Blader Digest: Oakland Blade Jam (Or Why You Should Help Your Skate Park)

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: there’s nothing quite like getting all of the homies together.

Brian “BFree” Freeman put together one hell of a contest last weekend in lovely Oakland, Calif., the current home of skaters like Mr. Freeman, himself, Chris Dafick, Erik Stokely, Matty Schrock, Sean Salazar, Yeeter D., Kennan Scott, and generations of hometown bladers ranging from grey hairs to offspring too young to realize they’re bladers yet.

And, of course, mother fucking Steve Gasstation…

The talent who came out to this first-time contest could be given a month and churn out the best video you’ll see this year. As far as I know, this is not happening quite yet.

Instead, they were given three hours on a warm California day to blade their best in a neighborhood skate park started by a nostalgic art teacher and fixed by some nine-to-fivers with itchy livers.

Enigmatic skaters like Sean Keane, Kevin Yee, Korey Waikiki, Erik Rodriguez, Michael Braud, Jon Julio, David Sizemore, Chris Smith, Jon Vossoughi, Tad Treagle, Hayden Ball, Carson Starnes, Blade or Die’s resident Chef in Chief Michael Obedoza, and others skated Town Park like a 1998 X-Games course, but with the style, finesse, and magnitude blading has found in itself since then.

After Saturday, no self-respecting rollerblader can enter that park and not reminisce about best-trick-winning Boss Voss Hog’s fishbrain stall on top of nothing but splinters…

…or Victor’s sweaty up on the tennis court walls…

…or Sizemore’s mockery of what we used to think was hard there. There is, of course, the trick in question: outspin 270 royale, which only involved pushing out and away from a 10 plus-foot vert wall and spinning blindly away from a hubba ledge that’s meant to separate handball courts.

Out of all the tricks we tried to predict, we never saw Voss or this coming…

I could go on and on about Sizemore’s skating and how the aforementioned trick challenged my knowledge of physics, but if you’ve been reading this drunken gibberish long enough, you can recall my Sizemore fandom after his WRS edit (I happily declared him The People’s Champ), so there’s no reason to say more than this: my reaction to witnessing the glory of the whole contest unfold before my two eyes consisted of nothing but sins violating the Second Commandment.

But much like all skating contests, there was skating and none of my words could adequately describe the athletic talent displayed during it. You can make you own assessments by watching the edits as they come.

You can watch the one from Ivan Narez…

…or from Justin Eisinger from ONE, who traveled the eight-odd hours from San Diego with his wife Jen to attend…

No, the real spirit behind the Oakland Blade Jam was the effort to make it happen. That smooth-talking sweetheart BFree mustered up collateral from inside and outside the blading community to turn it into something worth attending.

Town Park was a notorious haven for shaky ramps, expose screw heads, and edges of chunked concrete, sunken coping, or shin-slicing angle iron.

It was started by a high school art teacher we all know as K-Dub. He saw the need for a skate park in the neighborhood and got the spot from the city, who highly doubted the project would proceed. In a heart-felt introduction to the contest, K-Dub said the contest was an obvious testament more than a little something with his project was working and more things like the Oakland Blade Jam needed to happen in Oakland.

Not bad for a bunch of rollerbladers drinking Four Lokos from a shopping cart on a nice June Saturday in California.

But long before Saturday, our weekly Wednesday night blading sessions turned into building sessions. From adding supports to patching holes, hard-working, day-job-having bladers like Omar Ontiveros, Mike Currier (yes, that Mike Currier), and others dropped everything to pick up a power tool.

It should be noted that third place-taking Michael Braud showed up Saturday morning, built ramps, kicked ass, shredded that afternoon, and took third, proving that, yes kids, karma sometimes works out.

Then again, there’s only so much preparation you can do before the real day comes and it’s time to put in work for the crowd.

The Oakland Blade Jam wouldn’t have been the same without its voice, Kennan Scott.

Kennan MCs lots of contests—including the Blade Cup and the Panhandle Pow-wow—but you could tell he was in with all of his politically incorrect energy that Oakland is the city he’s raising a son in.

I know he’s never had a pro skate, but I’d argue like Atticus Finch that he deserves a spot in the Blading Hall of Fame (And thanks to everyone a part of that project. It’s not only honoring those who served our sport so well, but also an important history lesson for our youngest crowd.)

The second his mic was turned on and put on full volume, Kennan called out like a pirate radio station DJ to all who could hear him to come together and celebrate something in their neighborhood.

That thing, the uniting factor for all of this, was that weird thing we collectively know as rollerblading.

I’ve spent some time in that neighborhood, the same as all the infamous Shredweiser guys live in, and, in case you don’t know, West Oakland isn’t the idealistic wonderland for a kid to grow up.

I grew up in a neighborhood with nothing to fear except for Mom’s reaction when I came home with yet another ruined pair of jeans. The best we had to skate was a roller rink but we worked with the owners to get ramps and Hot Rails.

West Oakland is filled with kids who could use something to focus their energy on before it gets them into trouble they can’t get out of. Town Park is one place they can do that and that could make a life’s difference for a lot of people.

Building and maintain something like that, under the guise of a rollerblading contest, makes it all the better reason to help make the next year’s contest even better. I’ll put in a few hours swinging a hammer for that.

The neighborhood is getting some legs and it’s going places, but large public events like the Oakland Blade Jam don’t happen there regularly. At least not the kind that make people fly from the other side of the country.

The contest was actually quite an anomaly. But since that’s what blading has become since the hey-day Barely Dead claimed we were walking into, it was a larger thing to be a part of than I’m afraid I’m incapable of fully stating.

It was as “grassroots” or “organic” or whatever catch phrase people use to pervert a pure idea through the political process of bureaucratic bullshit that prevents more people from creating something like Town Park.

If you want to know what’s good in your community, ask the guys in Oakland who are at their best when shit’s at its worst…

BFree did Town Park, West Oakland, and rollerblading a favor by stepping up and getting things together. He rallied the right sponsors and people with tools and vehicles to make everything come together for a damn fine day of watching some quality skating on ramps that would have splintered to pieces if not for his influence.  And I can’t agree more with one of the reasons he did it.

“Since we lost a big US contest (Bitter Cold), figure we might as well replace one where we lost one,” he told Eisinger in an interview earlier this month.

I’ll miss my yearly trip to Detroit as much as anyone else so it’s great to give bladers another reason to hop in the car or shuffle through the cattle-call of airline travel and come have a few too many beers with friends, whether you know them or not yet.

This weekend, there’s a skateboard contest at Town Park. They’ll be putting down a fresh coat of blacktop to make the falls a little bit more manageable. After that, K-Dub is moving forward to built a concrete park—with help and money from people who see the worth in it.

If you missed the Oakland Blade Jam this year, you should come out for the next one. BFree would love to have ya’ over.

Until then, come visit us here in the Bay at the end of next month. Valo’s throwing the premiere for V and you shouldn’t miss it. If you need new skates and you want to come, buy a new pair of the VX Broskow’s and Julio and the gang could fly you out and pay for you to have a good time.

Since I’m dumb lucky enough to skate by the theater on my way to work, I know I’ll be enjoying myself with a few friends.

It’s going to be just like the Oakland Blade Jam except for in a San Francisco neighborhood known for its burritos, bars with strong drinks, and human feces  on the sidewalk.

This time, though, the rollerblading with not be live. It will be televised.

Blade or Die,

— Brian Krans

P.S. — When not writing about rollerblading or how your body is trying to kill you, I also write books. You should buy them, if you haven’t already. They both have over four out of five stars on Goodreads, so you can be rest assured you’ll most likely get your $17 worth out of them.

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