It's easy for the hardest of hardcore skaters to get disenchanted with skate contests due to the size and absurdity of some of the larger scale productions that are made for TV-entranced America. I know me and my partner in our NJ Skateshop franchise, Steve Lenardo, chose not to host any contests over the past 6 years for the simple reason that we were just over contests. We personally lean more towards pro demos or open sessions jams than anything structured like a contest.
Then this year the circus rolled through Sayreville, New Jersey not once but twice in the form of éS Game of SKATE and Volcom's Wild In The Parks and we were stunned to see more of a turnout for those events than many of the demos we've hosted. I asked the kids what it was that brought them out from hours away in every direction, crossing state lines, and I got varying responses from, "I want to want to win a trip to California," to "My friends made me enter; I think I suck." Some just wanted to skate a new park with new people and be a part of a larger community. These are the small communities and skate scenes often overlooked by major skate brands. But these same communities are keeping brands like Volcom and éS not only relevant in the core market but prominent and flourishing with real skaters around the country through the reach of their grassroots events.
The first éS Game of SKATE was on January 2003 at the Action Sports Retailer's tradeshow and it was pros only. Paul Rodriguez beat Eric Koston and Diego Bucchieri in the Finals to win. The following year éS did 16 contests around the country for unsponsored skaters.
Mark Waters, Sole Technology's (parent company of éS) Events Marketing Group Manager, explains, "Most of the kids were in shock, there hadn't been anything like this for a long time in skateboarding. We were really seeing mostly unsponsored or shop sponsored kids who are yet to get into the premiere Am events, and in a lot of ways our event has become another route to get onto the radar of the bigger events."
In 2009 éS had 27 events in the US that were Qualifiers for the Game of SKATE Finals, and five international Finals as well as 60 "feeder" events. There are more than 100 éS Game of SKATE in the US alone each year.
Volcom's Wild In The Parks series has grown at a slower rate but the brand impacts the local communities they choose to include in a different way. Whereas éS sends one winner to their finals from 100 different locations, Volcom sends 20 winners from each of its 13 qualifying contests to their finale event in late-September held in the skatepark paradise of Phoenix, Arizona. Whether it be 100 stops or a baker's dozen both are making huge impacts. Just ask Eric Koston who at Maloof Money Cup in 2008 said, "The éS Game of SKATE has created a whole new generation of amazing skaters who know every trick!"
I think Jeff Arnold, Volcom's Wild in the Parks Tour Director, nails the importance of these events when he says, "While magazine ads and demo tours cover some bases, they tend to lack personality and depth. We're shooting for a more intimate approach by giving kids an opportunity to interact with Volcom's philosophy and energy on a local level. This really lets them be a part of the show. And takes the pressure off of the competitor by leting them focus on having a good time. In effect, skaters put on their own demo with their friends."
The casual approach of these grassroots events is a stark contrast from larger contest. Arnold recalls, "Contests I went to when I was younger were typically exclusive, high-pressure affairs that consisted of everyone standing around watching some dude mentally berate himself over tricks he wasn't landing during his timed run."
That kind of robotic, timed contest skating never looks or feels fun. But as I watched both of these events take place at our local skatepark, I saw every entrant laughing and having a good time much like I remember the contests from my childhood at the old Sayreville Skate Zone of the late '80s. I'm not sure at what point the concept of contests began to be "uncool" to me. But something about watching an unknown kid call out, "full cab doubleflip," to try to get the letter K on his opponent and the crowd losing their mind when he landed it reminded me that contests on the local level aren't about cash money or notoriety. They're about something much more. Mark Waters articulated my feeling saying, " The thing is that grassroots contests are part of a larger net, a sort of support network, for all things skateboarding in the community. Skate shops are part of this, and play just as significant, or in some cases, more significant role. Without contests and shops, where would skaters meet? They could meet at school, but in an age where everyone is looking the part, it's hard to tell the skaters from the weekend warriors. A healthy and vibrant skate scene needs a lot of things to thrive, and grassroots contests are part of that."
Volcom's Wild In The Park Finals are held Saturday, September 26th, 2009 at the Rio Vista Skatepark in Peoria, Arizona.
éS Game of Skate Finals are held Saturday, October 31st, 2009 in Lake Forest, California.