continued from Part 3, By Sean Mortimer


Money. Really, that’s what changed contests. Until recently, skate contest winnings were a relatively paltry percentage of a pros income. Sort of like collecting empty soda cans for refunds. As the new century started, money and mainstream exposure changed the position of contests. Many qualified skaters initially ignored them only to eventually enter and even dominate them (Chris Cole). The increased exposure brought massive sponsorship contracts for certain skaters and helped launch a few into tax brackets rarely seen by skaters.

LANCE MOUNTAIN “When people started making money off of contests, that’s when they really started focusing on contests again. If the X Games are going to pay 30 grand to somebody like Bucky, which is insane money when you think about how he skated in contests where the prize money was 100 dollars, he’s going to practice to win that money. The X Games controlled that and locked skaters into that. But Bucky is good enough to skate whatever he wants.”

TONY HAWK “In the ’80s, contests were the only way to be recognized. As events like the X Games came into play, it wasn’t the only way, but it was a way to springboard yourself into the public eye. Even Jamie Thomas was in the first X Games. Some people probably knew his name from that point on because he did some pretty amazing things there. He went on to have a career without competing but people were still looking for him because they were interested.

“I knew we were dealing with a whole different beast with the X Games. The focus is the broadcast, how it’s presented on television, not the live event. Today, the exposure from contests can propel skaters’ careers. If that’s how you choose to skate and have endorsements, then that television exposure is like a calling card. If your sponsors know that you're going to be one of the guys that are going to be focused on and high-profiled then they want to be connected with you.”

MIKE VALLELY “I started skating contests again around 1995. I was team leader for Powell Skateboards and I wanted to show what I expected whether we were filming, shooting photos, doing demos or skating contests. I won Tampa Street in ’95, got 2nd at Vancouver and from there my own career picked up again. I wasn’t feeling pressured to perform. It didn’t matter anymore so I started just having fun with it.

“In the late-’90s we were going over to Europe for contests. It was Koston, Templeton, McCrank, Rick Howard, Chris Senn—this awesome group of guys and they were the last generation that traveled around the world together from event to event and skated against each other with nothing but smiles on our faces. We had a great time in transit, on the trains, planes, in the van, whatever it was. By 2001 that came to an end. It was replaced by a new standard of what it meant to skate in a contest. A new standard of what qualifies you that became so regimented that a lot of us just kind of tuned it out. The fun of traveling to Germany and France just died. I was disappointed with how the promoters and administrators decided to run theses events. I still think I have a lot to offer and I’m a person who likes to put on a show. I’m not going to win the damn contest, but I’m going to go for it and make something happen. But contests aren’t the focus of my skating and I don't want to have to go to 20 events to qualify for one contest. But I’ll be at Goofy versus Regular.”

MARK GONZALES “There needs to be contests in middle America. Kind of like how the N.S.A. [defunct National Skateboard Association] was. Then it’s more accessible to the kids. They could meet the guys. Imagine if they had Savannah Slamma but with the new pros? People would love it. If I was a kid, I’d love to see Chris Cole and Heath Kirchart all in your town. There needs to be a middle between the X Games and not entering contests. Even guys who enter the X Games don't want to enter them but they enter them. ‘Lower Key Contests,’ that’s a good name for the organization.”

CHRIS COLE “Mark Partain said it really good in an episode of Skate TV, the show on Nickelodeon [1990]. He said, ‘Contests are for the moment. It’s 60 seconds. The best skater in the world can have a bad 60 seconds.’ And that’s the truth. The raddest skaters are not necessarily the guys who place super high. You always see that super rad dude in last place. You know Mike Carroll isn’t going to be out there, full hungry style, jumping on the handrail, landing on another dude. That’s not his deal and it doesn’t have to be. He doesn’t need to chomp up some contest to prove that he’s rad.

“My first big [mainstream] contest was the X Games in 2005. It felt really crammed. There were a lot of cranes, dollies, people with huge cameras. It was the first time [I’d skated a contest] where all the filmers on the course didn’t skate. You'd be riding up to a handrail and there’d be a camera on a crane in front of you. Dead in front of you. It’s pointed backwards moving away in front of you, full car chase filming scene. That was really, really distracting. If you're afraid to hit a camera then you're going to lose because there’s a camera there all the time.

“I was surprised at how much production and money goes into these contests and that there was a bigger section on the Damn Ams Tampa contest in 411s compared to what ESPN puts into X Games [street]. They sent a DVD box set to all the skaters and the men’s street competition was a bonus section. There was a course built, a 50 grand prize, and—it’s a DVD extra? It’s almost as if they were phasing it out.

“Street is probably harder to understand. The Mega Jump is an awesome idea. The jump those dudes do is killer. But they have a huge light show before each dude’s run and there’s smoke and sh-t. I’m sure Danny’s like, What the f—k? He’s just there to rip. All those dudes have to wait for the light show to stop to do their sh-t. That event goes over awesome with the public—those dudes are getting serious air and the general public really wants to see that [Jake Brown] slam again. I heard this from somebody: people who don't skateboard [but watch it on TV] turn into babies—they just want to see somebody flying. They just start drooling: ‘Somebody’s in the air!'”

Chris Cole—one of the few skaters whose contest runs look better than a lot of people’s video parts.

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CRAIG STECYK III ” I’ve probably been to a couple hundred events including shop contests. The best contest I ever saw was the Signal Hill [speed runs] event [1978]. Balls on—you could tell who won because that was the fastest guy and you got f—ked up if you fell off. The slams were beautiful, brilliant. You could tell who was winning and losing by who went to the hospital. [A car reportedly hit one skater who punched through hay bales and shot into a side street.] It was absolutely objective. There hasn’t been anything like that since then.

“One of the most interesting contest was the recent Bail or Bust in San Francisco [contest on a real handrail]. It was an activity in a place you could see everyday. Maybe it forced society into seeing and appreciating people using obstacles.

“I also went to the Maloof Cup and their perception is that they can produce better entertainment than is currently being produced. That’s one way to go with it. They understand entertainment. They made a fantastic concrete course of high standards but I didn’t see a transference between everyday activity, which I value very much. It’s a shame the course was destroyed. If they’d set it up as a skatepark and it become a community structure, it would have been a great event and enhanced the paradigm more. I watched them build it, which was kind of a turn-on and then I watched them destroy it, which was kind of awful.”

Signal Hill decades ago. Who ever thought you'd need a parachute to stop a “skateboard”?

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Who ever thought we’d need the world’s largest thermometer for a skateboard contest?

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GREG LUTZKA “I just like to skate all different kinds of things. If it’s a tour, contest, whatever—I’m there. To me, it’s all skateboarding. I like to travel. That’s why I like the Dew Tour and X Games. I went to Mexico City this last weekend for the X Games. I asked my dad if he’d been to Mexico City before and when he said no, I said, ‘Let’s go! You're coming with me.’

“I like to check out new places. I’ll just hang out and skate stuff outside the contest. I don't even show up for practice. In Mexico City, I showed up 20 minutes before the event. Don Bostick [contest organizer] emailed me: “Are you here?” I was out skating street. I hate going to practice. [Lutzka won the contest.] I hate trying to ‘train.’ That’s not skating to me. For me, it’s just like skating a park. If I do good, if not, whatever.

“I do better that way. If I worry or plan, I get hurt or stressed out. The best [footage] I’ve ever gotten or the contests that I’ve won, are from showing up and not even knowing what the heck is going on. That’s skateboarding to me. As soon as I start planning—it’s a headache. That’s not fun to me.”

to be continued…