On Aug.14, 2011, Paul Rodriguez climbed to the top of a podium in Oregon to accept top honors at the Dew Tour Portland Invitational. A once familiar face on the podium, Rodriguez had failed to secure a W in any event the past year despite many contest appearances. Could this win be the beginning of a return to competitive form for Rodriguez?
The three-time X Games gold medalist only won two competitions in 2010: the Tampa Pro event and the Wendy's Invitational Dew Tour stop in Portland. At the advent of Street League, Rodriguez was considered by his fans and peers to be one of the dominant players destined for a win. That has not proven true so far.
Rodriguez struggled in Street League in the 2010 season and in the 2011 season, now underway. With changes to the contest format in 2011, Rodriguez was often eliminated from contention in the early rounds of each event. For a guy that has dominated Dew Tour, won a Maloof Money Cup, prevailed at X Games and even won the trick-specific Battle at The Berrics Game of SKATE championships, this lull in victories is uncharacteristic.
"The only thing that's been holding me back has been myself," Rodriguez said. "There's no other excuse. I 100 percent believe that I have what it takes to compete with any of these guys; if I didn't I wouldn't even show up to these contests."
Here I feel compelled to stress that Rodriguez's competitive stumbles are NOT a sign of decline in his skills. In late 2010 Rodriguez released a solo video part for his board sponsor, Plan B, on iTunes. The video, "Me Myself and I," is an outstanding display of powerful skating and creative progression. Rodriguez's last trick in the vid, a nollie late front foot flip backside nosegrind, demonstrates a level of technical innovation that few are even attempting in today's skate scene.
Aware of his skills and what he's capable of, Rodriguez knows his contest performances in Street League haven't been where they should be. "It all comes down to needing to get my mind right," Rodriguez said. "I know the tricks are there, my body is there. There's no injuries, no excuses. I skate a lot. I just need to get my killer instinct going and start going for riskier tricks that I know I can do."
Rodriguez says his win at the most recent Dew Tour event was motivating but he's aware that it weighs a little differently from a win at Street League. "It felt good, but you know, I'm aware that there were a lot of great skaters at Dew Tour but not all the great skaters were there," he said. "I know all the usuals weren't there. I'd love to get a win against everybody."
"The usuals" Rodriguez referred to include Chris Cole, Ryan Sheckler, Sean Malto and the undefeated in 2011 Nyjah Huston. Prohibited by their Street League contracts to compete in most events outside of the league, Rodriguez didn't face any of his Street League peers at the Dew Tour (a prearranged caveat to Rodriguez's league contract allows him to compete in Dew Tour since he had a pre-existing contract with Dew before Street League).
This weekend in Newark, N.J., the Street League Championships are a level playing field. Despite Huston's season-long dominance, whoever wins in Newark will be crowned the 2011 champion. For Rodriguez that means it's time to go gusto.
"Sometimes I catch myself playing it safe and even if I do stay on my board with safe tricks, it might not cut it," Rodriguez said. " I need to just let it all hang out. At this point I've got nothing to lose."