- Alyssa Roenigk, ESPN The Magazine senior writer
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At the first stop of 2010's Street League Skateboarding tour, 15-year-old Nyjah Huston clinched the $150,000 first-place prize on his final trick. At the second event, 21-year-old Sean Malto celebrated his birthday with a last-trick win over Chaz Ortiz. And at the final stop in Las Vegas, rookie pro Shane O'Neill did the same by riding out of a backside lipslide after leader Chris Cole fell on his final attempt of the day.
"The most exciting thing about last season was the true buzzer-beater moments created by the trick-for-trick scoring," says Street League founder Rob Dyrdek. "It was excitement we've never seen in skateboarding and it was pure to sports. The stakes are high, you don't know who's going to win until the absolute end and there is a true story arc. Not to mention the excitement of watching a 15-year-old kid take a $150,000 check."
This season, which kicks off May 7-8 at Key Arena in Seattle and boasts a $1.6 million prize purse, Dyrdek wanted more of that excitement, more buzzer-beater moments throughout the competition. So instead of six riders competing in finals, there will be 10, who qualify through a Saturday qualifier that will now be open to the public and webcast live. (Tickets for qualifiers and finals go on sale April 1.) During the Sunday finals -- which will air live on ESPN or ESPN2 -- riders will compete in three sections, with the two riders with the lowest scores after each section being eliminated from the competition.
In theory, that will create the same down-to-the-last-trick excitement at each section, leaving only six riders to compete in the final section at each event. "Having three sets of obstacles in three sections [instead one obstacle in four sections, like last year] will pace the contest differently and give it more variety," Dyrdek says. "With the elimination, guys will have to skate more desperately in each section and try harder stuff to stay alive. With one trick to go, we might have four guys with a shot to move on and only two spots. It's incredibly exciting."
Also new this year, the 2011 Street League champion will be crowned at a one-day winner-takes-all championship instead of winning the title based on overall points accrued at the first three stops of the tour (May 7-8 in Seattle, June 11-12 in Kansas City and July 16-17 in Glendale, Ariz.). At the championship event, which will be held Aug. 28 at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., 10 riders will compete for a $200,000 prize -- the biggest in skateboarding history -- and a Street League championship ring and watch. Winners at the first three stops will qualify directly into the championship and the final seven spots will be determined by overall ranking.
"Last year, our champion [Huston] was awarded relatively without notice," Dyrdek says. "There wasn't much of a story, so I explored how tours traditionally award champions. I wanted to create a Super Bowl of skateboarding, a one-day championship with incredibly high stakes that gives these guys a reason to work hard to get there."
Each stop will also feature autograph signings by all of the competitors and a fan experience both outside and inside the arena. "We wanted to make the event even more special than last year, " says Anton Nistl, president of DC, the title sponsor of the event. "We want fans to have a kind of interaction they wouldn't get at an NBA or NFL game. It doesn't seem like most pro leagues are concerned with added value for the fans. Prices of tickets are going up, leagues are threatening to go on strike. Skateboarding is our heritage and our future and we want to give the best possible experience to the loyal consumers who are making a pilgrimage to see the top skaters in the world."
Unlike last year, Street League competitors will no longer be afforded a wildcard to compete in other events like the Dew Tour or Maloof Money Cup. (With one exception: Paul Rodriguez is contractually obligated by Mountain Dew to compete in the Dew Tour.) They will, however, be allowed to compete in the Tampa Pro and the X Games, the two Street League sanctioned events. That should create an even higher level of competition, considering these 24 skaters have fewer opportunities to compete throughout the summer and fall. Last summer, outside of Street League, the best skaters in the world were split up at the remaining contests, each choosing to use their wildcards differently. Ryan Sheckler won the X Games, Chris Cole won the NYC Maloof Cup, and Chaz Ortiz and Paul Rodriguez each won Dew Tour contests. But none of those riders won a single Street League stop.
"That just shows the cold, hard reality of how difficult it is to win when these guys are all together," Dyrdek says. "We broke the paradigm. It used to be that you were a contest skater or a street skater, and that idea was gone in one year. Now, the gnarliest guys in the street are the gnarliest dudes in Street League. There's no gap anymore."
2011 Street League season to kick off in Seattle with a $1.6 million purse prize.