A shadow of things to come
Two questions hover like a haze over each Street League Skateboarding event, and the competitive series as a whole:
1. Will reality television star/pro skater/entrepreneur Rob Dyrdek be able to permanently shift the skateboarding contest paradigm?
2. Can anyone stop Nyjah Huston?
The answer to the Rob Dyrdek question is a confident: Yes.
Street League's announcement in March that it had signed a multiyear partnership with ESPN -- and SLS would, going forward, be presented under the X Games umbrella -- was surely a vindicating victory for Mr. Dyrdek, who has staked much in the way of private wealth and political capital in order make this new kind of skateboarding contest a viable reality.
With the league now transformed into a six-stop global series, the ISX scoring system, lavish cash prizes, exclusive contracts and other distinctive SLS elements are going to be part of the skateboarding cultural landscape for some time to come.
Even the most hardened nostalgia-addict who harbors some quirky theory that great skateboarding began and ended with Dogtown/EMB/Love Park would be hard pressed to deny that Dyrdek is a visionary.
To paraphrase Samuel Johnson: He who is bored with skateboarding is bored with life.
THE HUNGER GAMES
But when it comes to the second, more delicate, thornier question regarding Huston's almost-embarrassing ability to dominate the competitive field -- and what to do about it -- the answers are a little murkier. Thus far in 2013, the 18-year-old defending champion Nyjah Huston has, as usual, been doing his thing.
And by "doing his thing," I mean he has been winning skateboarding contests at an unprecedented clip. He has had a flawless X Games season winning its first stop in Brazil and besting Paul Rodriguez in Barcelona during a closely-fought battle. With an expression of eerie imperturbability and ruthless efficiency, he currently leads the league in points.
Notice any themes developing here?
Perhaps the new lower/longer ledges in the Kansas City "impact section" are an attempt to slightly dull Huston's competitive edge. Not that, historically speaking, it has proved to be a very profitable exercise.
"I appreciate a great battle," Paul Rodriguez, ever gracious, told SLS announcers Brandon Graham and Felix Arguelles on Saturday during Street League's preliminary live webcast broadcast from the Sprint Center arena in downtown Kansas City.
"It is really hard," added Huston, correcting fans who may mistakenly assume he is an oasis of calm during the pitched skate battles. "Bottom line: I'm really nervous."
But, just like skating the long ledges on the Kansas City course, making predictions about Street League is always a little risky. It's perhaps not "anyone's game" but there are always credible contenders.
Shane O' Neil might thrive on a course that encourages finer-grained technical display. Luan Oliveria, who currently holds the highest single trick of the season (HST), is another gifted technician. Sean Malto, the hometown favorite, is no stranger to Street League's upper echelons. And Paul Rodriguez, who was within a hair's breadth of victory in Barcelona, could be ready to pull the trigger.
But in the end, it always seems as if Huston alone has the ability to deliver the final coup de grâce.
SHECKLER NOT IN KANSAS ANYMORE
One skater who poses no threat in Kansas City is Ryan Sheckler, who injured his ankle during last month's X Games in Barcelona and remains in California as the action unfolds in Missouri.
During a phone call he offered his thoughts:
"I think [joining X Games] gives Street League a bigger name. It just brings a lot more people. The format is good. I've just got to learn it," Sheckler said with a laugh.
"I miss some of the transition features that used to be in the X Games. Other than that this is the future," he said. "You have to land the gnarliest tricks, basically, first try. But I think it makes better skateboarders."
It would, of course, be painful not to be in the thick of things.
"Absolutely, I am going to watch it on TV," he said. "I love it. It's just a little bit difficult to not be with all my best friends and the people I look up to who skate. Realistically, hopefully I'll be competing in Germany's X Games."
As for Kansas, he sent his special regards to Sean Malto.
"I hope Malto kills it, man," he said. "I love that. You feel that energy from your hometown. It's always a treat if you can win in your hometown."