When the Duke University Marching Band plays the first few notes of “Wipeout” during a men’s basketball game, the Cameron Crazies lurch forward, eager to high-five the trombone players as they run by the student section on their way to Coach K Court.
“I’m almost always the first one in line, so leading the ‘bones’ across the front of the Crazies is just an epic rush. It’s something I used to watch on TV growing up and now I get to do it, which sometimes feels unreal,” says Mitchell Gladstone, a sophomore member of Duke’s band.
Once on the court, the trombone players lie down on the floor and a surfboard is placed on top of them. Duke’s Blue Devil mascot jumps on to the surfboard and the band members roll in unison from one end of the court to the other. For Gladstone and his fellow trombone players, it’s a team effort to keep the board moving without spilling the surfing Devil.
“We need everyone to keep moving, and we always tap off so that we start rolling at the same time,” Gladstone says. “Everyone needs to be on their toes and ready to sprint to the front of the line once the surfboard goes over top, because sometimes it might just be eight or nine of us.
“But you feel the noise building as you get across half court and toward the other free throw line. As a band, we want the crowd to really feed off us. It’s our job to bring 110 percent energy all of the time.”
It’s a tradition that never gets old for band director Jeff Au.
“The first time I saw it, I was blown away. I have never seen anything like this. If one thinks about it, a bunch of people rolling the length of a basketball with a surfing cartoonish Blue Devil is a pretty rare sight. I salute the imaginations that devised it,” Au says.
Trombone members Andrew Portnoy, '05, Nick Superina, '03, and Stephen Hulme, '05
The tradition goes back for at least two decades. The most recent incarnation of the trombone section performing “Wipeout” dates to 2002. Nick Superina recalls practicing for hours in Cameron Indoor Stadium’s lobby area trying to perfect their rolling technique and timing.
“The first surfboard we ever made was constructed out of cheap particle board, which wasn't the best choice because it cracked during a game in Cameron! The most important part of the technique, I think, is making sure you get a strong grip of the surfboard when you're underneath it so that you help keep the board as level as possible as the Blue Devil surfs,” says Superina, a member of Duke’s Class of 2003.
Superina recalls the adrenaline rush he felt upon hearing the roar of the Crazies grow louder as the surfboard and Blue Devil crossed half court and headed toward the far baseline.
“If the Blue Devil makes it across the full court, the Crazies get pretty loud; it may not be as loud as when Duke hits a game winning shot vs. UNC, but it feels like it's pretty darn loud!"