Tampa Am Fest ’99

Today’s amateurs are no joke. Two-hundred hungry upstarts competed over the weekend of January 8 – 10 to win what has become known as the most important amateur contest of the year. Virtually every company with their hooks in skateboarding has scouts in Tampa to check out skating’s future flavors. An entire 10,000-square-foot warehouse filled to the rafters with kids willing to flip, jump, spin, and throw themselves off of every thing in sight just to win S.P.o.T. ’99. With dozens of photographers and sponsors surrounding the street course, every rider (given the opportunity) went all out for fun, fame, and first place.

When I got to the park Friday morning practice had just started and people were already killing it. It’s hard to imagine there being much of a difference between the level of skating I was watching and that of professionals–it’s obvious a large number of ams skate way better than a lot of today’s pros. Maybe it’s because they’re hungrier than the big guys who are content to rest on their laurels and fat paychecks; maybe it’s because they have nothing to lose. Amateurs are making a lasting impression on skateboarding, and often their names are more recognizable than some professionals.

Baseball fans who live, breathe, and eat America’s favorite pastime usually couldn’t tell you the name of a single farm-league player. But any kid who’s ever stepped on a skateboard could give you a quick biography of a dozen or more “farm-league” skateboarders. Most companies have a lot invested in their amateur teams, because they know in the future these ams will be their bread and butter. Because of this, what was unthinkable five years ago is a reality today–amateurs are getting paid. And after the skating I witnessed in Tampa, they deserve it. Pop in your latest copy of 411 video magazine or any of TransWorld’s videos and see who’s busting the sickest tricks and taking skating to the next level– in most cases it’s going to be an amateur. Some companies have even gone so far as to release video’s featuring only their am skaters and the videos are ill. If more evidence is needed, take into consideration the best-trick contest at S.P.o.T. was an open event with a few signed-up pros, but none of them walked with prize money.

When Friday afternoon rolled around the long and tedious process of weeding out the top-30 qualifiers began. There were 200 entrees, so Friday and Saturday were spent watching the good, the bad, and the ugly try their hardest to make the cut. One-hundred people skated each day in five, twenty-person heats. At the end of each day, the top-fifteen riders from that day would advance to the semifinals on Sunday. One of the things that stands out in my mind was the number of young skaters who entered and fearlessly competed against all of the big-name ams. As if the competition weren’t enough to shake these lads up, you’d think being judged by the likes of Andrew Reynolds, Kenny Hughes, and Chet Childress would rattle them a bit, but it didn’t. Now when I say young, I don’t mean fifteen or even thirteen, I mean pre-teen. Not only did they have the guts to enter, but twelve-year-old Andrew Gordon and eight-year-old Ryan Scheckler both ripped hard enough and stayed on long enough to beat out all of the competition and make the finals. To better comprehend the magnitude of such a feat, remember there were 200 competitors, and then realize that Bam Margera, Dave Coyne, and Pontus Alv didn’t place as high as either Andrew or Ryan–amazing.

During the two days of preliminaries there were ten competitors under the age of sixteen, and some of the loudest oohs and ahhs were drawn from the crowd by these tykes. Now granted, in any sport a child prodigy will get novelty accolades, but much of the skating done by the kids in Tampa was good not “for someone his age,” but for anyone at any age.

On Saturday night, S.P.o.T. threw a party to celebrate the park’s sixth anniversary. There were sixteen gs of beer, four bands, countless Florida hoochies, and a line to get in that resembled the line at the sold-out Monsters Of Rock tour in ’92. Somewhere across town Vanilla Ice was playing a sold-out gig and nobody at the anniversary bash cared.

The next morning was the big day. All of the hoopla and action that transpired in the previous days would come to a crescendo on this very Sunday. The vert contest started at eleven o’clock. Up to this point I haven’t mentioned vert skating once and there’s a perfectly good reason for this–nobody had mentioned vert skateboarding all weekend! Sure, over in the corner of the park some people were riding the ramp, but not much attention was paid to them at all. This was largely due to the magnitude of the street event, and the fact there were only 23 riders entered in the vert contest. Most of the vert contest, prelims and all, were held on Sunday. Much respect goes out to the people brave enough to skate vert, because the majority of the street skaters in Tampa were afraid to even drop in on a vert ramp. The simple fact is that unlike their street-skating counterparts, the amateur vert skaters can’t be compared to professionals. The two are visibly distinguishable, and although everyone who entered pushed themselves, they just couldn’t hold the interest of the burl-hungry crowd. Birdhouse am Ali Cairns was favored to win, but he received an injury while practicing and couldn’t compete. After the announcement of Ali’s misfortune, anyone who was interested in the vert contest lost interest. During the contest, I chilled with someone who told me the year before he actually fell asleep while filming the vert event, and dropped his camera off the side of a ramp.

The street semifinals started immediately following the vert contest. The top-30 qualifiers skated two, one-minute runs with the best one counting to determine the top-ten finalists. This is where everything came to light, and it became apparent that today’s amateurs are no joke. The heard-ofs and the never-heard-ofs mixed it up and put on a hell of a show, while the crowd grew so big it almost spilled onto the course. Everybody knew from the start who was going to win the damn contest; Mike Petersen from Jacksonville, Florida never stopped skating and never fell off of his skateboard–not in practice, or in the preliminaries, or when it counted most in the finals.

At every event there’s someone who doesn’t get the props they deserve, and the jeers from the crowd always bring it to the judges’ attention too late. This time Alex Chalmers was wronged. Besides landing the best-trick of the weekend in his run and not in the best trick contest (noseblunt slide on the twelve-foot-high vert wall), he skated a run that was way better than his tenth-place finish.

The best-trick contest was held on the big rail/snowboard-jump thing and of course some ill stuff went down. You would be amazed at what some people will do for a slice of an 1,800-dollar pie. Most chose to use the end of the railing where it dips down and resembles a five stepper–Jerry Hsu’s nollie tailslide and Erik Ellington’s winning big spin to frontside boardslide. A few people used the entire span of the three-foot-high flat rail leading up to the five stepper; Dayne Brummet 50-50ed the flat rail to frontside slide down the kink and Pontus Alv nollie lipslid the whole thing. Dustin Dollin did his frontside flip Indy grab across the snowboard

Jump, and Pete Eldridge came mad close to 360 flipping the big box but couldn’t hang onto it.

During the awards ceremony, announcer and MC Clyde Singleton commented on everyone who came up to collect awards. Poking fun at this one and gassing up the head of that one, he said something that was probably more prophetic than he thought. Upon presenting Ryan Sheckler with his seventh-place trophy, Clyde

hoisted Ryan high above his head and chanted, “Little man, little man, little man.” Then he glanced to his right and said to Micke Reyes something he’d jokingly said on more than one occasion that weekend, “We better watch out, or we’re not going to have a job next year.” Clyde may be right. Today’s amateurs are just hungrier.

Contest Results

Vert:

1. Jesse Fritsch

2. Greg Hieler

3. Dan Ehara

4. Thomas King

5. Benji Galloway

6. Mark Roth

7. Mark Buncy

8. Curt Baker

9. Jon Klein

10. Rich Cooley

Street:

1. Mike Peterson

2. Paul Machnau

3. Brian Sumner

4. Tobee Parkhurst

5. Jeff Lenoce

6. J.R. Neves

7. Ryan Sheckler

8. Gianni Zattoni

9. Andrew Gordon

10. Alex Chalmers

Best Trick

1. Erik Ellington

2. Dustin Dollin

3. Dan Hessler

4. Pontus Alv

5. Mark Appleyard

6. Alex Charmers

7. Dayne Brummet

8. Tony DaSilva

9. Paul Machnau

10. Jerry Hsu

t and said to Micke Reyes something he’d jokingly said on more than one occasion that weekend, “We better watch out, or we’re not going to have a job next year.” Clyde may be right. Today’s amateurs are just hungrier.

Contest Results

Vert:

1. Jesse Fritsch

2. Greg Hieler

3. Dan Ehara

4. Thomas King

5. Benji Galloway

6. Mark Roth

7. Mark Buncy

8. Curt Baker

9. Jon Klein

10. Rich Cooley

Street:

1. Mike Peterson

2. Paul Machnau

3. Brian Sumner

4. Tobee Parkhurst

5. Jeff Lenoce

6. J.R. Neves

7. Ryan Sheckler

8. Gianni Zattoni

9. Andrew Gordon

10. Alex Chalmers

Best Trick

1. Erik Ellington

2. Dustin Dollin

3. Dan Hessler

4. Pontus Alv

5. Mark Appleyard

6. Alex Charmers

7. Dayne Brummet

8. Tony DaSilva

9. Paul Machnau

10. Jerry Hsu