Recession or Reformat

Doesn't matter if it's a contest or a street spot, John Rattray makes it al look good. Joshua Duplechian/ESPN Action Sports

Lately it's been a little hard to define who a contest dude is. In the past it generally was understood that if you wanted to watch a contest you'd be seeing Greg Lutzka, Nyjah Huston, Paul Rodriguez and Ryan Sheckler with a number of fringe guys (often from other countries) who make a living off contest money more than reputable sponsors. That has all seemed to change over the last year or so with the improvement of contest formats and courses but mostly because the prize purse has grown to more than what most families in Detroit make in a year for a weekend of skateboarding. I imagine it's pretty hard to say no to the chance to make $50,000 for a long Saturday. And so we're seeing a number of guys that aren't contest regulars showing up: Tony Trujillo, Peter Romandetta, Nick Dompierre, Dennis Busenitz and Terry Kennedy to name a few.

One would assume it was the money that would be the draw. I did. But when I spoke to Trujillo he flat out told me, "The money had nothing to do with. I just want to skate. And to see how bad it's gotten." Dennis Busnitz wanted to skate so bad he bagged the whole thing when he wasn't invited to Skate Street. Deluxe Distribution luminary Mic-E Reyes said, "Dennis wanted to skate. He isn't here because he wanted to skate both park and street but was only invited to skate park."

Despite a failing economy and a skateboard industry that has taken numerous financial hits the past year with companies being forced to make budget and pay cuts, laying people off and cutting back on their travel and touring, most of the guys shot holes in my theory that the only reason they were showing up was for the money. I was certain that most underground or low key guys I'd talk to would tell me, "I'm just here for the money." But they didn't. And I think they were lying.

For DC and Real team rider Nick Dompeirre, who rarely leaves his home in New Bedford, Massachusetts, it surprisingly wasn't about the money either. For him it was as simple as just being invited to the party. "They asked me to come and I came," he said, "I'll go to anything I'm invited to. I don't care."

So what's the draw for guys like Nick and Tony? Is it the coverage? The chance to skate? Is it the course? I can't imagine it's the course because with so many other contests making street-inspired set ups I think the X Games street course designs need some work.

Maybe it's the format change. A lot of skaters seemed really into the change to a 10-try Rob Dyrdek-inspired format where skaters get 10 attempts, as opposed to the jam-format. "Last year I almost got killed," Eric Koston explained, "People were almost landing on my head, people were just going and not giving each other a chance to clear out."

"It seems more like a real skate session," Zero & Nike rider Elissa Steamer said. "Sometimes you land a trick first try, sometimes it takes a half dozen tries. This lets you land stuff at your own pace."

"For guys like Dompierre, it's perfect," Deluxe owner, Jim Thiebaud said. "He can't be bothered with snaking people and racing to land a trick. It's not his style. This way he goes when it's his turn, he can relax and not worry about someone being right on his heels."

It all sounds very upbeat and positive but I can't help but think there's more than a few guys that are showing up just for the dough. Some guys need a $50 grand payday just to survive. Not Girl and new Nike rider Eric Koston, though. "Is it true they didn't let Alex Olsen skate because he showed up late?" he asked. "Is that the secret to not having to skate? Next year I'll show up late and I won't have to break a sweat. That's my new plan."

Hopefully that's not the case since Eric Koston was one of the few guys that actually skated with a smile on his face. Of the six riders in the finals I counted only two guys who kept smiling all the way through. I assume those were the two guys that just came out to skate and have a good time.