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Like the Chevy Sonic, Street League Pro Skateboarders exude creative flair, technical expertise and full-out fun
 

By Jason Avant

Like a lot of guys my age, I look back with fondness on the days when I’d cruise down the street on my bashed-up skateboard, busting ollies and grinds, getting yelled at by the neighbors or being chased by the cops. And like a lot of guys my age, I shake my head in disbelief—I was able to do that stuff without killing myself?

Here’s something that most people who don’t skate don’t get: Skateboarders are athletes. I don’t say this because I used to be able to do a few of the things that the guys on the Street League Pro Skateboarding Tour do. I say this because I surf, play rugby and occasionally go rock climbing. All of these sports require strength, stamina, coordination and sheer courage. Don’t let the fashion choices fool you: Pro skaters are the most unlikely of jocks, redefining what it means to be an athlete, in their own way training as hard as NBA or NFL stars. True, their regimen doesn’t involve taking Lebron James to the hole, or trying to avoid a James Harrison sack. On the flip side, there’s the ever-present reality of broken bones and faceplants on concrete. As pro skater Chris Cole told me, “Skateboarding is the most unique sport. It blends creativity, planning, expert skill, pain tolerance and courage. These aren’t stars raised to be this. They’re people who loved skating and focused hard…for the thrill of it, not for money.”

Street League Skateboarding is an exciting variation of traditional skate competitions. In 2010, skate industry veteran Rob Dyrdek launched the Street League, looking to form a competition that would honor skateboarding’s urban roots while at the same time incorporating the latest in skate park design and technology. Dyrdek recently kick-flipped the Chevy Sonic(part of Chevrolet’s “Here’s to Firsts” campaign).

Eschewing the halfpipes familiar to many casual skate contest viewers, Street League skaters compete on courses designed to replicate cityscapes. A Street League course comes complete with stairs, ramps and rails; skaters work each section of the course, performing increasingly difficult tricks while judges look on and keep score.

The format has proven to be extremely successful, drawing top pro skaters, thousands of viewers, top-level sponsors (including Chevy, which is sponsoring this year’s championship event) and ESPN. According to the website Krush.com, the series drew 315 hours of television coverage in 2011. Street League has also proven adept at leveraging social media to build an audience; in 2011, between the profiles of all of the league’s skaters, as well as sponsors and the SLS itself, Street League Skateboarding had a reach of some 41 million people. And just like other pro athletes, Street League skaters are well paid: The winner of this year’s championship will take home $200,000 in prize money. And the rest of the skaters in the league benefit from revenue sharing, something that’s unique in the world of action sports. Not bad for a bunch of kids in skinny jeans and reversed baseball caps.

This year’s championship was held in Newark, New Jersey, over the weekend of August 25. Among the skaters who participated: 2011 SLS champion and 2009 Transworld Skateboarding’s Rookie of the Year Sean Malto; last year’s X Games Street Skating gold medalist, 17-year-old Nyjah Huston, and 30-year-old Chris Cole, who is also a dad. I asked Chris if he has hopes that someday his son will follow in his footsteps and become a pro skater. “I would love for him to skate; I want him to just be physical and enjoy challenging physical activity. As far as pro, it’s cool—but he wants to go to Mars and be an astronaut. I think that’s marvelous.” And who knows? Maybe we’ll watch him in 2030, doing low-gravity tricks on the red planet. This year, though, youth won out: Nyjah Huston dazzled the judges and the crowd, winning the championship and the $200,000 grand prize.

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Jason Avant is the founder and managing editor of DadCentric.com.