Last weekend I had the pleasure of attending the UHL Competition in Las Vegas. It was happenstance I caught wind of this event to begin with. I’d been traveling for the past 6 months now. Having made stops in California, Colorado, Iowa, Maryland, North Carolina, and Florida before heading back west and getting situated in Nevada. As I’m new to the scene here, I hadn’t managed to connect with locals yet. The night before registration I was thrown a line on the contest. I knew right then I had to pack my gear and see what was going down firsthand. To my surprise, no one (other than Gadgik & their drone) were filming. There was a live stream on Facebook. Not sure if that actually worked out or not tho as I was too busy. I also don’t Facebook. Most everyone took pictures with their phones or cameras. So with my HVR in hand I started feeling out angles immediately. Needless to say, I’m grateful that I did.
Words: Dominick Nock Photography: Nick Calderon
Held at the home of Marco De Santi the turnout was fairly solid. We’d been seeing temperatures reach as high as 116 degrees here in the Mojave recently so the timing couldn’t have been any better. It had just rained several days before registration and a cool front had swept in a subtle breeze from the valley. Conditions were just about right now. The Atmosphere was definitely friendly and consisted of support from the Rollerblading community far & wide. In attendance were Katie Ketchum, Jon Julio, Miguel Ramos, Walt Austin, Cletus Kuhn (fresh off the 2016 CORT) and even Aaron Wheelz from Nitro Circus had stopped by to check it out. Combine all of this with amazing bbq, cold brews, a pool, blade fam and a gnarly vert ramp and you’ve got the makings of a truly great event!
What really caught my attention was how many people were committed to this before it ever really took off. So committed in fact, that they flew in from as far as Bulgaria, South America, and Switzerland to compete. This should be a glimpse into how important Vert still is. Even more so how rare it is seen on this scale inside of the United States. Nick Calderon had flown in from Columbia, grinning ear to ear the entire time. Juiced from tricks his competitors were throwing down you could tell that for him this contest was a lot of fun. The energies shifting around this event weren’t just through the roof, they were soaring over it! This was easily one of those experiences that not just for Nick, but for everyone who came out, will continue to be a highlight of many stories to come. The array of styles and athleticism were inspiring to say the least. I couldn’t imagine going back to my youth and seeing something like this for the first time, especially with such a high level of stunts going down. Looking back at footage while I get this bonus edit ready I still find myself getting lost in it all. Local steeze demon Tony Rivituso competed and during a short break between the contest and Best Trick there was a notion to gap from the vert ramp out of the backyard, over the wall, past the side walk, and then to the street. In person this was flat out nuts! There’s no other way to put it nor was there much time for me to get a better angle than I did. I caught the attempt and it will be in the bonus which should drop sometime this week (provided I’m not off fucking around in the desert with something I’m not suppose to be, I do this from time to time because, yeah, it’s the Mojave).
As the contest carried on the crowd grew larger. At some points I was almost certain someone driving by would wreck their car trying to get a glimpse of the action. From the moment riders reached the platform, every vehicle that passed, neighbor nearby, and even a helicopter (from a distance) had taken notice of the show. It would’ve been really hard not to. All eyes were on us!
At 32, I can recall when flicks like “Quest II The Unholy”, “Fast Shoes”, “Plastic Balance” and Videogroove (up until “Mediocracy”) had really taken off. During that period there was literally no divide whatsoever between Street and Vert. They were featured together in the majority of videos that came out. So if you watched a video before you went out to skate you were equally stoked to see one as you were the other. What the fuck happened?
Some will argue it was being dropped from the “X-Games”, or even the falling out of the “National Inline Skate Series” (NISS). However, in later years the “ASA” alongside the “Mobile Skate Series” proved that both sides of the spectrum were still regarded in the same light. In addition, vert was, and still is being featured at various events spread throughout a dozen other countries over the past 15 years. It surely wasn’t dead to the world. This appears to only be a rarity inside the U.S.
For myself and those of you who hail from the pre UFS era you’ll remember how welcoming it was to become a rollerblader. During this period everyone we encountered had in turn met someone else they had shown rollerblading to in a positive light. This was great but in return we ended up losing ourselves for a moment. It was an inevitability. After a burst of street skating flicks had come out, we restricted ourselves, socially that is. Like a sewing circle. Accepting others into our group if they had already learned maneuvers elsewhere or could prove their worth ..as opposed to throwing an arm over them if they hadn’t. Maybe this was some misguided sense of entitlement from skating handrails, or roof gaps, or maybe it was this “cool kid syndrome” that seems to trickle down through just about every crevice of extreme sports? Regardless of which direction it came from most of us were guilty of this at one point. The problem with this was outside of the scarce amount of videos (VHS’s) available to outsiders there weren’t many avenues you could take in order to learn. Not when many of the skaters already embedded in the community were segregating themselves. For most kids who didn’t grow up in Cali, Florida or the great state of Oregon, parks with a decent vert ramp were few and far between. Also, the internet was nowhere near what we have now. It was slower, much slower and most skateparks were still in the process of developing an online presence for themselves. For a kid with virtually no resources doing a quick google search wasn’t an option. Even if you had internet access you used it for Email & AOL instant messenger or something of that nature. Not for geocaching sick skate spots or YouTube. It was relatively new to us all. So if you were lucky, you’d catch a tidbit on the news or the radio about an event coming to your town. Again though, this was if you were lucky. Many up & coming skaters, particularly those interested in Vert, started losing hope of acceptance. This became even more of a challenge when the parks that did start to rise were only catering to skateboarders. I remember some poor kid getting bullied & beaten up for trying to roll FDR just inside of Philly way back then. It didn’t end so well. Another incident had occurred at Burnside and remained the talk of controversy for some time thereafter. To get any sort of vert skating done during this time you pretty much had to buck up and deal with this at nearly every park you found because again, they simply weren’t catering to us. While this era did see Street & Vert go hand in hand, if you weren’t “in” with one you certainly weren’t likely to see the other. Now the driving force behind rollerblading had just about become entirely street based. It was getting easier and easier to progress in this way than to pursue other areas of rollerblading. Ultimately, it became more marketable too. This is where that divide originated from and it progressively got worse. It wasn’t until productions like “High Rollaz” dropped that kids who didn’t have money for Woodward or were fortunate enough to skate Eisenberg’s or Kona knew that Vert was still alive in the U.S. The kids who already skated Vert remained welcoming because the content that was most prevalent for them never portrayed this social defect. This selection process was entirely absent from vert. They held true to our core beliefs and had sincerely accepted anyone and everyone who put in the time or the effort to learn. Halfpipe League is the manifestation of “Each one Teach one”, through & through. Never in any event to date have I witnessed this as I have within the UHL. It was rewarding to experience a contest of this kind. The last of which was nearing the end of The ASA Tour in 2001-2002’.
While recently these restrictions and social setbacks are not the case, I feel as though it’s important to note that this was sadly a part of our history. The content we produce now is just as important as the content we grew up with back then and it is essential to our growth that it exhibits what was once lost. Not just in quality but in the overall portrayal of the community itself. If you’re making a skate video and the new guy only has a vocab of 2 tricks, do you exclude him from your video? Should his inability be a cause for dismissal or does it present to you the opportunity to showcase him for the betterment of our sport? Years ago this would’ve been the decision you were faced with, especially when your edit had one of those hot Eminem tracks he kept pumping out left and right. However, when the fear of not appearing as cool as your favorite pros is what drives you to pick & choose who you skate with or who makes it into your edit and who doesn’t, then as a rollerblader you are preparing to represent our community in a negative way.
Crews like the “Loser Zero Rejects” are the first in a long while that I’ve seen break this normality by featuring anyone. Fathered by Jon “Xmas” Christopherson & Johnathon Copeland, their debut video is called “ROLLMODELS” (not to be confused with the Minnesota release) and it showcases several kids who may not be the best at what they do, but they get up everyday and they give it their all because they love rollerblading. Nothing more, Nothing less! The production of this video alone puts most others to shame so if you see it floating around give it a watch and you’ll see exactly what I’m trying to convey here in this article. It’s things like these that get me the most stoked about rollerblading. Not because it’s put together so well, but because it gives you an almost uncanny insight into the effort involved from all it’s participants. The skating isn’t flawless, but it doesn’t need to be. If we only showed skating that was effortless to our friends, they would surely think it was an impossible activity for them to get into. When you see a kid working on a trick over and over, then finally land it …to those on the outside looking in that says “hey, if this guy can do it than so can you!” and this is where our portrayal of rollerblading will bring us the most growth as a whole. By showing the world that it can be done as opposed to it is being done and it’s so far advanced now that it is beyond your reach! it’s as simple as that.
With a nod to the UHL, this global collective have embraced everyone around them in many ways. They’re continued open acceptance has proven that there is a fire burning in vert and it shows no signs of kindling anytime soon. Of course with an obvious lack of ramps, ample coverage, or sponsorship here in the U.S. they have little means of promotion, but I assure you that just as street skating has progressed over the past few decades, vert has been doing exactly the same thing. There’s no doubt about it.
I and everyone else who was lucky enough to be there for this competition cannot thank Marco or Nel enough for their contributions! Both coming from “ASA Pro Vert” backgrounds they’re roots are planted firm within Rollerblading. It’s been rewarding to see such a tremendous effort on their parts pay off with this event. With our support, they can continue to bring vert skating back to the United States through future contests and with any hope, bring even more sponsorship.