Philly Trip, Day 3 – Contest Day

This post is being written the week after the contest, as I was too tired when I got back after the contest to even think about writing this.

Saturday, September 14 was contest day. The event was supposed to start at 11am, and of course being a skate event I knew it would be at least an hour late. Skaters sleep late. However, I didn’t know how the parking would be, so I got up early, payed way too much for the hotel buffet breakfast but got a nice big breakfast and lots of coffee, finished “the morning ritual”, and got to the contest site about 10am.

I started rolling around, thinking about a couple of good lines for my runs, as people slowly started to arrive. It was quickly very clear that in my division, “the Masters” (over 40), we would have some really good skating. Due to its nature, freestyle is a kind of skating that people can do it really well up to pretty advanced ages and still be really good.

AJ Kohn, contest organizer, had already been there for a while, setting up the “tent”, the sound system, chairs, and just generally getting things ready. He handled sign-in too. More about AJ later. For now I’ll just say he rules.

So, this venue is called Rizzo Rink. It is actually a public basketball court sitting under I95, just a block or two west of the Delaware River. The actual “rink” is a public ice skating rink.  The city uses the space under the elevated freeway for parking, basketball, etc. So the place is covered. It is pretty damned cool.

Skaters continued to arrive and start practicing.  The schedule was to be…

  1. Novice (groms)
  2. Amateur
  3. Masters
  4. Pro
  5. 360 Spin-Off
  6. Highest Ollie
  7. Launch Ramp
  8. Game of Skate

Unlike traditional freestyle contests of the past, in which each skater got two 2-minute runs, there is  recent trend of doing 1-minute runs instead. This trend was continued in Philly. Everyone got two 1-minute runs, and pros got three runs. I think there is room in freestyle for both ways. There are some advantages to doing 1-minute runs. It keeps things moving well. It is more interesting to watch. It encourages more people to enter, since one minute is much less intimidating than two minutes. I think it is true that the more limited time doesn’t permit more accomplished skaters put together a whole artistic presentation, so for some that is a big issue. Each contest has its own vibe and goals. For this event, AJ certainly made the right choice. It was a fun, fast moving contest with lots of participants.

I’ve been involved with freestyle for a long time, but this is the first time I’ve ever been to a contest in about 25 years. It was great to finally meet people face to face whom I’ve been collaborating with/communicating with for over ten years. I felt like I already knew these guys. It was very cool. I saw Keith Renna over at the judges stand, so I snuck up on him, put him in a very sloppy rear-naked choke (Keith is an MMA practitioner) and he had no problem guessing who it was. Frank Lavallee was there with Keith, and it was great to meet him too! Others on the list of longtime “hey I know you” people were Jesse Whalen, obviously Terry and Jenna Synnott, and of course AJ Kohn.

OK, I will give an overview of the divisions. Please forgive me if I leave out any names — these are just my recollections and impressions.

Groms: it’s always cool to see the little people (children) out there ripping at a contest. I didn’t know any of these kids, but clearly most if not all of them had participated in AJ’s events before. There were some solid flip tricks in this group — a few that were more solid than most of the adults/teens could do. A kid named Tyler Thomas won the Novice division, but really all of ’em skated hard!

Amateurs: This was the biggest group (20 riders), consisting of “the young dudes”. This is where you find the younger skaters who are all about freestyle, and the competition for the top 3 places was pretty serious. Pete Betti, of New Jersey, won this division, followed closely by El Paso’s Jacob Whitt in the #2 spot and Sweden’s Felix Jonsson in 3rd. I think all three of these guys are planning to move up to Pro in the next contest. My friend and co-cooperative at Small School, John Sargent, showed up with very little if any practice and nailed down 4th place with solid and impressive skating. Philly’s own Tyrone Williams finished out the top five with some killer runs.

One really fun thing about the Am division was the participation of a number of all-around skaters. Guys that don’t specialize in flatland. Modern street skating has enough flip tricks that with the 1-minute format these guys can enter and really put on a good show. It is nice to see their participation. It was also great to see El Paso’s Garrett Danger Morrison on a longboard. Garrett ended up in 9th place, and showed a different way of attacking freestyle. Hats off, young sir.

Masters: This was my division. 8 skaters. It was clear pretty early that Bill Robertson, from El Paso, was the man to beat. Bill is an accomplished demo skater who had a pro model on Walker in the 1980s, and he’s really an all-around skater and good dude. So yeah – Bill won this with very ripping and I think perfect runs. If he made any mistakes they were minimal. Glad to have him in Texas! 2nd place went to veteran FSer Mike Kinney, who skated with great precision and style. Great to meet him and see him skate. 3rd went to Rodney “Ancient” Watkins – a Philly local and longtime skate advocate and mentor. He seems to be one of those guys who can just skate everything, adapting and enjoying any terrain or event. Alan Benson got 4th. Alan is a cool guy, and he does the slowest 360s I’ve ever seen! And I mean that in a nice way. Just total control. Kind of amazing.

Pros: There were 7 skaters entered in the pro event. Each of these guys offered a very different bag of tricks and riding style.

1st place – Terry Synnott. Yeah, I was pretty much rooting for him, not because the other guys aren’t great, but Terry is just the best. He is still inventing new footwork tricks, and at over 40 years of age could have decimated the Masters division, but keeps it real in the Pro.

2nd: AJ Kohn. AJ stepped away from the MC microphone long enough to skate, hammering away with his very hybrid style of freestyle.

3rd: Jesse Whalen. Jesse is one of my favorite skaters. His ability to throw multiple 540 shove-it variations into a 1-minute run is just fantastic. He also has the craziest and cool footwork style.

4th: Bert Mathieson. This was my first real look at Bert. Dude is a doctor — you know – a physician. At over 50 years old, he is in phenomenal shape, and is absolutely rewriting the book on handstand variations in skateboarding. It is something to see. Got to spend some time with him later at dinner, and he’s a good guy.

5th: Kyle Hamilton. OK, this guy is one solid muscle. He skated in a full Indiana basketball uniform. Seriously. Including red headband and white tube socks. He has a solid pro-level trick arsenal, including a very killer 360 fingerflip.

6th: Dave Vey. Dave came in with Terry. I was totally unaware of him. Real cool guy, and some serious pop. Dave does some really hard ollie tricks, as well as good footwork and all-around freestyle. Very impressed.

7th: Steven Vera: Steven skates for Bustin Boards, a longboard company. He entered on a total downhill style longboard — dropped platform, drop-through trucks, tiny nose and tail kicks. I loved watching this guy’s runs. He did his own thing and did it well. Absolutely the best G-Turns of anyone there, spiraling them until finishing with a shove-it out. I’m not sure that 7th really properly represents the quality of his skating — I think that the FS judging model just isn’t really geared-up to deal with this style of freestyle.

360s Spin-Off: Bill Robertson won this even with 22.5 spins. Closest competitor was Terry Synnott with 14.

Game of Skate: Don’t mess with Jesse Whalen. Just don’t do it.

Jump Ramp: Joey Uva

High Ollie: Official: Arjun Shah (6 Decks)
Un Official: John Jones (7 Decks)

Oh yeah, I ended up getting 6 out of 8 riding my longboard in the Masters Division. I was pretty happy with it. I did what I wanted to do. The guy just below me, Jason Thoel, probably maybe should have been in 6th. He did some good solid freestyle, and it was fun meeting and skating with him.

OK, a few words on AJ Kohn.

AJ organized this contest and essentially put it all together. He does this once a year, plus lots of other events. It is one thing to go skate and be a good skater, but another thing entirely to make things happen. AJ makes things happen. He is great on the microphone, keeping the contest moving, the crowd engaged, and is especially good at encouraging the little kids and brings out the best in them. He even does this all legally! Yep. He had a permit from the city for this contest at this location. So you don’t even have to worry about the event getting busted!

So he really deserves a lot of thanks, and in my book he has it.

I’ll be going back.



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