An annual California police motorcycle skills competition drew almost 500 officers to a sun-drenched parking lot along the Huntington Beach sand to compete for top-rider honors, train on patterns of neatly arranged orange cones and share a few moments of levity.
The Orange County Traffic Officer's Association hosted the annual skills competition, which nearly doubled in attendance from a year ago. Proceeds from this year's entry fees went to the families of the Oakland officers who were ambushed in March — two were motor units who pulled over a desperate parolee armed with an assault rifle — and Orange County families related to a motor officer who died while on duty.
"There are no routine traffic stops," said the Garden Grove Police Department's Kathy Anderson, who was among a half-dozen female officers at the event.
But with its pinpoint motorcycle maneuvers, police camraderie and sunny weather, the event was far from a somber memorial. It was split into two halves, with a break for a hearty lunch at the end of a lenthy chow line.
During the morning hours, officers tested their riding skills on one of eight test patterns of cones, often maneuvering their bikes around tight corners and through narrow corridors of space.
The officers, who rode Harley-Davidson, BMW and Honda bikes, emphasized the importance of the event as training, and said they enjoyed the friendly competition.
Many of the maneuvers — balancing the bikes, leaning into turns and quick handlebar transitions — are regularly used in real-world patrol situations.
"If you ride motorcycles, you realize the importance of staying current on your skills," said Frank Lavigne of the Murrieta Police Department. "When you get into a situation where you're trying to avoid an accident, the bike will be in an awkward position. The more training you do, the better [you'll respond]."
After lunch, 64 officers competed in a bracket-style tournament for the honor of "top gun" rider. That honor eventually went to Brian Cline, a Riverside County Sheriff's deputy assigned to Temecula. Second place went to John Watkins of the Pasadena Police Department. Third place was taken by James Johnson, an Orange County Sheriff's deputy assigned to San Clemente.
The event was structured as a follow-the-leader competition; the second officer entering the course attempts to duplicate the maneuvers of the "leader." A winner is declared, when one rider knocks over a cone, rides "out of pattern," puts down a foot or drops the bike.
The event allows officers to sharpen skills needed for the fast reactions neccesary while on motorcycle patrol to catch speeders or avoid accidents, said deputy Brad Blakely, the event's organizer.
"It's mental," Blakely said about motor patrol. "You've got to be on your A game at all times. You've got to be focused and aware of your surroundings."
View our extended photo gallery of the event, as well as this footage of the final duel and our on-camera interview with deputy Cline. The video was shot by Kimberly Pham and edited by Kelly Bracken: