Blading Cup in the spring? You read that right. A dozen years of November gatherings birthed an April event that sprung up like the wild daffodils that surround my yard. Jon Julio & Co. brought together like-minded athletes that were ready to shred on the mini-ramp and street course, fielding a roster of talent that spanned generations and continents. With something like 40+ paid sponsors and four full days of events, programming, and showcasing roller sports from a position of grassroots strength, the Blading Cup Spring Edition was more than a fling, it was a full fledged reimagining of wheel sport community.
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Considering that rollerskating is the cornerstone on which most modern action sports are based, there’s already a long history of skateboarding, BMX, and other disciplines teaming up with quad skaters to entertain crowds at events. But this isn’t the ’70s, ‘80s, or even the hot pink ’90s. Nope. In 2022, it was the close relationships between Them Skates affiliated folks and the wonderful people at Moxi Roller-skates that brought together an organic mingling of the wheeled variety. As anyone that attended the 4-days of programming experienced for themselves, this was a large and diverse mix of individuals that was unlike any previous Blading Cup crowd.
Once upon a time, Blading Cup was two days — Saturday and Sunday. Then, as the event grew and more international competitors made the voyage, things expanded to Friday–Sunday for three days of blade-related shenanigans. But those days are gone. For Spring 2022 Blading Cup ballooned to four full days of mini-ramp and street course programming, plus nighttime actives ranging from the ever-anticipated blade film festivals to rooftop parties hosted by Arlo Eisenberg. Of course everything revolved around a central core located at the Them Skates storefront, a bustling hub of activity that has turned once sleepy downtown Santa Ana into one of the foremost blade retail locations in the world.
In addition to all the great and extra Blading Cup action, the addition of a full-size and totally incredible mini-ramp brought a whole new level of visibility and recognizability to the event that the pedestrian public seemed to notice. To the average citizen, tricks on a rail seems kind of crazy, but cruising a ramp is a universally understood discipline thanks to our friend Mr. Tony Hawk. So any stranger walking by the Yost Theater or grabbing a slice of pizza at Loosey’s could have seem bodies riding the ramp and known that something skate-related was going down. It was a cool milestone.
We already mentioned the new faces, but did we talk about the vibes? They were high and happy, with the mixing of communities bringing the fresh energy that makes sparks fly. From new sponsors coming together to force multiply their efforts and quad skaters cheering on the bladers and vice versa, an optimistic read of things casts the event as an overwhelming success that is sure to herald similar events in the future. Let’s hope that both quad and blade networks can continue to cooperate on events.
Newcomers and young talent were a huge part of the Blading Cup energy this year, and the presence of so many people just starting their voyage on wheeled shoes brought their potential to everyone’s attention. It was really exciting to watch the young women like Byeolhui Choi and Seoa Jang, plus legions of beginner quad skaters, skate to loud, enthusiastic cheers from crowds of veteran skaters and the general public. A good event isn’t just a contest where skaters are judged against eachoether, it’s a true celebration of the culture that surrounds each community. Blading Cup Spring Fling caught that in ways most blade events never do.
Everyone knows a lot of women are really into rollerskating, but this years’s event brought female bladers from all across the globe, with skaters like Emi Parejo, Mery Munoz, Daniela Salgado and more together to put on one of the most impressive displays of women’s street skating this author has seen in a long time. Watching Emi take some hard falls on the down rail but jump back up for another try, and Seoa Jang going for the AO Topsoul down the start box were truly inspiring moments.
No Blading Cup is complete without the pros ripping the course from top to bottom. This year’s set up was custom designed to showcase the technicality of contemporary blading, and it worked to let some of the biggest names in street skating shine. Also in place was a new rule that promised automatic disqualification to anyone that launched from a quarter pipe out of the street course. No doubt this was partly done for safety, since landing blind in the busy streets of Santa Ana is not a good idea for anyone on any day, but this new rule had another intended outcome: it kept the event from turning into a huck fest.
No thank you, this course was made to force a down rail or box move, plus a hit on the ground rails for something spicy, and the hallmark quarter-to-quarter channel gap with sub box. This limited but thoughtful mix of obstacles provided a number of opportunities for interpretation, and at the end of the day that variety unlocked the chance for a new class of bladers to earn their place on the podium.
Like any event worth its weight in water bottles or overstuffed backpacks, the spring Blading Cup brought a sea of smiles, some of which were attached to old friends and notable personalities from blading’s past. A few highlights at the ONE booth involved posting up next to Sayer and Eric at the Anew booth, and when Wes and Justin reunited with Jan Welch and Chris Peel for a taste of the Rat-Tail heyday, then on Sunday when Ryan Schude and Dan Busta spontaneously appeared at the booth moments before Jess Dyrenforth brought Pat Parnell over and he had another mini-reunion with Louie Zamora. We did a fun interview with Arlo for Drug Receipts, got a moment to catch up with Becci Sotello, had a great conversation with Drew Bachrach and Matt Mickey, plus got to connect with all the San Diego friends we don’t see as much these days. Go to Blading Cup to support blading, come back again and again for everything you can’t plan. It’s the glue that holds us all together.
Going into Sunday, would anyone have predicted that Michael Witzemann was going to win Blading Cup? Or that Tomek Przybylik would best Nils for second? Like we mentioned above, the course at Blading Cup was tight and technical, its setup unforgiving for bad pumps, loose landings, and the angles too tight for most mortal skaters to catch too much air. But between Sean Kelso, Nils and Michael putting on a technical demo for the crowd, and Diako Diaby and CJ Wellsmore uncorking huge transfers over the channel gap, plus all the smooth airs and technical combos that took place in the minicamp, Blading Cup showed a great cross-section of how skaters can use their tools to enjoy their terrain.
For a long time, our community has concerned itself only with the best or most visibility talented, risk-adverse athletes. Seemingly every move of every company for 25+ years has been with the elite skater in mind. Picture the ad clip or photo of a huge drop rail trick or giant gap. Sure, it looks cool to you and me, but is that something we truly aspire to do ourselves? Will we be part of the limited numbers of skaters that elevate to the rarified air where tricks of that magnitude are possible? Do we want to? Does the public?
In short: no. That’s not a hypothesis, just look at the facts of the past few decades. But what the Blading Cup team did with the Spring Fling proved that by turning focus from the most elite and putting emphasis on those new and aspiring participants can create the grassroots groundswell that rollerblading needs to create organic, sustainable growth similar to mountain biking or surfing. It’s doubtful there will ever be as many bladers as surfers, but creating a culture in which it’s okay for the curious to explore and easily access support networks and cheering friends is a great step in the right direction. Blading Cup’s spring event did that and provided the astute observer with a roadmap to event success.
Photos by Drew Humphrey