By Paul Zitzer
SPoT’s 23 Year Anniversary Party, on the Saturday night before Tampa Am Finals day, was like a hyper condensed version of the skatepark’s greatest and worst moments. There was hip hop, sloppy drunks, make out sessions, an utterly insane jam on the concrete in the courtyard with Schaefer and Gerwer emceeing and skewering anyone bold enough to roll into the chaos, and then the head on collision heard round the world, resulting in two KOs boarding somewhere around near death. In the end everyone lived, and all except the injured could be said to have had a great night, and who knows, maybe the injured as well, they just weren’t available for comment.
It was a fitting night in the mist of one of the greater skate weekends of all time. For those not paying attention, over 250 amateurs from 20 + countries (Slovakia and Madagascar among them) flew, drove, or took the Greyhound to town to try their luck in the most storied event in skateboarding. Qualifiers were spread out over two long days of 3-skater jams, where the top 16 from each day advanced to Sunday. There were ups and downs throughout, with some of the jams seeing Finals’ levels of shred, while others barely included any landed tricks at all. But by Sunday’s Semi-Finals, with the weeding out process complete, the best of the best were slated for two one-minute runs each, with the top ten advancing to the big show.
Heat Two of the Semi-Finals included some of the best skating of the weekend, most notably from Tanner Vanvark out of Minnesota, who had a contest winning caliber run consisting almost exclusively of tricks that he was the only one doing. If you aspire to skate Tampa Am in the future, and want to actually crack the top 100, look to Tanner’s approach as to how get the judges attention. Kickflip backside lipslides and hardflips are difficult and impressive and all of that, but Tanner style wallie bluntslides and fakie backside 5-0 grinds to front 180s are what real inspiration looks like. Also noteworthy, Jagger Eaton and Jack Olson, the past two Tampa Am winners, cruised their way through Semi’s as if on a skate to the grocery store and advanced in 2nd and 3rd places respectively. Tampa Am, unlike the Pro, doesn’t give preferential treatment to past winners, so those two had to work just as hard as anyone to make Finals, and the fact they did it in the top 3 is a testament to how good they are and lends further support to the notion that they’ll both end up turning pro sooner rather than later.
If you followed the Damn Am Select Series all year, you heard us say a million times that the winners of each stop would be pre-qualified to Semi-Finals in Tampa. But of those five Damn Am winners (Dashawn Jordan, Yoshi Tanenbaum, Micky Papa, Wacson Mass, and Josh Douglas), not one of them was able to skate their way into the Finals. It goes back to the blessing / curse theory of prequalifying. Yes they came to town already ahead of all of the 250+ other ams, but bypassing the experience of skating in the Qualifying rounds might have turned into a negative when it came to putting it down in Semis. Disclaimer: Micky Papa laid down a kickflip grind filled run and missed the finals by two spots, he actually murdered it, but while you could debate all day whether he should have made the cut or not, the fact remains that he didn’t.
Every contest has its rhythm, with some better than others, but this one was aces from the start. As the Finals commenced, Jagger Eaton as the returning champ looked to be the skater to beat. His first run earned him a 91.2, which based on scores coming in seemed to have a really good chance of holding up to the end. He did everything, kickflip back lip, frontside blunt kickflip our, blunt kickflip fakie, switch heel, frontside flip on the quarterpipe, etc. If it was lacking in anything it was the element of surprise. Jagger’s skating seemed to be almost too good, and it was more shocking when he fell than when he made everything. There wasn’t such an aura of the inevitable however when someone like Tanner or Jereme Knibbs was skating, causing a sense of tension and unpredictability that seemed to prime the judges and the crowd for reacting more enthusiastically when they did come through. And then the Frenchman Aurelien Giraud, sitting in 4th after the first runs, put down trick after trick in his second run, including a picture perfect 360 double flip down the stairs, and blew the roof off the place. On top of that, when he went for one last move on the flatbar after time expired, casually tossing out a backside overcrook nollie flip, the level of stoke around the entire moment pretty much ensured that he’d be taking over the lead. The judges concurred, with a first place score of 92, and despite some more amazing runs to go down no one managed to take it back from him.
After the contest was over, Aurelien said some pretty great things, like “It’s a beautiful day in my life,” that only the French would come up with. Our typical American winner is usually good for a “Stoked!” or maybe “Super stoked!” at best. Interestingly, the day after the contest I was talking to one of the dads who’d been at the contest and he pointed out that in 2014 Aurelien got 11th in Semi-Finals, missing the Finals cut by one spot, and remembered thinking he should have made it. So this was some sweet redemption, and who knows, maybe Norway’s Herman Stene who ended in that unenviable 11th place spot this year will follow in Aurelien’s footsteps next go round. But until then, a huge and heartfelt Congratulations to Aurelien, if he can recapture some of the Tampa Am magic at the 2016 SLS Pro Open we might have just seen a guy taking his first step towards that spot on the Pro Tour.
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