It’s the reason World Industries is represented by a cartoon flame character, the reason Element and Alien Workshop have re-birthed mini boards, the reason Baker hypes its “little guys” more than its pros. Forty-nine percent of today’s skateboarders are between the ages of six and eleven*, and the skateboard industry is desperately trying to grasp this age-defying demographic. Contests are no exception, and while am events have been around since the Stone Age, there’s now a need for contests to focus on an even younger age bracket. Thanks to mainstream media, the parents of preteens finally see skateboarding in a positive light and are jumping at the chance to sign up their little babies for skateboard contests.
T. Eric Monroe from the United Skateboarding Association had his epiphany while watching a ten year old killing the Beast Of The East championship against guys in their twenties. Knowing there must be other unmined pint-size rippers, the Grom series was started in 2001 and operates within the confines of a six- to thirteen-year age range. “We decided to focus on the kids that are really the most interested and eager to be a part of skateboarding, the beginner, and intermediate-level kid,” Monroe explains. “This is the kid who owns everything with Tony Hawk’s name on it. This is the kid who made (World Industries Founder Steve) Rocco and his partners rich! They are the biggest part of the skateboard market, yet they get shit on because they’re little grommets who get in your way at a skatepark. We figured the best way to keep these kids interested in skateboarding was by giving them their own scene. A scene that supports them and is parent friendly.”
While the Grom series rules the East Coast, CASL (California Amateur Skateboard League) has reigned in the West Coast for years, 22 to be exact. While CASL is broken up into Southern, Central, and Northern California series, contest newcomer, The Next Cup presented by Osiris, began with the intent of focusing solely on the San Diego area. After only one year, however, The Next Cup is expanding into other states.
These two West Coast series have slightly different age bracketing as well. CASL has “minis” as eight and under, “novice” as nine to ten, and “1A” as eleven to twelve. The Next Cup breaks it up like so: “groms” for skaters ten and under and “kids” for ages eleven to fourteen.
No matter how you split ’em, there’s an undeniable baby-boom going on here and a younger demographic to target. In its first year, the Grom series was test marketed with five contests to see what the response would be from kids and parents alike. Surprisingly, there were more people per event with minimal advertising and promotion than at the Beast Of The East series which now focuses strictly on age fourteen and older skaters who are more likely to be sponsored. Subsequently, this year’s Grom series includes twelve contests and its own championship. Similarly, The Next Cup has been reporting sold-out contests in every division.
It’s not just all about fleecing the kiddies and their parents’ dough, though, there’s tons of good in this for the skaters themselves. As the kids graduate into the older brackets (i.e., Beast Of The East, CASL 2A and 3A) and pick up sponsors, they’ve got invaluable contest-skating experience. More importantly, they know contests can be fun because they’ve been competing with kids their own age and skill level from the beginning. Before we know it, these kids are making the big splash at Tampa Am, a’ la Bastien Salabanzi and Danny Cerezini. And from there, well, we all know how lucrative contest skating has become in the past few years.
Keeping these contests fun for the ultra-younguns has been accomplished in some interesting new ways by the organizers. At Grom events, anyone in the top 50 goes away with a grab bag full of skate mags, stickers, a T-shirt, and other various accessories that sponsors kick down. “This way, if a kid gets out there aand is so nervous that he can’t land anything, he’s still getting support and encouragement just for trying,” Monroe comments. At The Next Cup, along with giveaways from several cosponsoring companies, a band or DJ performs at each contest making it an all-day family event. Then when the kids get home, they can check the day’s footage at thenextcup.com.
As these contests grow and expand, and new contest series start popping up in every city, the long-standing generation gap between skaters and overprotective parents may finally be bridged with the help of wee groms–who knew? The mini-van-driving soccer moms who have so long been the bane of suburban skaters everywhere may turn out to be the support-screaming skate moms of the future, taking the next Eric Koston to his Saturday morning skate contest. Hmm.
*American Sports Data 2001 Superstudy Of Sports Participation