with a stripe on the helmet, is called the pivot. The pivot keeps an eye on the pack, and is a last defense. The other players are called the blockers and their main objective is to prevent the opposing jammer from passing them.

This group of eight blockers is called the pack and none of the skaters, aside from the jammer, is allowed to leave the pack passed 20 feet. All players must continue to skate around the rink and never skate the opposite direction.

If a player elbows another player, skates in the opposite direction or skates further than 20 feet, they receive a penalty and must go to the penalty box for a minute.

Still have questions or need more details? Visit the official rules of flat track roller derby at http://wftda.com/rules/20140301 from Women’s Flat Track Derby Association.

Written by Heather Leighton.

A Look Inside The Immigration Crisis

 

Victor Lopez, 43,  standing at painting project on July 24. Victor owns his own painting company named Victor Lopez Painting in Amarillo, Texas.  (Photo by Diego Contreas)

Victor Lopez, 43, standing at painting project on July 24. Victor owns his own painting company named Victor Lopez Painting in Amarillo, Texas. (Photo by Diego Contreas)

 

He stood with a welcoming grin, slightly balding, and sprinkled gray hair. His face weathered and palms cracked, evidence of years spent underneath the Texas heat.  With dried paint underneath his fingernails and the building’s color palette splattered over his white shirt, it was just another day for Victor.

 

In the pursuit of a better life and security for his family, Victor migrated to Amarillo, Texas, from Juarez, Mexico twelve years ago. With a spark in his eye, he whispers to his wife and kids, “seguridad y opportunidad,” security and opportunity. To Victor, his family’s voyage to Texas mimics that of the pilgrims to Plymouth Rock.

 

After arriving in the United States, Victor landed a position with Mancha Builders, a custom home construction company in the Texas Panhandle. He spent a few years with Mancha, establishing himself as a painter, before starting his own painting company.

 

Victor still works closely with Mancha, contributing on various projects. According to the founder of Mancha Builders, Perfecto Mancha, migrants like Victor are his company’s signature.

 

“They know that they must do the very best they can on any project to ensure that they have a chance to interview for the next project. Nothing is guaranteed,” Mancha said. “They take a little more pride in their work because 95 percent of the time being in the States is not taken for granted.”

 

Victor has a green card, and is in the process of obtaining legal citizenship. He speaks in broken English, and jokes that it is the most difficult part about his transition to the United States.

 

In order to become a citizen, he is required to take courses in American History and The United States Constitution, as well as learn English.

 

Victor lives a simple life, but many undocumented workers that he knows throughout the Panhandle continue to struggle for the American Dream.

 

“They live in fear of leaving home, being pulled over by law enforcement, and asked for proper identification,” Victor said. “They are often underpaid by their employers.”

 

According to Mancha, there are various building companies in Amarillo that pay their workers in cash to keep them off of tax records and avoid being audited by the IRS. Immigrants often resort to buying social security numbers on the street or from family members who have already obtained them.

 

“We do our thorough interview before we hire them and I try to obtain the proper documents,” Mancha said. “I’m gonna say we turn around anywhere from five to seven employees annually simply because we don’t have that quick turnover. A lot of these guys are legit and stick around.”

 

A for sale sign outside a Mancha Builders home in Amarillo, Texas.   (Photo Diego Contreras)

A for sale sign outside a Mancha Builders home in Amarillo, Texas. (Photo Diego Contreras)

At thirty-four years of age, Mancha is already a veteran in home building. He believes that everybody deserves an opportunity to be in the United States. “It’s the ones that come for the taking that I don’t agree with,” Mancha said. “If you’re going to come here, do it the right way. There’s not a better feeling to me than seeing my people succeed.”

                     Victor shares the sentiment of Mancha, but urges the public to understand the struggles that immigrants face. “We don’t come here to rob, we don’t come here to fight or any of that, we just come here to work.”

 

Green cards can be granted to entrepreneurs who make an investment in a commercial business.   According to Morales, this involves a minimum investment of $500,000. However, there are a number of other ways non-citizens can obtain a Green Card.  For instance, a non-citizen can obtain the card by a family sponsor, meeting the requirements of “Refugee or Asylee status”, and other unique ways.

Once a non-citizen has a green card and fulfills the requirements of permanent residency, they have the ability to apply for citizenship.  Requirements vary based on the type of Green Card.

In order to start the naturalization process, an applicant must complete the N-400 form.  The form is commonly called the “Application for Naturalization.” The applicant must be 18 years of age at the time of filing and have had a green card for at least 5 years.

Other requirements include: the ability to speak English, knowledge of U.S civics and government, and many more. These can be found on the U.S. and Immigration Services website.

 

However, Morales said there are some problems with the immigration system.  For example, Morales believes that the United States prefers an immigrant from England rather than El Salvador.

“We (U.S.) have a preference system, where we prefer people from Europe versus other parts of the world,” Morales said.

In an effort to find a solution Republican Senator John Cornyn introduced the Helping Unaccompanied Minors and Alleviating National Emergency Act or HUMANE Act on July 17, 2014.

The HUMANE Act reads that it intends to alter the rules for unaccompanied alien children by amending the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008.

The amendments are created to streamline the deportation process and include countries that are not contiguous to the U.S., as the new list incorporates Canada, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, and any other foreign country that the Secretary determines appropriate.

Once the alien child has been placed in custody the HUMANE Act says he or she has no later than seven days to make a claim for legal stay and during that time the child may not be placed in the care of a non-governmental sponsor.

After the claim has been made the presiding judge has no later than 72 hours to make a determination on whether or not the unaccompanied alien child is eligible to legally stay in the U.S.

On July 15, 2014 Cornyn and U.S. Democratic Representative Henry Cuellar made an appearance on MSNBC’s Morning Joe to discuss their reasons for wanting to speed up the deportation process.

“They’ve figured out this gap in this 2008 law which allows children to basically be released to family members in the United States and be served with a notice to appear. It won’t surprise you that most of them don’t show back up,” Cornyn said. “So what Henry and I are trying to do is to fix that gap.”

           

A Sister’s Fight for Justice

By: Christina Noriega, Camille Garcia and Thomas Hushen

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University of Texas Professor Snehal Shingavi and a friend of Jackson attend the memorial to show their support.

Holding candles, flowers and signs, members of the Austin community spilled onto the bridge crossing Shoal Creek and West 34th Street on Saturday.  It was the one-year anniversary of the fatal shooting of Larry Jackson Jr.

Lakiza Fowler, sister of Larry Jackson Jr., organized a memorial service for her brother on the bridge overlooking the place where Jackson was killed.  Long-time friends and family of Jackson attended the memorial, including his three children who traveled to Austin from their home in Mississippi.

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A photo of Larry Jackson Jr. holding his oldest child.

 “The now ex-detective felt the need to play the part of the judge, jury and executioner on that day,” Fowler said during her speech at the memorial. “And because of his unjust judgment and condemnation, we are left here to try and pick up the pieces after such a tragedy.”

 Exactly one year ago, Detective Charles Kleinert chased Jackson from the scene of a bank robbery at Benchmark Bank on West 35th Street. After the robbery, Jackson approached the bank and according to Kleinert, Jackson had acted suspiciously. When the officer attempted to question Jackson, Jackson fled from the scene. Kleinert followed him, commandeering a civilian car along the way.

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Larry Jackson Jr.’s three children attend the memorial on Saturday July 26th.

The chase ended underneath the bridge on West 34th Street. Jackson lay dead in the riverbank, having been shot in the back of the neck by Kleinert.

According to the officer, his weapon misfired.

 Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo placed Kleinert on administrative leave and started an internal police investigation of the shooting. A month later, Kleinert retired.

 “To say directly to [Kleinert], I hate you for what you did. I hate your actions, because your actions have caused an entire family to grieve to the point where, like I said, I don’t even know who I am anymore,” Fowler said during an interview.

At a town hall meeting in response to the shooting, Fowler met Lucian Villaseñor, a local activist and member of the anti-police brutality group the People’s Task Force. The group had formed in the aftermath of a Florida case where George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watchdog, was acquitted after murdering an unarmed, black teenager, Trayvon Martin.

With the support of the People’s Task Force, Fowler embarked on a campaign to initially fire Officer Kleinert from the Austin Police Department. Fowler said she knew immediately after Jackson’s death that she wanted to fight for justice.

“I knew deep in my heart that this was my little brother and I wasn’t able to protect him from this rogue cop,” Fowler said. “I knew I wanted to do something about it. I just didn’t know how to get started, where to get started or what to do.”

 After Kleinert’s retirement, the People’s Task Force redirected their efforts toward securing a Travis County grand jury indictment of Kleinert on charges of murder. Villaseñor said Keinert’s retirement before the completion of an internal police investigation reflected a systemic issue of racism and police impunity.

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Lucian Villaseñor, member if the People’s Task Force, helps Lakiza Fowler with the memorial.

 “If you kill a person of color in Austin, you can retire and get your pension,” Villaseñor said.

 Snehal Shingavi, an assistant professor of English at the University of Texas at Austin and attendee of the memorial, said he believes the Jackson case was a result of systematic racial profiling in police departments nationwide.

 “When you look at who is arrested, who is put in prison and who is shot by the cops, you see a racial bias in the outcome of police actions,” Shingavi said.

 After months of petitioning and rallies, the grand jury indicted Kleinert on manslaughter charges on May 12. If found guilty, Kleinert could serve up to 20 years in prison and pay a fine of up to $10,000.

 “This man needs to serve time for what he did to my brother,” Fowler said. “And the charge needs to be stepped up to murder because that’s exactly what he did.”

The last indictment of a police officer for a fatal shooting was in 2003, when Officer Scott Glasgow was indicted on charges of negligent homicide for the killing of 20-year-old Jessie Lee Owens. Four months later the charge was dismissed.

 While the indictment was a victory for the Jacksons family’s months-long campaign, Villaseñor said they would still have to fight another uphill battle to convict Kleinert.

 “At any point along the way, the District Attorney [Rosemary Lehmberg] can throw out the case or offer [the officer] a plea deal and let him get off scot-free,” Villaseñor. “That’s why some of our demands have been that we want her to set a court date and follow through and not delay.”

 Fowler said she would continue to fight for a conviction even if the case is thrown out.

 “I’m going to continue until my last breath fighting not only for Larry, but for all the other injustices that have happened,” Fowler said.