Welcome To The Thunderdome, Part 3 of 5

continued from part 2 By Sean Mortimer

D.I.Y. Continued

RODNEY MULLEN [Inventor of modern technical street skating—ex: kickflip, flatland ollie. Currently working on erasing his stance.] “In ’78 the local shop sponsored me and brought me to a contest. They told me that they wouldn’t drive me home unless I entered. I was ten and didn’t know if they were serious or not. I won and spent that night staring at the skateboard necklace I’d won.

“It wasn’t always an internal motivation to win contests. There was outside pressure because once I started winning, I realized that others thought, There’s only winning and losing [for Rodney], no second or third. It was subtle. I was plugged into it. Everything at that time was about contests. There was no videos and no magazine coverage unless you skated contests and it was like once you were in, you were in. It wasn’t as if there was a deliberate switch that was turned on by myself.

“After a few years of pro contests, the vert skaters would stop skating and watch my [freestyle] contest runs. That meant more to me than winning. We were all friends and the contests were an excuse to get together. I grew up skating alone on a farm. Feeling a part of something was a highlight as the paradigm of me winning everything was being set. By then I was terrified of contests. It was the potential of losing everything, letting people down. It would have been a signal that something was wrong, that I was on my way down. ‘Winning’ became part of my job and if I didn’t do that, there was a feeling that I wasn’t doing my job anymore. It turned into people waiting for that fall that would do in my record. [Rodney only 'lost' one contest in ten years.]

“Out of all the contests I entered, there were two, maybe three, that gave me that sense of, ‘Wow! I did this! I won!’ The other 30 or whatever felt like I’d just played it safe. If it was just about making my contest run, then that put me in a defensive state of mind. There’s no victory in ‘just don’t fall.’ You only feel that sense of accomplishment, victory or everything good that should come from a contest when you make that thing you never thought you could.

“I had set a goal of winning ten years of contests and it was the most empty feeling when I did that ten years. I remember walking around the contest site in San Francisco. It was littered with trash and I was thinking about how absolutely devoid of accomplishment or finality it was. Seeing that trash was symbolic of how I felt, which was: I just want to get out of here.

“It was foregone that when I started street skating that I wasn’t ever going to be part of that again.”

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Even with his father forcing him to wear full safety equipment, a 13-year old Rodney still commanded total freestyle domination.

TONY HAWK “It got to be a bummer as people expected more of me because I was consistently winning. If I didn’t win then I was a loser in their eyes. It wasn’t as if I did well and somebody had a better day. I just wanted to be part of the camaraderie and part of the think tank that competitions were back then. At those events, people bounced ideas off each other and showed each other their newest stuff. Otherwise, you didn’t see those guys for the rest of the year. But I felt like I had to hide my new stuff because if the judges saw it during practice, they knew what I was capable of. If they didn’t see it in my contest run then they might mark me down for it. It got to be this game of how to surprise people and I didn’t like that approach. I didn’t like having a strategy. It felt like a jock mentality. It turned into this training and a system and all I wanted to do was go there and enjoy myself.

“Around ’88, I stopped entering contests. Most people’s reaction was: ‘What are you going to do because you’re not going to make a living skating.’ I thought I might be able to do exhibitions and still have a high profile but the emphasis that was put on you as a pro skater was your contest rankings. But I stopped for awhile anyway and when I came back I had a new approach. I tried my hardest stuff in runs, stopped playing the conservative game where I build up to the finals. It was more all or nothing. It works out or you blow it and I liked that.

I agree with what Rodney said about being conservative—it’s rare but occasionally you’re put in a position where you’re capable of doing a run that will win the event but isn’t your best performance. That doesn’t feel right. If all you were into was competitions, then maybe you’re game for that, but for me, I wanted to do my best. There were times when I thought, If I just cruise it, I’ll win it. I didn’t do it very often but there were a few times that I did and it sucked. You don’t feel good about yourself. You feel that you’ve cheated your potential.”


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Tony’s 22-year old run is all the more impressive when you consider he’s skating in Airwalk construction boots and a flat board with 4-inch nose.

LANCE MOUNTAIN “When street skating came in, realistically, none of those guys had to compete in contests to become pros. It changed with dudes like Natas and Gonz who could compete but chose not to. Contests were out of Mark’s setting. Street contests never emulated street skating. Street skaters never had a legitimate way to compete and show what they were about. Gonz and Natas didn’t compete because they were never given the right arena. It wasn’t that they couldn’t compete.”

MARK GONZALES “I never looked at contests [terrain] as something that I didn’t skate in the street. I looked at it as something for people to look at and enjoy. I always thought that it was more for people watching rather than the people doing it. That’s why I always tried to do things that were contradictory to the laws of gravity. I slid up a handrail. The crowd liked it. I moved the jump ramps so I could jump ramp up and slide up the handrail. I moved obstacles during my run. I don’t know why. I can’t help it. I am spontaneous.”
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Gonz in one of the first street contests using a spectator as an obstacle.

to be continued…