Nieratko: Street League continues to evolve
Last month's Street League Super Crown Championship in New Jersey marked the end of the fourth season of Rob Dyrdek's contest series. This year was also the first in which Street League and X Games partnered to bring the ISX scoring system to a broader, international audience in Foz do Iguaçu, Brazil, Barcelona, Spain, Munich, Germany and Los Angeles.
A season full of impressive, consistent and mind-blowing skateboarding -- by Nyjah Huston. Huston has been the most dominant force in Street League history, yet gracious enough to give one lucky Street League pro the gift of beating him at least once each season. After easily winning the first two X Games in Brazil and Barcelona, Huston appeared poised to pull a clean sweep in 2013. (I even proposed a piece for XGames.com entitled "Wake Me When Nyjah's Done Winning.")
Case in point: Look at what happened in the Kansas City Street League contest, where Paul Rodriguez came within one-tenth of a point of beating Huston. But in his typical fashion, Huston proved yet again that when the competition comes near his throne, he ups the ante and kicks the challengers back into their place. Yes, Chris Cole did ultimately win the Super Crown, beating Huston on a rare off-day, but Huston was undeniably the best Street League skateboarder all year when he wanted to be.
Now that the season is over and the dust has settled, it's a good time to look back on the year that was in Street League.
There are many haters of Rob Dyrdek's larger-than-life Street League contest series, but I am not one of them. I quite enjoy what Dyrdek's attempting to do: making a palatable skate contest for the mainstream, creating uniformity in how contests are run and sealing up a place for himself and the ISX scoring system, should skateboarding ultimately join the Olympics. There are also flaws in his system, like the elimination of an underdog-story scenario, a focus on only one aspect of skateboarding (street courses) and the low point value given to the Flow Section.
I want Street League to succeed for the fact that I believe skateboarders and skateboarder-owned ventures should rule the world, rather than skateboarders being ruled by corporate outsiders. So, if anyone cares, here's what I think is good and not-so-good about Street League.
My biggest gripe with Street League is the real lack of diversity in style and talent, and also the lack of a wild card to ever win the contest. The Street League "style" is a generic form of skateboarding that doesn't represent the entire spectrum of street skating. And the fact that the same 20 pros are invited gives no one else a chance to compete.
When Dyrdek was asked to explain the partnership between Street League and X Games he replied, "It allows us to make the largest professional skateboarding tour in history. It's an amazing opportunity to tell one message for professional street skating contests."
That "one message" features the very best dudes of a single type of skating, which Dyrdek explains away with, "This league is not for everybody. It's for those that are consistent and do hard enough tricks and have the wherewithal to do it when it matters."
Although Dyrdek was a pro skater for most of his life, he is now an entertainer, and this contest is produced for a non-skating viewership. But I can't help wondering whether Dyrdek doesn't agree that the speed and agility with which, say, a Dennis Busenitz skates would be far more entertaining to a non-skater than some of the one-dimensional skaters programmed for Street League?
"That's a good argument," Dyrdek says, "And I struggle with that. I look at it the same way, but then I have to decide if it has the same momentum. Does it crescendo to the same uber, hyper peak? And Dennis would never skate in this. And that bothers me. If you can't jump down stuff and do really hard tricks on big obstacles you can't compete -- and that's what this league is -- period."
Dyrdek's answer to the lack of a wild card is the play-in game called the Select Series, where 10 invite-only pros vie for one spot to compete in the actual Street League contest. In Brazil and Spain, it was Manny Santiago. In L.A. it was Ryan Decenzo. Dyrdek's take is: "The winner of the Select Series at the X Games is the 21st pro in the Street League event. Live the dream! If you're out in Munich or Barcelona and you're the next Luan and you win that thing and fight your way into Street League and then win Street League and make the finals you're a superstar. You're going to be a hero."
Manny Santiago proved just that by taking third place overall in Street League Finals in Barcelona. The case can also be made that Santiago already belonged in Street League; his style is as consistent as anyone in the contest and he wants to win, unlike some of the pros who appear to phone in their runs. The Select Series is like asking someone to skate and win an entire contest before entering the actual event -- like asking someone to fight Tyson before he fights Mayweather, they'd be lucky if they had any stamina left in them.
What if the Tampa Pro contest adopted the same exclusionary code as Street League and didn't allow Street League riders to enter? Cody McEntire, the top placing non Street League skateboarder at Tampa Pro 2013 says, "It sucks that Street League is just a set number of dudes and you can't have any random guys. But I guess I can see it from where Street League is coming from. They're trying to market to people outside of skateboarding like any little girl who wants to see Sheckler. It gives the people that don't skate some people they can relate to on a non-skateboarding level."
To which Dyrdek responds: "The difference with the Street League is Cody McEntire ain't getting seventh place in Street League. It's too hard. Kyle Berard made the Tampa finals last year. Hell, I could still take a run at Tampa. I can't even skate the obstacles at Street League, they're too gnarly. Tampa is cool but does it really determine who is truly the top skateboarders on the planet Earth? It doesn't. And that's the direction that Street League focuses. But the Select Series allows for some random kid to have a Cinderella story. But the reality is our contest only allows the very best dudes to rise."
So is Street League's worthwhile effort to crown the best skateboarder in the world fair to the rest of the skateboarding community?
"[Street League's] the elitist one percent of skateboarders. There's those 20 guys making all the money and getting all the crazy sponsors and then there's the other 99 percent of us who are scraping by trying to find an apartment that's under $300 per person," McEntire says.
For what it's worth, McEntire beat Sean Malto at the Tampa Pro contest this year, while Malto took second in Foz do Iguaçu and fifth at the championships -- just saying.
Additionally, In a time when the lack of interest in many of the ancient Olympic events, like the recent proposal to exclude wrestling in 2020, and the global participation in skateboarding on the rise, it seems to me a foregone conclusion that skateboarding will one day be in the Olympics.
"Skateboarding being included in the Olympics has been a hot-button issue for over a decade, but nothing has ever gotten off the ground as of yet. To me, I think Street League could be the easiest route for skateboarding to actually become inducted into the Olympics," said Dyrdek.
I feel hopeful knowing that Dyrdek, an actual skateboarder, could be involved in the decision-making process of skateboarding in the Olympics.
"I would be lying if I didn't say [having skateboarding in the Olympics] is not something that I think this [merger between X Games and Street League] will open up. This will tell a much simpler story to the Olympics and it's something that I would love to see. ... If they would like to adapt the Street League format for the Olympics it's something that I would love to see happen," explains Dyrdek.
One thing I can say for certain is that Dyrdek actually listens to the criticism and does his best to improve Street League each year. Looking back at the first year of Street League compared to 2013, it's easy to notice they're worlds apart in judging, organizing and far more entertaining. I believe that by the time the Summer Olympics roll around in 2016, Street League will continue to evolve and will be a well-oiled machine, showcasing a more varied depiction of skateboarding.