T. Eric Monroe and the United Skateboarding Association are giving amateur events a wake-up call.

“If you don’t know someone, it’s hard to know what’s going on in this industry!”¿T. Eric Monroe

What in the world could possess a young guy to risk his livelihood, his savings, and his good name by trying to start an amateur skateboarding association all by himself?

The seeds for such a stunt were planted some ten years past, when the Eastern Skateboarding Association folded and the National Skateboarding Association’s amateur series disappeared, followed shortly thereafter by the NSA itself. “Back in the day,” a young kid named T. Eric Monroe had become involved with the ESA as a skater¿a freestyler. New Jersey native Monroe used to help out local contest organizers, and he attended events in New York and New Jersey: “That was the only time to see people you didn’t normally skate with, catch up on new tricks and who’s doing what, see what new fashions are out¿whatever.”

After amateur contests mostly fell to the wayside, the industry suffered as well. Monroe continued to skate for fun and held a series of part-time jobs that enabled him to travel. In 1997, Eric felt a tug: “I just got the buzz to create some sort of amateur organization¿absolutely nothing was going on, and it seemed like the industry wasn’t going to do anything to help amateurs at the time. So I ran an event called Shred For Life at a convention center here in New Jersey.” The all-day skate jam with the pros ran for twelve hours and drew a lot of people, but by the end of the day Monroe was even more broke than when he opened the doors. “I put in a whole lot of my own money,” he laughs, remembering. “A few companies took out booths: Nice Shoes, Brooklyn Boards, Vans, and Airwalk. But we didn’t have a corporate sponsor to fund it, just a private investor who put in money to make it happen.”

Monroe almost threw in the towel after that first event; he was discouraged and felt burned out, yet he still had to pay off the event for months afterward. But six months later, it dawned on him: “I realized I didn’t have to make a financial success of the event, but rather prove to myself that the scene still existed and needed some help.”

At the end of the year, Monroe started calling skateparks in the Northeast to see if he could schedule contests. When many agreed, he called skate companies to get support¿but most declined. A few companies, like Birdhouse, Powell, and local New York company 5boro, were supportive throughout that first season in 1998, when the United Skateboarding Association managed to hold a 26-week series.

Although that 1998 USA series was held in skateparks in the Northeast, it wasn’t due to some regional vision of Monroe’s: “My mission was to get an amateur thing going because there are so many amateurs and so little for them to do other than buy into the hype!” Monroe’s choice of locations was actually based on his ability get there in four hours of driving, and with headquarters in New Jersey, that left him mostly in the Northeast.

Monroe had another mission as well¿spreading information. “I get a lot of e-mail from skateparks and private business owners who want to start skateparks. Sometimes kids just want to know how they can start a park in their hometown, or get some information, or they need help with their homework. We have information we can give them on insurance rates and safety statistics, and even sales information.” A lot of folks find out about the USA through the Web site at www.unitedskate.com when looking for info on amateur events. But once there, they encounter much more for their mouse click: an extensive calendar of industry events and info. Monroe says, “We definitely want to be that resource for the industry and for the main public interested in skateboarding and action sports.” The skatepark insurance info Monroe proves comes from Heidi Lemmon in Santa Monica, California, who started the Skate Park Association (www.spausa.org). She did research and found out how hockey and bicycle associations can provide insurance for their members and simultaneously provide the venues with insurance.

Monroe’s vision for the USA didn’t stop at contests and information, though. A lot of the USA events are more like festivals, combining music and information/company booths. “My thinking behind that is a couple things,” says Monroe. “One, to get amateurs more exposure to people being around them¿that’ll allow them to experience larger crowds at a contest. At a local skatepark contest we’ll have anywhere between 200 to 500 people. But to be in front of 3,000 or 10,000 people at an event¿getting that crowd behind you is really exhilarating for the kids.”

Consummate pro Tony Hawk is supportive of amateur events like USA’s: “It seems like lots of kids are getting recognition from placing well in these events. Sponsor-me videos can get lost in the shuffle.” Hawk also notes the appeal of a festival-type atmosphere to riders: “I think there’s a certain level of chaos/unorthodox activity at contests that people like¿people enjoy it! The East Coast might naturally have more of a sense of spontaneous fun, same with pro events at Skate Park of Tampa and Vancouver. Perhaps CASL California Amateur Skateboard League has to be more structured, just like the X-Games compared to Vancouver and SPoT events. And a festival atmosphere brings out better crowds¿more than just skaters and their parents. It’s always cool to have people out who don’t skate but enjoy watching it.”

Monroe gives credit to the pioneers of amateur skateboarding organization: “I have to take my hat off to Art and Doc founders of the ESA, the Hawks Tony’s parents, the Bosticks Don and Danielle for running NSA, and Sonja Catalano and Jean Hoffman for starting up CASL; they definitely paved the way. But we do have a little different structure styles¿we cater more to what the kids want because we are kids!” Monroe clarifies that he’s in his late twenties, but still a big kid at heart. “We try to strike a happy medium between a successful event and keeping the kids happy at the same time.”

And how do you determine an event’s success? “I think the 1999 championships was the most successful,” says Monroe after much thought. “It allowed everything we wanted to happen to happen. It was this past December third to fifth at Utopia Skatepark in Raleigh, North Carolina. We had Activision as one of our sponsors this year, and one of our jobs was to promote the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater video game and the Wu-Tang video game. We had Tony Hawk there, so we made it sort of a release-type push. We were also supposed to have the Wu-Tang there, but their flight was canceled due to weather problems. It went off well, from time scheduling to the number of kids there, sponsors Fender, Sobe, PNB, Yoohoo, boo.com, Rawkus Records, MCA, and Universal Records, as well as longtime sponsors like Ecko Unlimited. Press coverage was amazing, from NBC to TransWorld and Thrasher.”

Monroe manages to get a lot of support from the music industry in part due to his longtime connections¿from writing reviews in and shooting pictures for Thrasher, he segued into general music interviews and photography. After several years covering the New York music scene, he ended up photo editor for The Source magazine. He gets super-loyal support from clothing company Ecko Unlimited. “I’ve known Mark Ecko for four years,” Monroe explains. “I did some photography for him; both the music and clothing industries in New York are small, plus the Ecko factory isn’t far from where I live. After the USA’s first year, I approached Mark about some office space for the USA in their building. We made an exchange agreement for them to be a sponsor, and we’ve been getting them involved in any action sports and music-related things I can get my hands on.”

The USA’s relationship with New York-based skate company 5boro also goes back to before the amateur organization’s creation. 5boro’s Steve Rodriguez and Monroe had both been part of the Northeastern skating scene for many years, and when Monroe started up the USA, he gave Rodriguez a call. “He Monroe said he was starting his thing the USA,” Rodriguez remembers. “The events were at parks here in town, and Eric gave us a schedule and told us to give him a 5boro banner¿it was a bro deal. His first year coincided with our second year of business, and we’re a small underground company, so it was good for us to get our name out.”

5boro gave the USA all the product they could afford to, and because the skate company liked to make appearances at all the small regional contests, that first summer Rodriguez and the team forged a closer alliance with Monroe: “We ran into Eric every weekend!” he laughs. “We saw him in Massachusetts, Vermont, and North Carolina!”

What really impressed Rodriguez was how much heart Monroe put into the USA: “I used to skate in the ESA, and it was kinda like that¿a guy knocking himself out to do this, obviously not making money off it.

“I support them the USA because they’re kinda on the same level as us,” explains Rodriguez, “a small organization trying to get out there on a national level.”

In two years, the USA has grown to include two full-time staffers who help the organization to reach out to include more ams. In ’98, TransWorld SKATEboarding Business Contributing Writer Eddie Starke volunteered his time to the USA, and this past year Don Olson joined the team, along with Staten Island Dan and Adam Gianotti, taking the events up to the next level. Ryan Monihan (once voted Thrasher’s most hated pro) is now one of the USA’s masterminds. In fact, the additional manpower has expanded Monroe and the USA much farther than the previous four-hour-drive parameters. “This year we made a twenty-hour drive down to Georgia!” laughs Monroe. “So we’re pretty much up for anything!”

Skatepark-builder Eddie Starke’s involvement with the USA is part of a long-range plan of his to strengthen the skate scene by supporting its roots: “I got the skate bug in the early 80s when Schmitt Stix, Spitfire, and Santa Monica Airlines were on the rise, and Eastern Skateboarding Association events were all the rage. Then I woke up to a dead industry, and I was inspired to make an impact in whatever way I could.” Starke went to school for a degree in environmental science and worked in a skate shop by day, gaining more industry experience. When he completed college, he decided it was time to give something back to the skateboarding community: “A couple years ago when the USA was first starting up, I called Eric, and he told me he could use some help. I started road-tripping to USA contests and informing everyone about our skate series.”

Starke’s dual role at USA is helping with promotions as well as the more technical aspects of pulling off events, and establishing recreational facilities like the recently finished Union Skatepark in Ronkonkoma, New York: “The bottom line is that this is what I believe in and want to do with my life. Of course right now we’re all volunteers, but I don’t like rag-tag operations¿I want this to be quality. That’s why I got involved with the USA¿the overwhelming opportunity to make things happen.”

He marvels at the accomplishments of the USA so far: “Look at how much work we’ve done in such a short time frame; it’s just pure unadulterated effort, oozing from real skaters who want to make a difference. If I owned a shop, I’d cough up two-grand! You’re putting your money where your mouth is by supporting the skaters. Check out the mags¿many of today’s hot upcoming ams are past USA contestants, that’s proof of the positieen getting them involved in any action sports and music-related things I can get my hands on.”

The USA’s relationship with New York-based skate company 5boro also goes back to before the amateur organization’s creation. 5boro’s Steve Rodriguez and Monroe had both been part of the Northeastern skating scene for many years, and when Monroe started up the USA, he gave Rodriguez a call. “He Monroe said he was starting his thing the USA,” Rodriguez remembers. “The events were at parks here in town, and Eric gave us a schedule and told us to give him a 5boro banner¿it was a bro deal. His first year coincided with our second year of business, and we’re a small underground company, so it was good for us to get our name out.”

5boro gave the USA all the product they could afford to, and because the skate company liked to make appearances at all the small regional contests, that first summer Rodriguez and the team forged a closer alliance with Monroe: “We ran into Eric every weekend!” he laughs. “We saw him in Massachusetts, Vermont, and North Carolina!”

What really impressed Rodriguez was how much heart Monroe put into the USA: “I used to skate in the ESA, and it was kinda like that¿a guy knocking himself out to do this, obviously not making money off it.

“I support them the USA because they’re kinda on the same level as us,” explains Rodriguez, “a small organization trying to get out there on a national level.”

In two years, the USA has grown to include two full-time staffers who help the organization to reach out to include more ams. In ’98, TransWorld SKATEboarding Business Contributing Writer Eddie Starke volunteered his time to the USA, and this past year Don Olson joined the team, along with Staten Island Dan and Adam Gianotti, taking the events up to the next level. Ryan Monihan (once voted Thrasher’s most hated pro) is now one of the USA’s masterminds. In fact, the additional manpower has expanded Monroe and the USA much farther than the previous four-hour-drive parameters. “This year we made a twenty-hour drive down to Georgia!” laughs Monroe. “So we’re pretty much up for anything!”

Skatepark-builder Eddie Starke’s involvement with the USA is part of a long-range plan of his to strengthen the skate scene by supporting its roots: “I got the skate bug in the early 80s when Schmitt Stix, Spitfire, and Santa Monica Airlines were on the rise, and Eastern Skateboarding Association events were all the rage. Then I woke up to a dead industry, and I was inspired to make an impact in whatever way I could.” Starke went to school for a degree in environmental science and worked in a skate shop by day, gaining more industry experience. When he completed college, he decided it was time to give something back to the skateboarding community: “A couple years ago when the USA was first starting up, I called Eric, and he told me he could use some help. I started road-tripping to USA contests and informing everyone about our skate series.”

Starke’s dual role at USA is helping with promotions as well as the more technical aspects of pulling off events, and establishing recreational facilities like the recently finished Union Skatepark in Ronkonkoma, New York: “The bottom line is that this is what I believe in and want to do with my life. Of course right now we’re all volunteers, but I don’t like rag-tag operations¿I want this to be quality. That’s why I got involved with the USA¿the overwhelming opportunity to make things happen.”

He marvels at the accomplishments of the USA so far: “Look at how much work we’ve done in such a short time frame; it’s just pure unadulterated effort, oozing from real skaters who want to make a difference. If I owned a shop, I’d cough up two-grand! You’re putting your money where your mouth is by supporting the skaters. Check out the mags¿many of today’s hot upcoming ams are past USA contestants, that’s proof of the positive things we’re doing. And you’re making it work! You gotta oil the track.”

Recognizing that much of an organization’s success relies on having foresight, some of USA’s plans include cross-marketing promotions like the ones that were so successful for Ecko. Monroe’s vision for the future is distinctly multi-media: “We’ve been approached to do everything from street promotions guerrilla marketing to demos for Nickelodeon utilizing ams. We’re developing into a marketing/promotions agency in addition to the amateur skate events.” Monroe sees the USA going much more interactive¿they’re even pitching pilots to HBO and Comedy Central. A partner company called studionext.com does the videos on USA’s Web page. Part of this all-encompassing approach includes a consultancy aimed at corporations that want to reach kids the right way but don’t have the knowledge.

But at the heart of it all are the skaters: “We give every kid a chance,” explains Monroe. “A lot of kids qualified for the events and showed up. One standout is an eleven year old from Delaware, Mark Del Negro¿I think he got fifteenth out of 29 skaters in the sponsored division. He’s improved so much! USA prides themselves on sharing: no matter what place you get in our contests, you leave with a bag full of goodies¿stickers, shirts, magazines, CDs. We even hook up the parents.”

Monroe notes that there has been some failure to follow through on skate companies’ parts: “It’s sad when companies say they’re going to support you and they flake. That’s why the NSA and ESA died out¿lack of industry support. I tell the kids straight up: ‘The companies are supporting you.’ I wish the industry would support amateurs, period. Amateurs are the ones who support the whole market! Once you’re sponsored, you’re not buying anymore. And think about this: there are about 500 pros around the world, and there are more than ten-million amateurs in the United States alone. You do the math!”sitive things we’re doing. And you’re making it work! You gotta oil the track.”

Recognizing that much of an organization’s success relies on having foresight, some of USA’s plans include cross-marketing promotions like the ones that were so successful for Ecko. Monroe’s vision for the future is distinctly multi-media: “We’ve been approached to do everything from street promotions guerrilla marketing to demos for Nickelodeon utilizing ams. We’re developing into a marketing/promotions agency in addition to the amateur skate events.” Monroe sees the USA going much more interactive¿they’re even pitching pilots to HBO and Comedy Central. A partner company called studionext.com does the videos on USA’s Web page. Part of this all-encompassing approach includes a consultancy aimed at corporations that want to reach kids the right way but don’t have the knowledge.

But at the heart of it all are the skaters: “We give every kid a chance,” explains Monroe. “A lot of kids qualified for the events and showed up. One standout is an eleven year old from Delaware, Mark Del Negro¿I think he got fifteenth out of 29 skaters in the sponsored division. He’s improved so much! USA prides themselves on sharing: no matter what place you get in our contests, you leave with a bag full of goodies¿stickers, shirts, magazines, CDs. We even hook up the parents.”

Monroe notes that there has been some failure to follow through on skate companies’ parts: “It’s sad when companies say they’re going to support you and they flake. That’s why the NSA and ESA died out¿lack of industry support. I tell the kids straight up: ‘The companies are supporting you.’ I wish the industry would support amateurs, period. Amateurs are the ones who support the whole market! Once you’re sponsored, you’re not buying anymore. And think about this: there are about 500 pros around the world, and there are more than ten-million amateurs in the United States alone. You do the math!”