By Dave Carnie
The best thing about being a televised skateboard contest photographer is that I can pause my subject in whatever ridiculous pose I want.
This article actually began a couple of months ago when Lutzka left Dyrdek’s Street League to go skate in the Dew Tour. Rob Brink called it “the first trade in skateboarding.” Which brought up the age-old question, is skateboarding a sport?
Games? Leagues? Cups? Trades? There’s a lot of evidence these days to suggest that it’s certainly beginning to look like one. What was more interesting to me, however, was Dyrdek’s quote about “the trade” in the Street League press release.
“The last thing we ever wanted was for Greg to lose a major sponsor because of his performance at Street League,” Dyrdek said. “Despite being signed to a three-year agreement we understood that the companies that are willing to pay Greg expect him to win contests. It was clear after the first year that would never happen in Street League, so when Greg asked us to release him we decided it was the right thing to do.”
Did Rob just say Lutzka sucks? I wrote Greg first to get his reaction to the quote.
“Sounds like Rob said you suck,” I said. “Do you feel that you don’t have the skills to win a Street League contest?”
“When it comes down to it,” Greg replied, “I feel like I have the tricks to win the Street League and if you look at simple results I’ve been able to win contests when all the best guys are there. I think the level of skateboarding is so high and it really depends on who is on that day.”
“What was the real reason you got out of your SL contract?” I asked. “Do you think you have a better chance with Dew? Or is it an energy drink sponsor issue?”
“I can tell you it wasn’t an easy decision,” Greg said. “It really came down to what was the best move for my career. Yes it had a lot to do with the formats and what best fit the way I like to skate. Some of the decision was based on what my sponsors felt was the best event series to get them the exposure they wanted.”
One of Greg’s new “energy drink” sponsors is, incidentally, Jose Cuervo. I wondered if Jose Cuervo wouldn’t be interested in sponsoring an overweight skateboard magazine editor?
“I think I can hook you up with a bottle or two,” Greg said.
Next I wrote Rob to see what he had to say about all this and why he thought Greg sucked so bad. As it turns out, Rob does not think Lutzka sucks so bad. It was a minor political issue: Lutzka lost his Monster sponsor, Lutzka got on Rock Star, Rock Star is affiliated with Dew and Maloof, so Lutzka was backing Dew. What Rob was miffed about was that Greg had said that the Dew Tour had more exposure than Street League, thus forcing Rob to defend his League. End of story.
So after I got the scoop on that whole deal, I ended up having a fascinating conversation with Rob about Street League, energy drinks, major TV networks, and skateboarding in general for over an hour. One of the main themes of the conversation was that Street League is perceived as a threat to a variety of sources. Our own industry even has questioned it.
“I’m on a fucking mission, you know what I’m sayin’?” Rob said. (If Rob had left out all the “you know what I’m sayings” in our conversation, it probably would have lasted half the time.) “Like it or not I’m on a mission with the world’s best skateboarders. Our own industry cannibalizes itself relentlessly. So for the first time when someone’s not trying to cannibalize it—you know at the IASC thing this week, they’re like, ‘Is Street League bad for skateboarding?’ For the first time something is moving the needle and all of a sudden, ‘Oh it must be bad for us. Let’s keep it unorganized, chaotic, and shitty, and that’s the way we’re going to grow.’”
For the record, IASC had invited Rob to come speak at their annual summit meeting, but according to IASC executive director Josh Friedberg, that subject was never on the agenda.
“IASC hasn’t discussed it,” IASC president Josh Friedberg said. “Along those lines, I was pushing to get him involved with the Summit, but he had schedule conflicts. Personally I think it’s awesome that Rob has moved to make a mainstream contest run by skateboarders and tried to do something innovative in terms of format.”
So is Rob putting the “fantasy” into Fantasy Factory?
Not entirely because Josh admitted they did briefly discuss big contests in general. “We decided that we should have a relationship of some type with all of them as they are one of the main touch-points of interaction for non-skaters,” Josh said. “Nothing about them being bad or good for skateboarding, though. They’re just another part of skateboarding.”
But are they bad or good for skateboarding? It’s a question that may not have been asked by IASC, but I’m sure many have thought about it. I don’t think so, but one can’t help wondering with the popularity of The Berrics and Street League if skateboarding isn’t going to turn into one big game of SKATE. The first season of Street League was, at times, painful to watch. I wasn’t the only person to liken it to watching golf. Nieratko thought it looked like kids playing on a slide. “They slide down, then they run back to the top, and slide down it again, then run back to the top…” I sometimes see a combination of freestyle and jump ramps when I watch it. Rob himself even admitted that the first season was “slow as fucking shit.” Is this how skateboarding is going to be perceived?
No one is enjoying the Street League more than Nyjah. Jesus Christ, what is that $450,000 in prize money so far this year? That’s cool and all, but the Braves fucking stomped the Nationals.
But while we within the skateboard industry might have our minor critiques about SL formatting, there are some other people out there who straight up HATE Street League, namely the other contest series.
“The Dew Tour is freaking out,” Rob said.
Apparently they are not pleased at all with Street League. And they’ve gone so far as to insinuate that Street League is going to kill the Dew Tour.
“Are you kidding me?” Rob said. “Like what the fuck does action sports have to do with me? And how could you possibly say that taking Chaz Ortiz, Ryan Sheckler, and Paul Rodriguez from the Dew Tour collapses your entire thing? Like that’s fucking bizarre.”
As a skateboarder, I take some pride in what Rob is doing. Rob’s running a contest series on his own terms against these giant corporations, and mainstream sports, and he’s winning. Which is indeed bizarre because he’s dealing with some crazy fucking shit. As much as Rob wants to retain the purity of skateboarding in the mainstream sports arena, the politics continue to threaten his vision.
“It’s more the insanity that it’s on this level,” he said. “Check this out, let me give you the latest on what’s happening right now: there’s four Dew Tour stops, there’s four Maloofs, four Street Leagues, next year there’s four X Games, and then MSG [network] is doing the Empire Open at the US Center a couple weeks before the Maloof Cup. MSG’s new thing is they’re going to jump in the game and start their action sports tour, and then turn Fuse into a better Fuel. Like that’s the fucking mess of skateboarding fucking event chaos that’s coming around the corner, you know what I’m saying?”
“It sounds like a lot of people fighting over the custody of the child,” I said.
“My thing is, you guys go ahead,” Rob said. “You guys can go action sports ‘til the cows come home. This is just street skateboarding. And for me it’s just building skate plazas and showcasing professional street skating. That’s it. It’s as simple and streamlined as that. Everyone else can do whatever they want for everything else. In the end do you want to be a part of action sports, or do you want to be a part of skateboarding, you know what I’m saying? And God bless all parts of skateboarding, they’ll be here forever, but this is only about the elite fuckin’ street skaters. It’s about creating something that the world loves to watch and is exciting, you know what I’m saying? Because anyone can win it. Dudes are so fucking good. These guys are doing tricks first try that were video part enders four years ago. And now this year they’re training on a whole ‘nother level because they know there’s so much money on the line and they have to have everything wired. So it’s changing even the way they skate.”
“Training?” I asked. “Does that sound weird to you? Have you ever trained or practiced to skate?”
“No, because I invented this shit,” he said laughing. “I was the first pro to call a skatepark a TF, a training facility. I don’t give a fuck what you do in Street League. Nobody gives a fuck unless you put it down in the streets. The paradigm is gone. It used to be the contest skaters and the street skaters. Now the best fucking street skaters are the best fucking contest dudes. Tell me one of those guys in the elite didn’t have one of the best video parts in the last five years that are in this league.”
If anyone is going to be able to retain the purity of skateboarding in the arena of sport, it’s Rob Dyrdek. I’m rooting for him. While I’m not the Street League’s number one fan, I’ve watched a couple and I appreciate the simplicity. It is just what he says it is: street skating. And at times, amazing street skating. At other times, really boring street skating. As my wife said while watching one, “Fucking make something.” But, most importantly, there are no motorcycles. And not only do I think SL is good for skateboarding, but skateboarding on TV is so incongruent with how skateboarding really is that it creates an element of comedy that, I think, affords more opportunity. Something that hasn’t been lost on Rob either.
Unfortunately, skateboarders spend a lot of time rolling around on the ground, and this does not make for good television. Although Sandoval looks like he’s having a seizure and/or taking a shit, both of which are good television.
“Have you considered doing a fantasy skateboard league?” I asked. I’ve long wanted to create something of that nature.
“I already did,” Rob said, “go sign up for it.”
Apparently Rob has also thought about a fantasy skateboard league and made it reality on the Street League site. Although what I found on the site is more of a guessing game than a proper fantasy league. Creating the latter would require a lot of work. Rob has already envisioned a skateboard fantasy league that incorporates all aspects of being a pro skateboarder, such as ads, magazine coverage, video parts, etc., and that’s how points are generated.
“I’ll tell you what I am doing, though,” Rob said. “After this year I’m going to the gaming commission in Vegas and trying to get approved so you can bet on this, you know what I’m saying? Just the idea of being able to bet on this shit is amazing.”
“What the fuck?” I said laughing. Gambling on skateboard contests? That’s awesome. Imagine looking at the board in Vegas and seeing “skateboarding” on the list with horse racing, basketball, football, etc..
“Yeah, I had a dude do it last year,” Rob said, “My dude, who’s from Vegas came to me like, let’s do this, I got everything fucking set up.”
Rob, however, is still fiddling with the contest format and isn’t going to apply to the Vegas gaming commission until he’s got all the bugs ironed out. But once he’s got it dialed in, we will be gambling on skating.
“I just want to see the paperwork you have to fill out and write ‘skateboarding’ in,” I said.
“Oh my god it’ll be so sick,” Rob said laughing.
It’ll be even sicker when I hit the jackpot with a trifecta of Nyjah, Sheckler, and Cole. And maybe King Shit will turn into something that looks more like a racing form?