What street dreams may come

Street League makes its third stop in Glendale, Arizona July 14-15.

Have you ever heard the phrase "life imitates art"? Have you ever seen the movie "Street Dreams"? Have you ever watched Street League?

How are they the same? How are they different?

Well, let's answer those very questions, by briefly examining some of the key similarities and key differences between "Street Dreams" and Street League.

"Street Dreams" is a 2009 feature film starring, co-written, and financed by Rob Dyrdek. Set largely in Chicago, the movie chronicles the lives of a crew of skateboarders as they strive for entry into the professional skateboarding industry. Though fictional, it features a cast of actual professional skateboarders including Paul Rodriguez Jr., Ryan Sheckler, and Terry Kennedy.

The drama hinges on protagonist Derrick Cabrera (Rodriguez), who, hopes to impress spectators and potential sponsors at the Tampa Am contest by performing a 360 flip crooked grind on a handrail -- a redoubtable trick, which Cabrera's loutish frenemy Troy Vincent (Dyrdek) dubs "The Nac."

"Why the nac?" Cabreba innocently asks.

"For 'not a chance'," Vincent acidly replies.

Though admittedly some of the dialogue in "Street Dreams" falls slightly short of the Shakespearean, the movie's creative team was clearly acquainted with some screenwriting fundamentals -- character, suspense, conflict, narrative arc, plot.

Courtesy Street Dreams

Paul Rodriguez and Rob Dyrdek in the 2009 film "Street Dreams."

Plot.

If you define plot as a series of questions that the audience would like an answer to, "Street Dreams" does indeed offer viewers a decent plot.

Will Derrick give into his stern father's demands or follow his heart? Will Derrick resolve his interpersonal frictions and codependency issues with Troy Vincent? Will Derrick ultimately land the nac?

Certainly, the "Street Dreams" screenwriters understood that a bit of uncertainty can keep an audience on the edge of their seats, that people like to "root for the underdog."

I don't want to give away the ending lest you've yet to see the film, but suffice to say the final scenes offer viewers tidy moral resolution, further attempts at the nac, blossoming young love, yadda, yadda, yadda.

Sometimes, it would be nice if life more closely imitated art.

But, alas, this is where placid "Street Dreams" crashes against the rocky shores of Street League reality.

This is where the storylines of "Street Dreams" and Street League truly start to diverge and our analogy starts to unravel.

STREET LEAGUE: LONG ON ACTION, SHORT ON SUSPENSE

Though "Street Dreams" and Street League both offer impressive skateboarding, the plot of Street League's 2012 season has been a bit colorless compared to that of its fictional doppelganger.

That is not to say that Street League, the contest, has been anything less than exhilarating -- that the skateboarding on display has been anything less than stunning. If Street League were a movie, you could amply praise its high-production values and sleek set design. You could say that the production works to the degree it has been character-driven. Many of the Street League players are compelling in their eclecticism.

If you like a style of skateboarding that is as-pure-as-driven-snow, you have Sean Malto. Whether you favor Mike Mo Capaldi's frat-boy-friendliness or angel-headed hipster Dylan Rieder's vaguely-vampiric dandyism, it's hard to argue that the League's commander-in-chief, Rob Dyrdek, has done anything other than assemble a star-studded, ensemble cast.

This is not to say Street League 2012 has been a bad movie.

But this is to say that Street League, in 2012, has been like a very good movie that still lacked a truly good plot.

Why?

Though in fiction Derrick Cabrera faces an impressive array of challenges (unsympathetic police officers, an overbearing father, a superficial cheerleader girlfriend who strongly prefers keg-stands to skateboarding's vibrant subculture) these all pale in comparison to the single most horrific, entirely nonfictional challenge the real-life Paul Rodriguez Jr., and the 22 other Street League contestants, all have to face: Nyjah Huston.

Ever since Huston first appeared on the scene as a 10-year-old with cybernetic dreadlocks, he has seemed not quite human, slightly sci-fi -- a child born in a secret laboratory and sent from the future in order to do kickflip backside noseblunts and, like, rip.

Put plainly: Statistically speaking, if Nyjah Huston enters a Street League contest he is, more likely than not, going to win it.

If a plot can be seen as a series of questions that the audience wants an answer to, in Street League there often seems to be only one question: How much will Nyjah Huston win by?

In "Street Dreams" it's the underdog, the unknown, who wins. In Street League, almost always, it's Nyjah Huston.

And say what you will about Huston, he is hardly an underdog. The statistics alone are a testament to Huston's supremacy. He is the winner of the most consecutive Street Leagues. He has earned first place in six of nine Street League contests. He won TransWorld Skateboarding's 2012 Best Video part for Element's "Rise & Shine." In 2006, at age 11, he was the youngest competitor in X Games history. In 2011, he won X Games gold at age 16. He recently won X Games Real Street. To date, his contest earnings have reached $1.25 million, the largest in skateboarding history.

But does all this incessant winning make for a good plot?

You kind of have to say, well, no.

Nyjah Huston's Street League wins in 2012, despite valiant efforts from challengers like Bastien Salabanzi and some tense moments, have felt a little preordained. Plot demands some level of uncertainty. Thus far, Nyjah Huston has seemed like Street League's 2012 inevitable champion, and the contests often little more than a stirring formality before the award ceremony.

Until now.

HUSTON'S INJURY ALTERS LANDSCAPE

In X Games 18, Huston struggled with a knee injury and as a result, he ceded first place to none other than Derrick Cabrera. I mean, Paul Rodriguez Jr.

Now, the plot thickens.

Though the skateboarding community surely wishes Huston a speedy recovery, is it wrong to say that Street League has suddenly become more interesting?

We can suddenly envision several new and intriguing plot twists. Paul Rodriguez, Jr. may be back and in the mood for revenge. That sounds really dramatic. Paul Rodriguez does not actually seem like a particularly vengeful person. He actually seems like a pretty nice guy. He has, however, won more X Games gold medals than any other skater in history. Yet, he has never placed higher than third place in a Street League event. Perhaps he is prepared to finally do a lot of switch tricks and monumental 360 flips without falling and thereby win at Street League. Perhaps he is ready to try the nac.

Though it's always dangerous to make predictions or publicly hazard guesses about Street League results -- this is a contest in which Luan Oliveira, Chaz Ortiz, Shane O'Neilll, Bastien Salabanzi, and Sean Malto, are all credible candidates -- it's fair to say that Street League's stop in Glendale, Ariz. will be a most mercurial contest.

It's an election where new states are in play and Super PAC-sized checks will all of a sudden seem in reach.

Mike Blabac

All eyes are on Nyjah Huston heading into this weekend's Street League stop three.

Could industry-leviathan Chris Cole now realize his full potential in the instantly scored series? Will Bastien Salabanzi return to Kansas City-form and launch another withering assault? Can Luan Oliveira again combine really big stuff with really intricate stuff? Will I be able to work in a joke about, or otherwise allude to, Rob Dyrdek's signature TAG Body Spray whose actual slogan is "Make Moves"? Remember that a good plot usually involves something unexpected happening, like the seemingly indifferent Dylan Rieder suddenly deciding to actually try and win a Street League contest. Now that would be a good plot.

If there was some way to convince Mark Suciu ("nac") and Thrasher Skater of the Year Grant Taylor ("nac") to become involved in Street League, the contest would truly become to skateboarding what the Metropolitan Museum of Art is to, like, art.

Don't stop believing.

So anyway, what this critic is trying say is if you are a fan of competitive skateboarding, you'd be a fool not to watch Street League's third stop at the Jobing.com arena in Glendale, Ariz.

Who's going to win?

Who knows?

Will it be boring?

Not a chance.

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