continued from Part 1By Sean Mortimer
Historically, skating has experienced a popularity explosion followed by an implosion (three separate times since the 1960s). But after each population decimation, we’ve repeatedly risen from the rubble, badly battered, but with a better sense of ourselves, and, of what we really, really hate. (Ex: restrictive gymnastic rules and longing for Olympic recognition in order to be considered a genuine “sport” by the public.) In the early 80s when skating hit its lowest population count, we thrived culturally, creating our own pro contests in backyards, barren skateparks and even squatted land. Many consider this the golden era of skating due to the do- it-yourself ethos.
The new breed of street skaters also redefined how to judge skateboarding. With an evolving ability to ride a variety of terrain and spontaneity too fluid for vert-themed contest setting, street shredders eventually deflated competitive significance.
LANCE MOUNTAIN “What we know of as ‘contests’ is just one aspect of competition. Every skater competes in different ways: to have the best ad, best coverage, video part, best new interesting thing that people notice. Anybody in the pro arena is competing against someone else for that spot, for that shoe deal, for admiration. There’s a variety of ways, because once you have a set way to do something, like compete, it gets old and boring for the creative type that skateboarding attracts.
“In the ’70s they made skateboards and discovered that putting people’s names on them sold them. In the ’80s they discovered that the people who won the contests sold boards. Everything about pro skating in the ’80s was based upon performance at contests. Then we figured out what works for a skateboard contest: build the same ramp, bring it to a new city, and we slowly but surely started doing the same line and the same guys did good. We all did it because that’s where the money was. The rules were set and we knew what to practice for and in a way it killed it because people became disinterested. Contest skating didn’t grow.
“As a pro skater, I probably projected more personality than some other skaters because I was more insecure about my competitive placings. I wanted to win, but I was lazy or playful or whatever. But I’m a really competitive person. We ['80s skaters] all were. We’d been competing since we were thirteen. I just tried to find cracks in the way to compete. That seemed more interesting than practicing because I really had a problem practicing a contest run over and over.”
Domination: Bones Brigade members Lance, Tony and Stevie Caballero crush competition at the Badlands in 1985.
MARK GONZALES[The man behind modern street skating] “My first attempt at a street contest was at a California Amateur Skateboard League freestyle competition.  I brought a piece of a parking block to the comp, set it up, and banged away at that. I did boneless ones on it, every type of maneuver I could. Some people thought I was stupid and laughed and other people thought it was great. I did street plants and I think that was the one thing that got me recognition. Now people might think it’s stupid, but back then people liked that I was getting upside down without any transition. A photograph from that contest was one of my first photographs published.
“The first pro street contest I entered was in Sacramento . I thought, for sure, I’ll take a first. I thought I was the best street skater out there. I didn’t do so well. I was depressed. I guess my tricks were too difficult. I got really upset. The next contest after that, Oceanside, I made sure I won it. My best friend at the time was Rocco and he said winning a contest is more than just hard tricks. He showed me how to win a contest. Then it was out of my system. Totally. I was done with it. After I won, I thought, okay, I did that.
“I think Sacramento was my favorite contest because I learned a lesson. Contests aren’t about difficulty, it’s about fluidity and staying on your board. I have respect for people like Tony [Hawk] and Rodney Mullen who win every time—it’s a type of mentality. Tommy Guerrero, he won the Sacto contest. He knows how to skate contests really well. The funniest thing was when he beat Mike Carroll in San Francisco and gave him the trophy [Tommy thought Mike should have won] but kept the money. I think that’s funny.”
Contest set-ups have changed radically in the past 25 years. Gonz’s frontside airs remain just as rad.
MIKE VALLELY [One of the most popular street skaters who changed board design and helped redefined contests role in a pro skater's career.] “When I started skating, the idea behind a [local amateur] contest was to get everybody together to skate. We were emulating what we saw in the skate media. A typical street contest set-up was a lot of small wedge ramps, jump ramps, somebody might drive in a car to jump off of. The other good skaters pushed me to get better—it was friendly competition. It’s like playing a game of S.K.A.T.E. today. We had the top skaters and I was one of them and if I didn’t win, I’d be kind of bummed as would other guys.
“My first pro contest was in Oregon in 1987. I was 16, the youngest guy there. I got third. That was the time when attacks on contests began. How can you judge street skating? How can you say Christian Hosoi wins because he didn’t fall but Natas Kaupas tried to boardslide a real handrail? [1986 Oceanside contest—only Gonz and Natas did handrails at the time.] On that alone Natas should win. Skaters taking perfect runs, playing it safe—suddenly there was an argument against that. They may have won the money and trophy but they started getting knocked for it. “Oh, he’s just a vert skater. He’s not progressive—those tricks are old.”
“Spectators remembered the progressive street tricks. That’s what they took away from a contest—that was the talk on the street. It was almost a surprise when Natas or Gonz or I won a contest. The reaction was like—’A street skater won a street contest?’
“It wasn’t long after Oregon that I was over contests. Contests went from fun gatherings to feeling like a job. I had a lot of pressure on me. I was a young skater on The Bones Brigade and had done well in contests as an amateur. [Mike won all his sponsored amateur contests.] I started pulling away from that aspect of skating. I didn’t want to be that guy and have to carry it on my shoulders—being this “contest killer.”
Mike V and a crew of skaters let organizers know how to run a contest.
to be continued…