For New York City being the greatest city on earth, (with over 50 million tourist visiting in 2011), it sure has been underutilized by skateboarding over the past couple years. For a while 5Boro's Steve Rodriguez made sure The Big Apple was stacked with events, most notably his Back To The Banks contests, but with the Brooklyn Banks being under construction until 2014 a void has been left in the city's skate scene. That all changed this weekend with the Vans Bowl-A-Rama contest being held for the first time at Chelsea Piers Skatepark on Manhattan's West Side highway.
Of all the brands that have attempted to make NYC their second home, Vans is the only one that has entrenched itself in the skate community rather than posture with a pseudo presence. Whereas most come and fail by setting up a showroom that isn't accessible to the people or throwing an exclusive product launch party, Vans took on a six-year lease in a huge Williamsburg warehouse (The House of Vans) and built a music venue with a killer bowl to hold weekly house parties throughout the summer and fall with a welcome mat set outside for all to come in. When bands aren't performing street obstacles are pulled onto the floor on a regular basis for local kids and skateshop teams to come and shred. The House Of Vans alone has cemented its present in the NYC skate scene -- and still they want to do more.
In May 2010, California Skateparks finished construction on a 15,000 sq. ft. cement flow park with a 10-foot deep bowl on the Hudson River amidst the Chelsea Pier Sports Complex. For more than two years the bowl has sat dormant, only being sessioned by locals and skate tourists. But for as good as the bowl is no events were held there -- enter Vans. With their track record of hosting the best bowl contests in the business, such as the Pro-Tec Pool Party in their backyard in Orange County, Calif. and the Bondi Bowl-A-Rama in Australia, Vans saw an obvious place to grow their bowl contest brand.
Despite the threat of rain, kids, parents, local industry types and NYC skate alumni all poured into the park to see their neighborhood bowl get properly broken in by some of the best of the best -- and for the first time holding the event in Manhattan, it went off!
Hands down, for most in attendance the pinnacle of the day was The Masters division. Regardless of what age you are there is nothing cooler than seeing the likes of Christian Hosoi, Lance Mountain, Steve Caballero and Chris Miller skating together. There is so much finesse in their movements attained through a lifetime of skateboarding that you can't help but watch in awe and say, "Yeah… that's how it's supposed to be done." Skill set aside, The Masters carry themselves in such a regal way that it elevates what skateboarding is meant to stand for and the reverence they were shown by everyone in attendance was magical. I stood watching NYC street legends, whom have been known to be some rough and tumble brawlers, reduced to childish giddiness too shy to go take a photo with legends like Hosoi.
When the results were tallied Lance Mountain won Masters with Steve Caballero in second and Eddie 'El Gato' Elguera taking third after only one year back on a skateboard.
Again, this was the first time Vans held the Bowl-A-Rama in NYC, and no one knocks it out of the park on their first go round. There was noticeable room for improvements regarding next years event, mainly in the invited guest list for the pro division. The Masters guest list is a no-brainer -- it's the usual suspects -- only so many guys from the 80s are still doing it at a high level. The "Pro" division, (and I use the word "Pro" in the loosest sense of the word), is an entirely different story. Bowl/flow park skating has grown by leaps and bounds in the past five years thanks to the unrelenting park building movement birthed in the Northwest part of America. There are kids all across the United Sates with state-of-the-art parks at their disposal to help them learn to skate transition in a way that has never been done before. Kids everywhere are very, very good but these kids are not "pros" -- they're sponsored amateurs. Because the prize purse in bowl riding has yet to reach that of street contests like Street League and X-Games, and there is no amateur division, these unknown kids from middle America are lumped in, by default, with the top bowl riding pros in the world.
The contest was run by World Cup Skateboarding, whom base their invitations on an archaic point system and contests they organize, (i.e. you don't skate their contest, you don't get invited). The guest list for this weekend's NYC Bowl-A-Rama pro event was more of a, "Who the hell?," than a who's who. I went down the list of 27 invitees and 10 of them I'd never heard of. Another 6 or 7 had no place being there and should have been watching from the grand stands. "Who are these kids pro for?" I asked. On one kid's sponsor list I saw he was pro for a delicatessen. He doesn't have his name on a board but he has a sandwich named after him.
While tranny skating is bigger than it's ever been there are certain skaters that need to be in attendance to validate an event in the eyes of the product-buying kids that financially sustain skateboarding -- and they were noticeably missing. Must-haves such as Grant Taylor, Raven Tershy, Tony Trujillo, Elijah Berle, Robbie Russo, Peter Hewitt, Al Partanen, Taylor Bingaman and Ben Raybourn, to name a few, were nowhere to be found. Hell, Rune Glifberg killed the contest and got 10th, Omar Hassan 11th, but only eight went to the finals. Eliminate the five pros that ride for laundromats and chimney cleaning companies, let Glifberg and Hassan move on to the finals and hear the crowd go wild for some names they know.
Regardless of who got invited I can't see anyone touching the Brazilian, 17-year-old Pedro Barros. He is, without question, the gnarliest transition skater I've ever seen in my life. Growing up in Florianopolis, Brazil, his father encouraged surfing and skating, built him a mini-ramp as a child, then a vert ramp and eventually a cement bowl -- he was born for transitional destruction. The judges didn't even need their clipboards for his runs -- it was his contest to lose. The bigger question was, "Who's going to get second?" Pedro went faster, higher, grinded longer and looked smoother than anyone else all day. One of the highlights of the day was Pedro Barros losing his hat on a 540 then whipping around the bowl to a monster frontside air which he landed in a perfect crouch to be able to scoop up his hat, put it back on and kept zipping around.
It was a great day for skateboarding and New York City. Everyone had their eyes opened by the visiting talent as to just what the possibilities are in that bowl and I picture the local talent stepping it up as a result. Aside from the questionable roster picks of "Pros," I'd say this was one of the best events NYC has seen in years and I can't wait for it to happen again next year.
1- Pedro Barros
2- Alex Sorgente
3- Ben Hatchell
1- Lance Mountain
2- Steve Caballero
3- Eddie Elguera