Skateboarding is a young man's game, and that was proven in spades with Saturday's qualifying round of the 20th annual Tampa Pro contest presented by Nike Skateboarding. Thirty pro skaters out of the 64 that entered went on to Saturday's semifinals while only two of those were over 30-years-old. Of the top 10 that made the cut four skaters were 18 or younger and only two were over 23-years-old. There's a serious youth movement in effect and with Flip Skateboard's Curren Caples and Louie Lopez both entering their first pro contest, (pro model decks out in December 2013), and going it to the finals is only making things harder for the older guys. But it doesn't mean they're going to just lay down and die like the poor gentleman at the table next me at dinner last night in YBOR (which actually happened). There's still a lot of fight in guys like Zered Bassett, Keegan Sauder and Alex Carolino, who all skated the park with their own unique, un-robotic approach to the course.
Consistency is the key to winning contests in 2013, and that's why Luan Oliveria and Ishod Wair both received the "Golden Ticket" to skip the semi-qualifiers and go straight the finals -- they just didn't fall. It's laughable to think that someone as talented as Nyjah Huston had a disappointing qualifying run because he fell once. Those three guys are such masters of their craft that, just like the spectators, they're surprised when they miss a trick. Based on their first round performance, I knew it was a pretty safe bet that those three guys were going to all be standing on the winners podium at the end of Sunday, and one missed trick would most likely decide who would be standing in which order.
I thought Wair could've easily taken it if he stayed on his board with a flawless run. He has a good mix of big, difficult tricks and adds in fun stuff like hippy-jumps through the A-Frame to win the judges over.
There's not much to say about Nyjah Houston that hasn't been said before. At 18, he is a skateboarding phenom. His tricks are super technical and executed perfectly every single time. When it came down to picking Huston or Oliveria the call was subjective and could have gone either way. Huston flipped into almost every trick and looked bolts doing it.
But my money was on Oliveria to take it all from the moment I saw him practice on Friday. Oliveria is the most technical skater of the three I mentioned and skates with tons power and flow. It was glaringly apparent that the low-impact course was geared more towards his style of skating.
In my heart I was hoping that a non-Street League pro would win. With the recent merging of Street League and X Games, adding four more event stops to their schedule, Street Leaguers will have their share of contests to win that no one else will be allowed to enter. I would've loved for a first time pro like Curren Caples or Evan Smith, or even fan favorite Grant Taylor, to shock the establishment and win it all.
The Skatepark of Tampa honors its rich history by always allowing previous Tampa Pro winners to return and skip the qualifying round. Due to injuries or conflicting schedules many of the past winners could not attend. Like any other fan of skateboarding I was really hoping to see Dennis Busenitz and Tony Trujillo skate the contest since we won't see them in any Street League or X Games events. Of the previous winners Eric Koston, Paul Rodriguez, Greg Lutzka and Kyle Berard skated Sunday and they all killed it.
With this being Skatepark of Tampa's 20th anniversary we as fans of skateboarding should be grateful that Tampa Pro not only exists but continues to flourish. With the help of Nike SB and all the companies that come out to support the event and staff, the kids get a chance to see a varied offering of pro skateboarding and not just the same 20 guys in all the other contests. Congratulations to owner Brian Schaefer and The Skatepark of Tampa -- we all look forward to the next 20 years.
Tampa Pro Finals:
1. Luan Oliveria- $20,000
2. Nyjah Houston- $15,000
3. Chaz Ortiz- $10,000
4. Paul Rodriguez- $5,000
4. Austyn Gillette- $4,000
5. Ishod Wair- $3,000