Simple skateboarding tricks are not so simple to pull off.
Style points are awarded in competitions, so the winner is not necessarily the one who performs the hardest trick, but the one who makes the difficult look easy. This is a sport where cultivated nonchalance pays off.
On Monday, May 24, at 2 p.m., in front of Stevenson Union on the campus of Southern Oregon University, an expected 40 skateboarders will attempt to grind, slide and ollie their way onto the podium at the second annual Campus Skate Jam. SOU and Aedion Aesthetic are cosponsoring the event.
Aedion, the skate- and snow-board store on Main Street in Ashland, has built a metal ramp especially for this competition. Rather than require a compulsory routine — as in ice skating or gymnastics competitions — this contest will be laid-back, totally free-form.
"It's more about just having fun and letting kids skate the way they want to skate. It's judged by an overall impression," says Aedion co-owner Kevin McNally.
A series of heats will determine the finalists. Each heat will last long enough for the judges to evaluate the degree of difficulty and style points for each contestant. Style is especially difficult to judge.
"It's personal; it's an art form. You can't necessarily set a standard. There are so many different plays, different things on one trick," says Cody Morrison, Aedion's other co-owner.
Awards will be conferred for best trick and for best overall. Last year's overall winner was Justin Shirley and Best Trick was awarded to Frank Shaw, both Medford skaters.
"Justin went above and beyond what everyone else was doing, the height out of the ramp. He was the amplitude winner of the day. Frank kick-flipped his board so it does a barrel roll, at the same time it does a 360 rotation, like tip to tail. So it's doing this off-axis spin on the board, and his body turns up like 90 and he stalls on the quarter pipe, then he does another rotation out on the transition. It was definitely the crowd pleaser of the day," Morrison says.
Morrison would have preferred to compete last year, but ended up in the judge's booth — his consolation prize because he had recently undergone surgery for a skateboarding injury. Most skating is practiced on concrete, an unforgiving surface, so injuries are a part of almost every skater's resume.
When learning a new trick, a skater pushes the limit of balance and reaction time. The result can be painful.
Jen Minor has a pronounced scar between her collarbone and shoulder, the result of a missed trick. The 19-year-old Rogue Community College student and Medford native skates for the Aedion-sponsored team.
"I was learning how to carve in a bowl and I broke my humerus. They needed pins to fix it," Minor says, pointing to the scar.
Five years ago Minor showed up in a skate park on roller blades. She soon traded boots for board and never looked back.
"It's moving, exhilarating, just you and the board. Whenever you want, you go out and do it, you don't pay someone. You can push yourself. It's an art. No two people can look at the same concrete and see it the same way or do the same tricks. It's a lifestyle," Minor explains.
Minor has truly managed to parlay her passion into a lifestyle.
This summer she will again go on tour with the Portland chapter of Skate Like A Girl — a.k.a. SLAG — an all-female skateboarding company composed of both amateurs and pros. SLAG gives free clinics to young girls on the West Coast and in Canada, introducing them to a sport that has to date been dominated by boys.
To prepare for Monday's competition, Minor has been practicing her "Rock 'n' Rolls" and "5-O's." Both tricks and their variations involve skating to the lip of the bowl, stopping or grinding, and skating back down, with or without a 180-degree turn.
Serious skaters are starting younger each year.
Take Teva Barnea, for example. The 14-year-old McLoughlin Middle Schooler won a competition in Tel Aviv last summer held on June 21, international Go Skateboard Day. Barnea has a different strategy planned for Monday's event.
"I don't have any particular tricks planned, I'll have to see the ramp. Skateboarding is about flowing," Barnea explains.
At a practice session at the Ashland Skate Park, Barnea warms up with a series of ollies: popping the board into the air, giving the impression of jumping while remaining on top of the board. When he's satisfied with his amplitude, he ollies up two feet onto a rail, grinds it to the end and lands back on the ground without a form break.
Today he's favoring an ankle he sprained recently while skating. Caution, he's learning, means more than just wearing a helmet.
Last year I broke my shin. I've also broken my wrist. The bone was sticking out. My mom says if I break another bone, no more skateboarding," admits Barnea, who also skates for Aedion. He made the team after sending in a demo video.
Barnea hopes to turn pro some day, an aspiration that Aedion co-owner McNally supports.
"We sponsor six or seven kids and help them get sponsored by companies. A couple of our kids have contracts. We try to promote local kids who are serious about skateboarding," McNally says.
A large video boom will be assembled to film Monday's competition. A new killer video may just land the next sponsorship for a local skater.
For more information, visit http://aedionaesthetic.com or www.skatelikeagirl.com.
Daniel Newberry is a freelance writer living in the Applegate Valley. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.