On September 12th, a half-mile strip of blacktop, normally a parking lot for beachgoers, recently became the ultimate stage for top motorcycle riders to showcase their skills – and these riders wear badges.
These men and women in law enforcement navigated their 900-pound, two-wheeled machines at Huntington Beach to compete in the annual Orange County Traffic Officers Association (OCTOA) Motor Rodeo, an event held annually at Huntington State Beach. OCTOA is led by longtime board member and current president, Motor Officer Laure Bao of the Santa Ana Police Department.
The 46th annual event involved about 300 motor officers representing more than 32 agencies from throughout Southern California. It is estimated there were about 200 civilian spectators who took in the action and enjoyed the interaction with the motor officers.
Among the agencies were the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, California Highway Patrol, and the Los Angeles, La Habra, Anaheim, Santa Ana, Orange, Tustin, Westminster, Irvine, Pasadena, and Huntington Beach police departments.
The maneuvers they performed mimic those employed by motor officers every day on the job.
“This is a training day for motors throughout Southern California to come together. They can showcase and hone their skills, while competing against some of the best motor riders in the nation,” said Jim Tigner of La Habra Police Department, himself a motor sergeant, instructor, and OCTOA board member.
While the Motor Rodeo is a competition, the event also offers camaraderie and networking opportunities.
“We have monthly training but it is nice to get out and see what the other departments are doing with their training too,” said Sgt. Sarah Fetterling, supervisor of the Tustin Police Department’s traffic unit. “It’s good to just see what other agencies are doing out there … what direction they’re heading.”
Hundreds of spectators were on hand to watch the competitors navigate police Harley-Davidson, BMW, and Honda motorcycles in two separate events.
In the circuit competition, officers had to twist and turn their bikes through six unique cone configurations or circuits. Competitors had to get through each circuit without putting their foot down, touching a cone, dropping the bike, or riding out of the pattern.
“The cone patterns are actually very difficult,” said Orange County Sheriff’s Department Sgt. Roger Dawes, who was attending his fourth motor rodeo. “That is why we do this. It’s a perishable skill. If we don’t continue to do the cone patterns and continue to control the power curve of the motorcycle, then that skill is lost. We do a lot of slow maneuvering, and if you compare police officers to the typical weekend Harley rider, the motor officers can control their motorcycles way more efficiently than a typical weekend rider.”
The popular top gun competition is like a maze where officers get to lead or follow. The goal of the leader is to throw off the follower, and the goal of the follower is to do exactly what the leader is doing.
“It’s very humbling and a great experience to compete with your peers,” La Habra Motor Officer Sumner Bohee said. “You see people with varying skills and abilities and it’s just an honor to compete with some great riders and it challenges me, too, to do a lot better.”
The nonprofit Orange County Traffic Officers’ Association was formed decades ago to provide financial support for the families of motor officers who’ve been killed or injured while on duty.
“The camaraderie and bonding are great,” said Officer Shane Spielman of the Anaheim Police Department, a motor officer for 14 years. “It’s a great time. You’re putting the skills to work … the training that you use every day, where you are just putting it into a competition atmosphere. Obviously, the more you ride the better you get; the more you train, the better you get.”
La Habra Police Officer Josiah Telles was at the motor rodeo for the first time, not to compete, but to support his fellow officers.
Telles has been an avid street rider for years and is looking to transfer to the motor unit.
“The skill level is just amazing to watch,” Telles said. “This stuff is not easy. It’s not a walk in the park and some of these guys can do it with their eyes closed.”
Individual awards are given to the top three finishers in both events; in BMW, Honda, and Harley-Davidson classes; and team awards are given in the circuit competition.
Top Gun Head to Head
First: Officer Gooder, Irvine Police Department
Second: Officer Carrion, Anaheim Police Department
Third: Officer Flynn, Huntington Beach Police Department
Individual Circuit, Honda
First: Officer Watkins, Pasadena Police Department
Second: Deputy Tomasko, Orange County Sheriff’s Department
Third: Officer Fay, Anaheim Police Department
Individual Circuit, BMW
First: Officer Carrion, Anaheim Police Department
Second: Officer Menchaca, Los Angeles Police Department
Third: Officer Murphy, Burbank Police Department
Individual Circuit, Harley-Davidson
First: Officer Markos, California Highway Patrol
Second: Officer Carter, California Highway Patrol
Third: Officer Eckerfield, California Highway Patrol
First: San Bernardino Police Department – Officers Peck, Holcombe, and Nelson
Second: Chino Police Department – Officers Bloch, Bernath, and Bunch
Third: Pasadena Police Department – Officers Watkins, Blumenthal, and Gaudet