When skateboarder Nyjah Huston rolls into Tokyo this weekend, he’ll be focused on winning the first Olympic medal presented in skateboarding. When he rolls out, he’ll be focused on Salt Lake City.
The first Street League Skateboarding Championship Tour event of the 2021 season is scheduled to take place Aug. 27-28 at a new, permanent street-skating park that is being built at the Utah State Fairpark next to the Vans Skatepark. Huston — the six-time and defending SLS champion — and many other Olympians are expected to compete after wrapping up their events next Saturday and Sunday.
“We expect all of them to be there,” Joe Carr, the CEO of SLS’s parent company, Thrill One Sports, told The Salt Lake Tribune. “We have a nice bit of buffer between that competition and our event. The expectation and the timing of it all is so that people are coming back off the Olympics and kind of going right into the Street League season, which will be great for us.”
The Olympians may not even be the biggest draw to the free event.
Vans announced Monday that it will host the inaugural Tony Hawk’s Vert Alert competition inside the rodeo venue at the fairgrounds in conjunction with the SLS contest as part of a collaboration with the Utah Sports Commission. Tony Hawk’s Vert Alert is a brand new event that focuses on vert skateboarding, the big-air style Hawk is famous for. Hawk is expected to participate in a “Legends Demo” the evening of Aug. 26.
“I’m excited to follow the debut of skateboarding in the Tokyo Games with a world-class vert event in Salt Lake City, one of America’s Olympic cities,” Hawk said in a statement. “We’re going to bring some of the most talented, daredevil skaters in the world to this free, two-day vert showcase. The crowd will be blown away with our high-flying action.”
The Olympics will award medals in two skateboarding disciplines in Tokyo. One is street, in which competitors are awarded for their creativity and difficulty of tricks while riding around a course that’s reminiscent of a city center, complete with stairs, railings, ramps and benches. The other is park, in which the course is a series of interlinking bowls with a few boxes placed on the perimeter and a concrete island in the middle.
Hawk, who will be a skateboarding correspondent for NBC during the Games, has said vert deserves to be included in Paris 2024, when the sport will also be part of the Olympic program. One of the reasons it wasn’t included in Tokyo, he believes, is because previously the only major vert competition was the X Games.
“We just need more quality vert-skating competitions,” he recently told Inside Hook. “We need to invite the best skaters and host a structured format with elements of the fun kind of chaos that comes with a best trick event and different categories for the skaters — masters, legends, pros.”
Along that vein, the popularity of the SLS tour has been credited as being a major driving force behind skateboarding’s inclusion in the Olympics. Founded by professional skateboarder and entrepreneur Rob Dyrdek in 2010, it created a pathway to becoming a pro contest skateboarder. With $200,000 payouts to its champions in its early years, it was instrumental in making Huston the highest paid skateboarder in history.
In 2018, SLS partnered with World Skate, the official international governing body of skateboarding, to have the street world tour and 2018 and 2019 championships sanctioned as events that count toward Olympic qualifying. Those events, among others, served to rank athletes for selection into the Olympics.
The SLS World Tour was canceled in 2020 because of the threat of the coronavirus. The Salt Lake City event will be the tour’s first since Huston was crowned champion in 2019. The event will be held in a new, permanent park being built by California Skateparks, which also designs the temporary parks used in the SLS tour.
Some fans and skateboarders will be happy to see the SLS tour break away from the restrictions and pressure it put on athletes while filling the role of Olympic qualifier.
“I think a big piece of our relaunch is, like, we’re actually going back to old-school SLS, which the fans loved and were passionate about,” Carr said. “And we’re kind of bringing back that old allure and old formats and kind of the highest-profile skaters and the biggest names and the entertainment value that maybe was lost a little bit the last few years when it became more about the process of qualification and less about entertainment and fun.”
Pro skateboarder Dashawn Jordan, who won X Games gold in street on Saturday, is among those who are ready for the tour to return to its old self. The Chandler, Arizona, athlete is on the USA Skateboarding national team and came within a trick of going to Tokyo. He said even though the Street League tour has traditionally used its earlier events to filter athletes into its championship — just as Salt Lake City and Miami (Oct. 29-30) will be qualifiers for the final in Jacksonville, Florida (Nov. 13-14) — the SLS tour felt more stifled when the Olympics were on the line.
“The format was the same. Nothing was too foreign. But it was just the fact that, like, you know, ‘OK, these points carry over and it’s a point system now,’” he said. “All the other special things in Street League were kind of suppressed because they have to follow the rules of the Olympics.”
Once he gets to Salt Lake City, though, Jordan feels he’ll be able to let loose and showcase his creative and competitive sides. He said he thrives on the collaboration among the contestants and he’ll be ready to skate both with and against Huston.
“‘It was like, ‘Yo, let’s go! Let’s get it!’” he said of his reaction to the news the tour is back. “Like finally a contest where it’s just pure fun with the homies and, you know, we’re skating hard and the environment’s awesome.”
Though entry to both the SLS and Vert Alert events is free, VIP tickets will go on sale starting July 26 at streetleague.com/tickets.