Feature: As Skateboarding Evolves, Skate Competitions Follow Suit

Ever since the first commonly recognized skateboarding contest was held in Hermosa Beach, California in 1963, contest formats have changed as radically as tricks. From slalom, to freestyle, to vert ramps, to early adaptations of “street” competition with plywood quarterpipes, vert walls, and PVC coping. There was even a brief period where contests had compulsory trick lists.

Contest veteran Steve Caballero recalls: “There was one season—the 1980 Gold Cup Series. It was five contests in a row. They wanted to try something different to make skateboarding contests a little bit more fair, so we had to do a compulsory run of the same eight tricks. That only happened one time.”

Contests have since evolved in an effort to provide better formats for skaters, but regardless, individuals will always interpret the task at hand in their own way.

Nike SB’s Sean Malto is no stranger to contest podiums around the world, having taken top honors at Copenhagen Pro (2010) and Street League (2011), among others. The way he sees it, the competition involved in skating is less man-versus-man, and more man-versus-self situation: “When I come into a contest, I have a game plan of what I want to do,” he says. “Of what I think can potentially win. At that point, once I have my game plan set, I’m just skating against myself. I’m trying to execute what I want to do, regardless of what anyone else is doing.”

Malto at Dew Tour LA. Photo: Chris Ortiz
Malto versus himself at the 2015 Dew Tour LA. Photo: Chris Ortiz

This mentality may be considered bizarre in other sports, but it’s a commonly felt sentiment at skateboarding contests. You don’t see contest killers like Nyjah Huston, Ryan Sheckler, Chris Cole, Paul Rodriguez participating in the shit-talking, head games, and psych-outs that you’d see on a field, or in a ring.

“I think a lot of these guys don’t really see this as ‘I want to beat the guy next to me,’” continues Malto. “They’re just like ‘I just want to skate to the best of my ability in front of people that are fans of skateboarding, and hopefully facilitate new fans.’” The ‘new fans’ Malto refers to are an important factor in the success that skateboarding–and the skateboarding industry –has enjoyed over the last decade or so.

In the early aughts, contests changed notably in scale. The advent of “big” contests like the X Games and Dew Tour helped usher in droves of new skateboarders, by the thousands. This provided a national, televised platform that exposed the rest of the world to something different. There are many factors behind skateboarding’s rise, but in the decade that followed televised competitions, the number of skateparks in the US increased dramatically, and skateboarding rivaled baseball in terms of participation. Dozens of skater-owned-and-operated brands launched and thrived, and a handful of pros were able to eke out a pretty good living.

Present-day contests continue to evolve just as much, if not more. Events like TRANSWORLD SKATEBOARDING’s Skate and Create, Vans’ Downtown Showdown, and Thrasher’s King of the Road have challenged the form, and made us rethink how contests are presented. Large-scale events like X Games and Street League have progressed the shape of the modern contest as well, in terms of venue, structure, and scoring. Last year, Sheckler moved beyond just dominating contests to spearheading his own, Red Bull Hart Lines, aimed at creating an innovative course that blended seamlessly with into the landscape of Detroit’s Hart Plaza while opening up new possibilities for lines. All this change helps to keep skateboarding interesting, challenging, and exciting to both the skaters and the viewers.

Ryan Sheckler opens up new possibilities at Detroit's Hart Plaza during Red Bull Hart Lines 2015. Photo: Ryan Taylor
Ryan Sheckler goes balls to the wall at Detroit’s Hart Plaza during Red Bull Hart Lines 2015. Photo: Ryan Taylor

This brings us to present day. Dew Tour is evolving its approach, adding a few new elements for the 2016 season. This year, the main course will include four distinct sections: tech, gap, rail, and transition—all designed to showcase more diverse skating. For the individual contest, it will come down to who’s the most well-rounded.

In addition, they’re also holding the Team Challenge Presented By TRANSWORLD SKATEBOARDING, where select board brands will bring four skaters and a team captain to the course. Each of the skaters will work with their teams to figure out which section of the course they’ll do the best in.

“Skating has always been kind of an individual thing, not a team sport, so having a team of three other guys that you can root for is awesome, says Malto. “I think in the long run it will create a better, more fun environment for the skaters, and for the fans watching it.”

To make it all a little more free-flowing, the contest will be run as an in-order jam allowing skaters to take rapid-fire runs and reset quickly if they miss a trick.

All of these changes are designed to showcase the breadth of what skateboarding is, whatever your particular definition may be. Style, consistency, size, creativity, or a combination, you’ll see it all.

 Tech, rails, gaps, and transitions—the four courses at the new Dew Tour will highlight well-rounded rippers.
Tech, rails, gaps, and transitions—the four courses at the new Dew Tour will highlight well-rounded rippers.

“We really want to see the most creative, diverse skating at the new Dew Tour,” says California Ramp Works President Brian Harper, who led the design of the new course along with the crew at TWS. “As much as consistency and progressive tricks, the judges are going to be looking to reward how skaters use the course and get out of the box with what they have to work with.”

The team section will add an element of fun, as well as giving 35 other skaters a platform. And “fun,” is of paramount importance to some. For example, enjoi’s Louie Barletta. “There’s so much that rides on contest stats, it takes away from skateboarding,” Barletta explains. “The whole enjoi vibe is to just have fun.”

Classic enjoi. December 2015 TRANSWORLD SKATEBOARDING cover. Photo: Dave Chami
Classic enjoi. December 2015 TRANSWORLD SKATEBOARDING cover. Photo: Dave Chami

Dew Tour has yet to announce all the invited teams for 2016 and their members, so spoiler alert, this year, Barletta is playing the role of ‘Team Captain’ for enjoi. For him, selecting the guys for each section wasn’t a difficult task at all. “I just tried to pick dudes who I thought would have the most fun on the thing. I’d rather have a dude that might not have the deepest bag of tricks, but he’ll have the most fun.”

“I just want to show that you can be really talented, and you don’t have to be all about the win,” Barletta explains.

Barletta echoes Malto’s sentiment about the nature of skateboarding’s competition. “The Downtown Showdown was rad, it was just us skating. We weren’t trying to ‘beat’ anyone else. That’s the kind of stuff I get stoked on.”

What skateboarding’s competitive landscape will look like in 20-30 years is anyone’s guess, but if the one true constant is change, then rest assured, they’ll certainly continue to evolve. And that, in and of itself, keeps things exciting.