However, after the first few contestants, it is obvious that any pretense of subtlety or grace will be dropped in the interests of spirited one-upmanship. When a young female performs a handstand on a skateboard, one can be assured that the next contestant will try a handstand on top of two skateboards. And if a perfect nose wheelie is unveiled during a routine, a perfect one-footed nose wheelie will be attempted next. Soon the judges and audience get caught up in the competitors’ attempts to upstage one another, and though most contestants lurch and stumble through their routines, the ever-faithful crowd cheers each flash of brilliance.
The most appreciative audience of all, of course, is made up of the skateboarders themselves. Only minutes after a new move has made its debut – say, a whirling pirouette on the back two wheels of a board, or a skating handstand across the length of the floor – there will be five or six skaters on the sidelines trying it out. Of course, not all the innovations are successful; one particularly ambitious skater ties his sneakers to his board in the hope of performing some intricate jumping maneuvers, only to spend the first minute of his routine stumbling around and the rest of his allotted time sitting in the middle of the floor trying to extricate his feet from the whole mess.
By the middle of the freestyle competition, a pattern starts to emerge. Two highly organized teams, wearing uniforms splashed with the logos of their sponsors – Flite Skateboards of Rhode Island and Hammer Skateboards of New Hampshire – are winning a disproportionate number of trophies in each event. And during a break in the action, I get a chance to sit down with Jason Hammer, founder and president of the company and coach of the team that bears his name.
“I’ve been making skateboards for about a year now,” he tells me, “and a skateboard team is the best advertisement any company can have. I happen to think that I have the best team in the area, and while there are some national teams that are better – the Pepsi team, for example – their members are invariably older – 27 or 28 (Hammer is 24). I don’t think that the kids can identify with them. On my team I have an even spread: two 14-year-olds, two 16-year-olds, and two 19-years-olds. Most of them aren’t exactly pros; they’re in it for fun. But business is business, and they are good for Hammer Skateboards.
“The reason for sponsoring a skateboard team are two,” he continues. "In the first place, you have to put on demonstrations to show the kids what can be done with a skateboard. If you just put the boards on a shelf in a store, no one would buy them; you have to set up an exhibition and demonstrate the flips, the spins, the pipe-riding, etc. Then they’ll get excited; you have to get these kids stoked up about the possibilities.”