I really don’t like contests. As a journalist, I think it’s important to put my biases straight onto the table, right off the bat. However, the Phoenix Am (PHXAM for short, or “The Am”’ from here on out) is such big deal every year, and such an ingrained institution… this was, after all, the 17th year for The Am… that I really had to go and check it out, just to say that I’ve gone and checked it out. It seems like you can’t really call yourself “a local” around here, until you have.
The other big bias that I should point out is that I didn’t go as “a reporter”, per se. The PhxAm has its own website, complete with live streaming, that will surely have all of the results, photos, footage, et cetera. And given that Thrasher Magazine was one of the title sponsors of the event, I can only assume that they’ll have some pretty in-depth coverage of it as well.
Park Check, PHXAM 2018, from www.phxam.com.
PHXAM 2018 Practice Day, from www.phxam.com.
So, no, I didn’t go to scoop “the story”. Rather, I went and experienced the PhxAm in much the same way that any other kid in the world might have gone and experienced it for themselves. The only difference between me, and them, is that I had press credentials, which means that I didn’t have to stand in line (thank heavens). Besides that sole distinction, however… once I got into the gate, I became fairly anonymous, fairly quickly. And that’s exactly the way I like it.
The line of eager kids awaits as the humanity piles up down the sidewalk and around the corner.
Due to my unfortunate manual labor commitments, I didn’t get to The Am until noon on Saturday. Parking looked like a real challenge, with cars overflowing the parking lot, and spilling out onto Encanto Ave for a solid mile and a half or so. But my good fortune is predictably unflinching and unfailing, and usually kicks in precisely when I need it to. So, with a little bit of mojo, I pulled straight into the parking lot at Desert West, blowing right past the “parking lot full” signs, past the security guys that were vainly trying to point the way out and turn my little car around, and pulled straight into a pretty convenient vacant parking spot, only a short walk from the front gate. Good fortune scores a fatty once again…!
I strolled up to the front gate, saw two lines (one for regular ‘ol people, and one for Very Important People)… guessed that maybe I should try the Very Important line, just for shits and giggles (still convinced that they’d never let a jackass like me in)… and immediately got handed my Very Important Pass. The guy behind the table didn’t even bother to check my name; he just handed me my wristband, and ushered me straight into the party. And that was it. I was thus given free reign to do whatever I pleased for the rest of the weekend.
Clockwise from upper left: The Volcom vintage bus; more lines, this time waiting to play games and score swag; Lamebrain had the funniest kid- (but not mom-) approved ring-toss setup.
Desert West resides in the west suburbs of Phoenix, Arizona, at the intersection of 67th Ave and Encanto. It’s one of the oldest skateparks in the Phoenix Metro, but it’s still a great one. It features a large, left-hand kidney bowl with an oververt pocket in the shallow end (that probably didn’t see a whole lotta use this weekend), and a sprawling “street” course with a lot of still-modern features (which was, naturally enough, the focus of the festivities). And even more importantly: it features a heap-ton of flow. In addition, Cowtown brought in even more obstacles for the event, including a large car-feature with slide bars on the roof and trunk, and handrails at each corner, as well as a couple of unique hip and quarterpipe features. Thankfully, Desert West is a really, really large facility. So it can easily accommodate all of the additions, and still have plenty of space to push around, set up tricks, and draw lines.
Clockwise from upper left: The vendor area at the height of the game craze; tailslide on top of the car; the abandonment that occurs when the freebies run out.
The Vendor Area
The Vendor Area was right outside the skatepark gate, and featured booths… well, pop-up tents, really… from maybe two-dozen skateboard companies and brands. I probably spent more time here than anywhere else over the course of the weekend, just because that’s where most of my friends gravitated to, where the free water could be found, and where the shade was most plentiful. It’s was also the place to be, if you wanted your fair share of handouts, prizes, and freebies from our favorite branding empires. Thus, most of the kids in the crowd spent the better part of their days in the Vendor Area, too.
The big thing with the vendors were the games. That’s probably the thing that I’ll forever remember about The Am (besides the skating). Lots of fair-type games like beer pong (but without the beer); boob pong (courtesy of the funny chaps over at Happy Hour); darts (including, at times, real darts, which I have to admit mortified me slightly); craps (DGK, of course); “The Finger Fling” (Lamebrain’s funny-as-hell invention); and lots of other imaginative games that the kids had to play (and play well), in order to get their free swag. The kids actually seemed to really enjoy all of the various challenges; there were lines for the games for most of the day, on both days of the event. The fatass-journalist contingent approved pretty highly of them as well.
What can I say…? Darts, dude! Shut up. That shit was fun.
Of all the brands at the event, Vans and Volcom had the biggest and best setups. They both had large, plush RV’s from which they made their presences felt. That’s probably one of the perks of title sponsorship, having a parking space for your own giant-sized bus. Vans probably had the busiest booth, because they were spending so much time and so many resources promoting Chima’s new shoe; I’ve never seen so much promo for a single shoe model in my entire life, as I did for The Chima this weekend. And the entire Vans crew (including the illustrious Steve Van Doren himself) was super cool, and generally welcoming as hell. But Volcom’s retro-vintage, 1983 Bluebird Bus won the Vendor Prize Of The Weekend in my book. I’m all about vintage campers, and as far as vintage campers go, Volcom’s setup was super sweet. They were kind enough to let me stick my head in and have a look around… an opportunity that I was more than happy to take full advantage of… and let me tell ya, that thing was legit plush, as well as being remarkably period correct. As I said at the beginning of the article, I do have my biases.
The Sound Of Silence
Once I got past the dueling Vans and Volcom party shacks, I entered a part of the vendor area that I’ll refer to here as The Ghost Town. There were pop-up tents, tables, and chairs … but no people manning the gates. Now, I’m not gonna name names or anything, because I’m not that sort of chap. Suffice to say that maybe a few of the participating brands should give me a call, and ask how their promo outreach fared over the weekend.
In many cases, there was no “promo outreach”. Just The Sound Of Silence from a good many of the vacant booths in the vendor area.
Left: the Dead Canary booth, gettin’ ready to get down. Right: Skate Jerk always knows how to have a good time.
The Cool Corner
At the far periphery of the vendor area were the smaller, local, upstart brands that were relegated out to Left Field for the weekend, along with… conveniently, as it turns out… the food trucks, the port-o-potties, and the artificial-shade area erected for the benefit of the spectators that complemented the few extant shade trees that provided shade of the organic variety. This is where the hearty party happened for the bulk of the weekend; unlike The Ghost Town, there was something happening here all the time, every time I stopped by.
The Bigger Brands could probably learn something from these smaller-scale upstarts. Namely, if you’re gonna be present, then be present at all times, and take the time to interact in some meaningful way with your market (rather than just blowing out a wad of freebies, and then bailing early for the hotel room or the pub). Anything less is just a waste of time, money, and energy for everyone.
The Cool Corner was the place to be this weekend, and The Big Brands blew it. End of story.
Saturday was the prelims for Sunday’s finals. The skaters were broken up into heats of four skaters a piece, each heat having a three-minute session in order to determine which of them would make the cut. It made me really f’n glad that I wasn’t a judge; I have a hard enough time focusing on one thing at a time, let alone four things whizzing around all over the place causing chaos and destruction in unison. Everything flowed remarkably smoothly, though, and I was genuinely impressed with the general order and efficiency of the proceedings. Y’gotta hand it to Cowtown: they did a really great job. They locked it down, and they locked it down solid.
There were 50 heats of skaters. That’s over 200 amateurs to put through the meat grinder. Again, the vast expanse of Desert West allowed four-skater heats all the room they needed to skate together, and not cause too much confusion or collateral damage along the way. And some really great skating went down, although it all became a blur after a couple hours, and the specifics are somehow totally escaping me at the moment.
Left: Daniel Griego busting out the 5-0, not the fuzz. Right: The Muska and a bashful fan.
The PhxAm brought out a few luminaries from skateboarding’s history, the first (and maybe most memorable one) of the weekend being The Muska. If you don’t know who “The Muska” is, or why he’s so significant, then stop reading this article right now, go Google that shit, and stop living in abject ignorance. The best part about The Muska… and The Muska made this supper apparent, almost right away… is that he’s a really sweet, down-to-earth, super-vivacious people-person. Especially with little kids; he really loved hanging out with them, giving them high-fives and stuff, and joking around in a really well-mannered sort of way. He seemed super stoked to be at The Am, and maybe even a little bit surprised that everybody bum-rushed him so hard to shake hands, say thanks, pat him on the back, or to get a selfie (or two, or three) with him. It was kinda refreshing in this modern world of rock-star mega-egos to see one so solidly happy and humble. The Muska immediately became my hero of the weekend.
Of course, I couldn’t resist the urge to say a quick “Hello, and thanks”, myself. It is, after all, The Muska.
Left: Rowley, the legend, and adoring fans. Right: the timeless (and apparently ageless) Steve Van Doren.
Steve Van Doren
Some of these names might be unfamiliar to the clueless kids of the world… but if you don’t know who Steve Van Doren is, he’s basically the living, breathing personification of Vans shoes. “Vans”, the mega-corporation, formerly being the “Van Doren Shoe and Rubber Company”… I’m thinking that maybe you’re starting to mentally put two and two together to come up with four right about now. Here, we have another icon of the skateboarding industry, on hand at the PhxAm. And once again, I made the time to say my gracious hellos and thank yous.
The freaky thing about Mr. Van Doren, though, is that this guy never seems to age. At first, I was wondering if the fellow I was shaking hands with might have been Mr. Van Doren’s younger twin brother or long-lost nephew or something. It just wasn’t adding up; this chap looked almost exactly the same as the “real” Steve Van Doren did way back in 1994. I was so confounded that I actually had to ask one of the Vans reps, “Hey, bub… is that Steve Van Doren right there?”
“Yup, sure is!”
“Can I ask you something…?”, feeling just a little bit embarrassed.
“Does he ever age…?”
The Vans rep started laughing his ass off. Either he hears that all the time, or he’s thought about it a few times himself. He leaned over to me, patted me on the shoulder, and whispered in my ear, “No, I don’t think that he does”.
Thank God, I hadn’t made a complete ass out of myself.
Left: Kendall’s look of genuine surprise. Right: a family affair, fans young and old.
Once again: I can be a real dipwagon sometimes. I’m standing at the edge of the contest course, leaning on the back of a very stout quarterpipe, enjoying a little bit of solace and shade, when I suddenly spotted a shorter, slightly older, and noticeably quieter gentleman stroll up beside me and take a quick rest break of his own.
“Man”, I thought to myself. “That guy looks a hell of a lot like Jeff Kendall”. Once again, kids: if this name leaves you clueless, it’s time to go do the Google. Do not resume reading this until you’re suitably wiser and older, and that’s an order.
Anyway, as I’m standing there thinking how much this guy looks like Jeff Kendall, I start to wonder to myself, “Hey! I wonder if this guy just might be Jeff Kendall…?” So, I yell over to him… he was only a foot or so away, but there were about fifteen loudspeakers right behind us, blaring in our ears at about fifty-thousand decibels… “Hey, Jeff!”
He whirls around. “Hey, Bud! What are you doing here…?!” He seemed almost as shocked to see me, as I was to see him.
“I live here! But, forget that! What in the world are you doing here…?!”
Turns out, Jeff came out with the rest of the NHS crew for the event. That was kinda neat to see. Maybe that’s why NHS is always so on top of their A-Game. Because they take the time to get out of their offices, and go check out what’s new and hot in skateboarding.
And judging by the skating happening all over the course, the newest and the hottest kids in skateboarding were all in Phoenix this weekend.
Handrail carnage photos by Trenton Olson.
That reminds me…
I wasn’t quite prepared for how heavy of a contest this was, internationally speaking. For whatever reason, my clueless ass thought that this was a very “southwestern regional” amateur contest, mostly made up of Arizonians and the occasional Californian. Oh, Lord, how embarrassingly wrong I was. Skaters flew in from all over the world… literally, all over the world… for this event. Every United State seemed to be well-represented, along with countries like Japan, Brazil Mexico, France… and I remember Germany being in there, but I might be remembering that one incorrectly. I’m an old dude; that sort of short-term memory lapse just kinda happens at my age. Shit, man, I can’t even pick the Jeff Kendall out of the one-man Jeff Kendall lineup for fuck’s sakes, let alone all of the foreign countries represented at a 250-skater-deep amateur contest.
But, yes… this contest is truly a global event. I was pleasantly surprised by that tidbit.
Kickflip over a car (and an annoying light pole insistent on getting background props). Whoever this kid is, he sure did catch these clean.
After The Skating Is Over
Once the prelims were over, the cut finalized, and the names of the advancing skaters announced, the loudspeakers quickly and efficiently ordered (in no uncertain terms) everybody to clear the course, and head on out of dodge. There was an after-party to attend, after all, and Cowtown had to shut the skatepark down to prepare for Sunday’s finals.
The funny thing about skaters, though, is that they have the most selective in selective hearing, ever. It doesn’t really matter how loud a loudspeaker might be: if it’s talkin’ some shit jive that no skater wants to hear, than no skater will hear that shit jive, and that’s all there is to it. And thus, the course did not clear, and nobody headed out of dodge. Rather, the skating continued unabated as if the loudspeaker was loudly speaking nothing at all. I used the opportunity to head on down to the course, and shoot a few desperately-needed-for-my-article skate photos. My selective hearing is at least as good as anybody else’s, and I took full advantage of it.
Vincent Milou PHXAM 2018 Golden Ticket, from www.phxam.com
I did not attend the after-party, however. I’m old, fat, and tired, and I was feelin’ all three of the above by Saturday evening. My idea of “partying” these days is to go home, take a four-hour nap, then wake up and draw funny pictures (or write funny words) while I listen to some smooth jazz fusion. Does that sound boring to you? Well, just wait ‘til you’re forty-fuckin’-five years old, buddy. It’s gonna sound a hell of a lot better when you’re shaking in my shit shoes.
Feeble on the most popular obstacle of the weekend, the car roof rail.
One of the more memorable chats of the weekend came to me via Keith Wilson, the brand manager over at Independent Truck Company. Once again, I didn’t quite recognize him at first, as it’s been a solid ten years (or so) since we last spoke in person. Thankfully, he didn’t recognize me at first, either, so I didn’t feel quite so bad about it. And Keith is a really mellow, low-key, humble, friendly fellow, so he’s definitely not the type of guy to get easily offended by my random shitheadedness.
Talking trucks with Keith is always a real treat. I still remember the first time we did it, nearly ten years ago; my, how the good times fly, don’t they? And I’m a total Indy Pride guy, anyway, so we sort of share that in common right off the bat; there we go with the unabashed biases all over again. But Keith is also a super-sharp engineering and marketing mind, with the heart of a true skater’s skater. That means he always has a great story to tell, and some neat new ideas floating around inside that noggin of his. That’s the sort of wisdom that even Google won’t be able to help you with, because as much as Google may know, they can’t possibly know everything. Keith may be little bit under the internet radar, but he’s still one of the most important people in all of skateboarding.
Surprisingly, our discussion began with the recent re-release of the storied 101 (now marketed as the new-and-improved 109), and some recent re-engineering and re-tooling work he’s been tinkering around with for a brand new iteration of the fabled 215. I’m not sure if I can say much more than that… and even if I could, I’d probably leave it at that, just out of simple respect. But I did have to ask, just for journalism’s sakes, why they were putting so much time and energy into re-tooling such niche-market products? Surely, they don’t have the sell-through to justify all those R&D expenses; I’d have to imagine that not too many skaters are out there these days buying up bucketloads of 109’s and 215’s.
“Sometimes, you have to do things for reasons that aren’t all about the money. Sometimes, you just have to do things because they need to be done, or because they’re fun. We’re a truck company; we’re the backbone of skateboarding. So, we make all kinds of trucks for all kinds of skateboarding. That’s really important to us, regardless of what the sales may be.” That’s a really refreshing answer to hear these days. I told you guys (and gals) that Wilson’s good peeps, didn’t I…?
With that being said, Keith also gave me the sneak-peek heads-up on the next Indy release that, quite frankly, made my jaw drop and my head spin. It was something that I never, ever thought I’d hear out of Independent… but it sounded super exciting, and I can’t wait until we get the green light from Wilson to tell you guys (and gals) all about it. Might even end up being a feature article. But that’s all I’m gonna say about that.
Left: Back lip banger on the car roof. Right: all hell breaks loose for the Best Trick bailfest.
Sunday was the final cut, which led to the finals themselves. Again, the skaters were broken down into four-skater heats that skated for three minutes each, with the final runs being one skater at a time for two solid minutes. That determined who “won” and who “lost”. Of course, I have no idea who won and who lost. In my book, they’re all winners, and I refuse to see it any other way.
After the last final run had been taken, the course was quickly crowd-controlled to make way for the final event, the Best Trick Contest.
Now, most of the contest had been, up to this point, pretty smooth sailing… a study in efficiently controlled and collected chaos. But once you put $2500 on the table for winging one single trick, then all hell tends breaks loose. Watching the best trick contest was a lot like watching lemmings trip over each other in a hurried stampede to throw themselves off of the nearest cliff; it was pretty much flying boards and flying bodies everywhere, the whole time. There were heaps of impressive bails and slams, but very few landed bangers… mostly due to the every-man-for-themselves ethos resulting in about twenty skaters dropping in at a time, every time there was the slightest opportunity to do so. It seemed to me that maybe the lemmings should have been herded up, and let loose maybe ten to fifteen at a time, so that some of them could stand an icicle’s chance in hell of landing something… but that’s just me. Maybe nobody really cared about skaters actually landing tricks. Maybe the non-stop train wreck was deemed more entertaining.
The Best trick contest highlights, from www.phxam.com.
It’s now 5:28 pm, and I’m sitting in my office, smearing aloe vera all over my face and neck to stifle the persistent pain from my long weekend’s worth of sunscorching. I still don’t know what the “results” were, or who won what; I’ll swoop the results from the PhxAm website later tonight.
To be honest, none of it really matters to me. I was lucky enough to see some really great skating from a handful of tomorrow’s pros… names that I might not know just yet, but will surely know, and know well, soon enough… and hang out with some remarkable people all weekend long, living the skateboarding-journalist’s dream. For being the type of guy that doesn’t really like contests all that much, I had a super-enjoyable weekend, and got a few memorable stories out of it. Maybe that’s the best compliment I could ever give the event, right there. Thanks, Cowtown, for having me along for the ride. And thanks to Vans, Volcom, Red Bull, Thrasher, Independent, Bones, Real, Happy Hour, Pro Tec, Mob Grip, Stance, and the rest of the sponsors for supporting the fun times. See you next year.
Ivan Monteiro, First Place PHXAM 2018. Congratulations, good sir…! Video from www.phxam.com.
1: Ivan Monteiro
2: Maurice Jordan
3: Jack Olson
4: Jake Ilardi
5: Maurio McCoy
6: Vincent Milou
7: Henry Gartland
8: Giovanni Vianna
9: Lucas Alves
10: Tyson Bowerbank
11: Patrick Praman
12: Marcos Montoya
See the rest of the photos, videos, and results at www.phxam.com.