..but it’s a step in the right direction.
Last year, Nitro Circus announced their latest venture, Nitro World Games, a three-hour extreme sports extravaganza that will take place at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City, Utah on July 16 and will be shown live on NBC. The official statement advised that “every athlete in the world will be eligible to compete” by qualifying at the Nitro Circus Academy of Excellence at Woodward West in California or Travis Pastrana’s Pastranaland in Maryland. The exciting part for rollerblading is inline best trick contest will be one of the events taking place on the 15 ramps that make up the course. It would seem that Chris Haffey and Wake Schepman’s performances on the Nitro Circus World Tour has helped gain blading an inclusion in what is sure to be a highly publicised, and watched, event.
After the initial excitement that Nitro Circus has once again stepped up to promote blading on the same platform as it does much more popular, and accepted, extreme sports subsided, it was difficult to ignore the potential pitfalls of the event and the opportunity to qualify. While it is commendable that Nitro World Games is willing to allow any skater who is of a worthy standard to compete with the likes of Chris Haffey on the Mega Ramp, the number of people who have access to such an obstacle ahead of the event is extremely limited. In fact, to the best of our knowledge, only a handful of inline skaters have ever had the opportunity to ride the one at Woodward West. It would appear that the qualifying events favour skaters already located in North America, as travelling to the them from Europe and other parts of the world would be extremely costly, thus limiting the playing field even more. This is unfortunate as recent event series like Fise have proven that Europe has some of the best ramp skaters in the world.
Fast forward to July and it would seem that the initial Nitro World Games press release was not entirely accurate. Ahead of the adrenaline-filled acrobatics contest that is due to ensue on Saturday night, another official press release has surfaced with conflicting information. It turns out that the athletes who will perform in the inline event did not earn the right by qualifying at one of the aforementioned events, but were instead selected. The five skaters doing battle at the event will consist of Chris Haffey, Wake Schepman (whose name they criminally spelled incorrectly on the official website), Roman Abrate, Dave Lang and CJ Wellsmore. There is no question that this is indeed a stellar line-up that will no doubt leave the Salt Lake City crowd stunned with awe, but the limitations of a five-man contest did set the message boards alight with furore regarding suitable athletes who were left out of the process. Many well-known bladers took to social networking sites to voice their frustration at the exclusion of French blading sensation and proven Mega Ramp destroyer Julien Cudot. Many felt, especially considering his recent heroics at Winterclash, that he would have made a valuable addition to the line-up and would certainly provide an eye-opening insight into absolute insanity that is possible on inline skates.
The event itself also raises many questions, but an important one to consider – is this how we, as a culture, want rollerblading to be presented to the general public? A best trick contest on a a massive obstacle will undoubtedly be entertaining and offers a possibility of once again pushing the boundaries of the sport, but it gives a slightly inaccurate impression of what blading is to budding participants. After all, it will be a spectacle, a novelty event, performed by the top 5% of elite ramp skaters in the world. It doesn’t really help with the idea of making blading more accessible because what they are doing is terrifying and will only appeal, on a practical level, to people who either have incredible confidence in their own ability or are a little bit mental. No parent in their right mind is going to buy their child a pair of skates if they believe that this is the kind of thing they aspire to performing. I first encountered blading via NISS events and it was always the street contest, as opposed to the vert contest, that held the most appeal because jumping, grinding and linking lines looked like something that was within my reach if I practised hard enough. Lofting viking flips like Rene Hulgreen or massive backflips like Cesar Mora was visually stunning, but it was my idea of pure lunacy…and something I would never even consider.
Since rollerblading was expelled from the X Games we have barely had any television exposure, which was a huge recruiting tool that contributed to the boom of rollerblading in the 1990s. There was a time when you could watch NISS, ASA, 3B, MTV Sports Festival, Lausanne and Bercy and see the likes of Aaron Feinberg, Jon Julio and Randy Spizer running riot on the street course but those days are long gone. The fact that Nitro World Games will be shown on NBC means that, once again, rollerblading will be appearing on televisions throughout the world and this can only be a good thing. Our sport needs more children to get involved to keep the money coming in and expand the pool of talent, and kids love to watch television, so hopefully the maths will work in our favour.
There are obvious pros and cons to the Nitro Games and the type of exposure it may generate for our precious culture that we have worked exceptionally hard to cultivate in the face of adversity in recent years. Of course the format has it flaws, every competition series does, because there is no such thing as a perfect contest. However, it definitely seems like a step in the right direction if we want to gain any form of mainstream acceptance, no matter how minute or wide-scale that may be. Some people will embrace these shifts in the perception of what we do, some will resent the possibility that blading may grow beyond the limited sphere of core enthusiasts. I for one am willing to keep an open mind and wait to see what happens as a result of this interesting marketing opportunity. After all, I would like to see an epic Red Bull project featuring CJ Wellsmore or a Fuel TV miniseries documenting Dave Lang’s life, or even some inclusion of rollerblading back on the Extreme Sports Channel. If Sky Sports can justify weekly shows featuring fishing and German truck racing, surely there must be hope for us to tap into a similarly niche demographic of television viewers?
The question is not whether rollerblading is ready for another stab at pop culture acceptance; it is whether we will hold on to what keeps our sport unique and fascinating or repeat the same mistakes our predecessors made in the ‘90s. Will we once again allow ourselves to be diluted by skaters desperate to make easy money with endorsement deals from the likes of Levi’s, Gap or Fila, or will we find a way to harness that corporate power to engage with even more potential bladers across the world? Either way, even if it only lines a couple of skaters’ pockets with enough cash to keep them going, it’s a start.
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