Wandering around Tampa, Florida, it’s important to keep in mind you’re never more than five or six inches from the ocean. That is, if you start digging a hole, you won’t get too far before it starts to fill in with water. Of course, you’re never too far from a New York Yankee, either, nor during the annual Tampa Am contest are you too far from skateboarding. In fact, Salman Agah, Mic-E Reyes, and Ed Templeton seemed to agree with Dave Metty, who yelled above the roar of the crowd, “This is what skateboarding is all about!”
Spending a few January days stuffed inside SPoT during the Tampa Am international skate fest, you’re not surprised when Mark Oblow says, “I’m gonna get me a bumper sticker that says, ‘I’m proud to be a Damn Am!?” If you were operating under the assumption that amateur skateboarding was gone, or didn’t exist, well, you’re mistaken. Because if you thought it was gone, or if you’re holding on to a misconception of the good ol’ days, well, it’s back. Amateur skateboarding is definitely back, and it’s bigger and better than ever before. One thing in Tampa was perfectly clear: Amateur skateboarding events are all about fun, hanging out, and the evident upwelling of pride indicates Oblow is on to something. Proud to be a Damn Am!
All of which offers a new and seemingly valuable opportunity to skate retailers around the country. Skate-shop owners are now in the position to guide, promote, support, and direct their own local skaters toward events that are fun, exciting, and offer the opportunity for that local skater to test the waters in a bigger pond. Evidently, the big, bad world isn’t just big and bad, it’s fun, too.
To Paul Schmitt it seems clear as he explains, “There’s a new tiered system of contests and events developing around the country. There’re events everywhere that skaters can be part of, and now, with the Damn Am and these other events, they have the chance to get to that next level, too.”
As Schmitt sees it, “Shop owners can support these new events in a variety of ways, but what’s really important is to make sure their local skaters are participating in them mainly because they’re fun.” Schmitt adds, “I’m still friends with the guys I met during my own am days. Those events were all about the people I got to meet and the friendships that came out of them. Basically, those contests were about having the chance to travel and skate, and that’s what’s happening again today.”
The local hero skating onto the national stage? The local star rising higher in the sky to join a new constellation? The local legend reaching for mythical status? Maybe that’s what these events offer, but the message from this year’s Tampa Am was very clear: It’s really about hanging out and meeting new people. It’s fun.
Which seems like a good thing, right? Seems a worthy endeavor? Having your local skaters participate in these events could have all sorts of repercussions: Happy customers. More skateboarding. Freshness. Change. Newness. Something to talk about. Something to write home about. Strawberry Fields forever.
Because it’s not about winning. Necessarily. It can be, and it’s easy to go there, and there aren’t many that would fault this approach. Shop owners could mold and direct their local star right into these events. They could even find their local hero on the national stage. Dylan Rieder did it. He put together a flawless run in the street finals of the Damn Am last October, and as a result found himself automatically seeded in the 2002 Tampa Am finals. There he was, thoughtfully observing 215 other ams skating through qualifying to reach what he had already achieved: the Tampa Am finals.
But for Dylan it doesn’t seem to be just about the winning. He seems to understand that if he’s going to skate at the next level, and if he’s going to become a professional skater, then this might be one way to get there. As the Damn Am national champion he seems to be on his way, but his wide eyes and appreciatiive smile seemed to indicate he was happy just to be there. It seemed that he truly appreciates just having the opportunity.
As 2002 unfolds, there will be more amateur skateboarding events than ever before: Beast of the East, Burning South Series, Best Of The West, Southwest Sizzler, Next Cup, Warped Tour Am, and amateur skaters will again be able to enter the National Amateur Skateboarding Championships-the Damn Am series. The fun and energy awaits them at every level, and leads to the national stage as the Damn Am will again offer its street and vert champions that coveted “golden ticket” to the Tampa Am finals.
Life is about moments. Moment to moment. As the 2002 finals unfolded in Tampa, with the oxygen slowly sucked out of SPoT by those anxiety-filled finalists, it came down to a series of those moments. In that place, at that time, could that one skater pull that trick? And that one make that run? The energy, the emotion, and the underlying current of pride all seemed to indicate that it didn’t matter who won. It did, but it didn’t, either.
Does it? Because with all of the emotion and all of the energy now developing in amateur events, there doesn’t seem to be any losers, and the biggest winner of them all is skateboarding. So, if you’re not supporting amateur skateboarding, if you’re not directing your customers to the damnam.com Web site, then you’re missing out on the opportunity to share in the pride and the glory of what skateboarding is all about. Is there anything wrong with having fun? Meeting new people? Seeing the sights and enjoying life moment to moment? Here’s to winning without losing. Here’s to being proud to be a Damn Am!