SPECTATED: The Vans Pro Skate Park Series - St Kilda

We turned out to watch Ronnie Sandoval, Pedro Barros, Raven Tershy, and some guy called Chris Russell, who eventually won the $75,000 prize.

Max Olijnyk

All images by the author

All I've been hearing about for the past week was the big Vans competition at St Kilda skatepark. I've been hearing about other things, but you know what I mean. It was to be a pro competition for 'park' skaters – a clumsy description of a skateboarder who can skate anything, as opposed to 'street' or 'vert'. This style of skating has always been around (someone like John Cardiel is perhaps the epitome of it) but has only recently become cool again. This is a good thing, because just being a street skater or a vert skater is sort of boring and limited, especially considering the volume of skateparks around these days. Hence, the Vans Pro Skate Park Series. As far as I can tell, the idea behind this competition series was to hit the sweet spot in between Street League and Bowl-a-rama, with a series of competitions held in 'transitional concrete closed courses from five to nine feet in depth'. There will be five stops on the series over the next couple of months, with the finals to be held on a purpose-built course in Malmö, Sweden. The first, however, was at St. Kilda skatepark.

READ: Behind the Scenes With Njyah Huston, Chris Cole, and More at the Tampa Pro

I don't often make the trek over to St. Kilda; it's just not my side of town. It's all beachy and expensive, and I always feel like I'm about to get into a fight. I'm sure it's a great place to live and everything, but it's not for me. They do have a nice skatepark right on the beach, however, which even hardened northsiders like myself will visit on occasion – especially if a lengthy list of the world's best transition skaters in the world are going to be there competing for a $75,000 first prize, and Vice are paying me nearly that much to write a story about it. So I caught the tram there.

I brought along a copy of The Saturday Paper, which proved to be a sound decision. It was the perfect tram accessory, as it provided me with both something good to read, and a feeling of smug superiority to everyone else on the tram. Haha!

I had to stop reading the paper when I changed trams in the city and met up with my friend Sam. By the time the old 96 rolled in there, we were busting for a leak. These public toilets, situated behind the popular Vineyard watering hole, were among the stinkiest I've ever encountered.

We walked to the skatepark, which had been transformed into a sort of carnival for serious young men in hats, and made our way to the 'VIP' area, where my friend Joey was awaiting our arrival. I was chatting to Chris about his team manager responsibilities when this woman came up and asked to have her picture taken with him. 'I can't believe I'm meeting Manu from My Kitchen Rules!' she gushed. Chris took it all in his stride. 'It happens all the time,' he smiled.

Once safely ensconced in the VIP area, I was thrilled to be rubbing shoulders with the who's who of Australian skateboarding. Case in point: Andrew Currie, one of the best Australian skateboarders of all time, who is also famous as an amateur bookmaker at skate competitions. When I asked him who the favourites were, he flipped his book over and told me he was only there in a media capacity. 'I'm just taking notes for a story,' he insisted menacingly.

A few moments later, we got hold of Currie's 'notes'. Pedro Barros was the odds on favourite. Joey put ten dollars on Greyson Fletcher and Ronnie Sandoval.

So there we were, making bets, decanting cans of beer into Independent Trucks drink bottles, having a gay old time while no one was the wiser. It was like the wild west up there in the VIP area – if the wild west was freezing. Why was it so cold?

A crazy drunk man made his way through the crowd screaming, 'Andrew Currie! Andrew Currie!' It was Gary Valentine, ex-pro skater and part owner of Globe International (a massive skate brand). He placed a large bet with Currie and made a big show of flashing his money around. 'I'd probably act like that if I was a millionaire,' said Joey. We all agreed.

This was what I had travelled all the way from Brunswick West to see. The bowl section of the skatepark had been closed off with a temporary wall, constructed by Tom Flaherty and decorated by our mate French. American commentators were saying things over a PA, TV cameras were filming, and the level of skating was bonkers.

After a couple of Independent Trucks drink bottles, it was time for me to exit the VIP area and wander around looking for a toilet. I found one at a nearby bar, where Niddy, Nick and their friend had already abandoned the VIP area and, indeed, the comp itself. 'It's much warmer here,' they said. I also noticed they were drinking their beers from actual bottles instead of Independent Trucks drink bottles. But I wasn't ready to hang up my VIP wristband just yet, so I headed back to the skatepark.

The skating continued to be amazing. I apologise for how crappy my photos are; if you want better ones, they exist elsewhere. If you look carefully here, you will spot Greyson Fletcher frontside airing. He was definitely one of the more exciting skaters to watch.

Here is the aforementioned French, surveying his handiwork. I was surprised to see him there, as he has said many times, 'I don't watch skating. I skate.' Either way, I was very glad to see him – he's a lovely man.

There's Dave Quirk. Dave is a good friend, a good skater and also a professional comedian. He dropped by for an hour or two and entertained us with his sincere excitement and wonder at what was going on. 'Did you see that Max?' he said on several occasions. Then he started going on about how he had to go home and have a sleep, because he'd been up all night. 'I really should get going,' he said, over and over again, in between getting really excited. Eventually, he left.

That's Andy Murphy, who had given French a lift to the competition. Like French, Andy is a skater and an artist, or a 'skartist', which is another terrible term that both of them probably hate. Andy made the trophies for the competition, which looked great. He was there with his young daughter Imogen, who was running around like crazy. I felt sorry for Andy, because he had a sore knee and was in obvious distress – but I didn't offer to help out.

Ronnie Sandoval looked the best out of anyone skating in the competition. He has a great style, reminiscent of skaters of old, but in a new way, if that makes sense. I think he is a great example of the new breed of skaters who seem to focus on style, speed and power over technicality. Their progression occurs through going faster, getting more control, and mastering their signature tricks. He ended up placing seventh.

My other favourite was Raven Tershy, which surprised me. I wasn't expecting to like him, because there's something about his video footage that annoys me – I think it's that he looks like a total jock. However, seeing him skate in real life was a different story. The lines and speed he was generating were amazing, to the point where he was grinding around almost three walls of the bowl (which is ridiculous). He also skated more than anyone else during the day, taking runs in between everyone else's, and seeming to be pretty happy and friendly. I suppose he didn't land all his tricks in his runs, so he was knocked out of the competition, but to me, he was the best one there. That's the thing about competitions: they're wrong.

Pedro Barros was the crowd favourite, and sure, he is an exciting skater to watch. He went higher than anyone in the competition, and mixed it up a bit in his runs, so you weren't quite sure what he was going to do. He was great. Why don't I like him? I don't know, maybe it's a lack of... subtlety in what he does? That sounds terrible, doesn't it? Look at him flailing in the air here, with his burning Thrasher griptape. He'd been making those huge airs all day and was trying to push it extra hard in the finals, but it didn't work out. He still came second. I'm sure he's really nice.

Daisuke told me he is leaving Melbourne at the end of next week, to head off on some adventures and end up back in Tokyo. This sucks for me, because Dai is incredible at acupuncture and deep tissue massage, and has been treating me for my terrible knee/legs/foot/hip condition. It also sucks because he is such a nice guy.

I spotted my young friend Tyke sitting on the rail outside the VIP area. 'Where's your wristband?' I taunted him. He told me he might be getting one, but he didn't really care, because he could see fine from where he was.

I was freezing and I needed to go to the toilet again, so I checked out the scene at the bar. There was quite a gathering there watching the finals on the small screen. It seemed odd, but I did notice that the competition, and the skating in general, seemed to make more sense to me on TV. In person, it just seemed crazy and chaotic. The TV imposed order.

The other obvious attraction of the bar was this heater. I stood next to it for a few minutes until it seemed obvious that a guy named Chris Russell had won the competition. Andrew Currie was there and he seemed happy – probably because Gary Valentine betted on someone else. When the internet connection to the live feed froze a couple of times, I came to my senses and walked back to watch the presentation and the best trick competition.

I'd never heard of Chris Russell before – or maybe I had, but I hadn't paid attention. He is one of those guys who takes everything to decker or tail, so all his tricks are punctuated by a loud bang at the end of them. He was very consistent all day, stayed on his runs and deserved to win. Even while writing this, I had to look up his name twice to remind myself of who he is.

It was getting really cold and the comp was over, so we stopped by the 7-Eleven for hot drinks and caught the tram back to civilisation. French had a coffee, and Sam and I had hot chocolates.

Max is a Melbourne writer, photographer, and skater. Follow him on Twitter

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