Street League offers viewing enjoyment on several levels. Most of those levels were on display Friday, during the "Preliminary Qualifier," the first official event of the contest series. And purely as an audio-visual experience, Street League is certainly impressive.
Whether it's the JumboTron broadcasting immaculately produced DC Shoes commercials or realtime footage of the skaters as they compete with a filmer in tow, the event has succeeded in synthesizing aspects of mainstream sporting events with things like, well, Habitat pro and first time Street League contestant Austyn Gillette's ever so graceful yet ever so gnarly frontside 180 flip to flat.
When the DJ blasts the rapper Lil' Wayne through the 19,000 seat arena, and the announcer rhetorically asks the audience "Are you dead out there?" and the crowd goes wild, you certainly feel the electricity in the air.
It's like a Vegas boxing event but instead of boxing you get Tommy Sandoval punching a quarterpipe with a Mike Tyson-esque blunt to fakie.
You can't help but be swept up in the moment. You feel the monster energy. You feel like you are in a strange dream.
This is skateboarding as global information age data-driven digital media spectacle. [Incidentally, as a joke/literary experiment, I asked DC and Alien Workshop pro Mikey Taylor to write a single sentence on my laptop, anything he felt like so long as it did not involve swearing or references to drugs or alcohol. He took a while to compose a sentence. "Writing is hard," he said. After some deliberation he wrote one sentence and gave me a high five. When I looked at the computer it said, "Is Street League the future?"]
If you are a numbers person, if you desire a statistical portrait of sick and rad and gnarly and steezy skating, you can also enjoy Street League on that strategic level. At any time, you may wade into the numerical information Street League relentlessly provides viewers second by second.
SO, IS STREET LEAGUE THE FUTURE?
"If golf and skateboarding had a baby it would be Street League," offered one industry-insider on the courtesy shuttle transporting persons from the Westin Crown Center hotel to the Sprint Center, where Street League's first stop is being held. Jeff Pang, a legendary former pro for Element's earliest incarnation Underworld Element, added that he and several colleagues have a friendly gambling pool revolving around Street League results. "We nerd out," Pang said with a laugh.
Or if you just want to watch sick skating in person, Street League offers just that.
If you attend Street League as a member of the media, you will hear and read the phrase "The Greatest Skateboarders in the World" with a frequency that sometimes allows you to forget what that actually means. Tonight what that meant was Nyjah Huston doing a perfect kickflip backside noseblunt on what might technically could be called a huge red handrail with a huge drop that could kill you.
Tonight what that meant was hometown favorite Sean Malto doing a nosegrind nollie flip out on a giant ledge. Malto, a Kansas City native with a Midwesterner's unassuming appeal, was clearly the crowd favorite. As he skated members of the audience would call out, "Malto!" "Hey Malto!"
Bastien Salabanzi, a dynamic Frenchman, is in some ways Malto's stylistic antithesis. Malto projects ease. Salabanzi projects intensity.
Though in practice he was throwing caballerial kickflips at Nolan Ryan speeds, his first run of the Street League Qualifier may have been marred by contest jitters. But clearly Salabanzi benefited from Street League's revised format, which allows skaters two runs but only counts the higher of the skater's two scores.
In his second run of the evening Salabanzi did yet another comeback, by pulling that caballerial kickflip. His second was just about perfect. The crowd went wild.
But in the end it was Nyjah Huston who came in first place this warm evening in Kansas City's Power and Light district. Judged purely by athletic standards, one could easily argue that the 17-year-old prodigy is the greatest skateboarder in the world. Judges agreed with that assessment.
Things you would hear if you walked through the Sprint Center include: "Nyjah is going to take it... Nyjah won... Nyjah got first place... Nyjah killed it... Nyjah is the man... Nyjah is amazing."
As this reporter left the Sprint Center he passed Baker and Nike SB pro Theotis Beasley. Beasley was posing with a picture with two fans. "Nyjah, he just does the hardest tricks," said Beasley. "People just know he's going to land it. He's really consistent. He's steady focus. Malto did good and represented for his hometown. People love how smooth he is. The tricks Nyjah throws out at the last moment are unbelievable. He knows that's what the crowd wants to see. The kickflip backside noseblunt was a great way to end it. Nobody is going to forget that. He was already number one. He just had to do it."
"It's my first time [at Street League]," added Beasley. "It's so good to see it in person."