Vertical in Vegas: Kicking off the UHL
Vert skating, where did you go? You used to be the high-flying, legitimate side of “aggressive” blading — the side that wowed crowds and drew big sponsors. But you haven’t been seen anywhere around here in a minute. Sure, we watch the best in the world kill it on the IG accounts (talking about Eito and Takeshi, of course), but if you’ve paid attention you’ve noticed that vert blading names you may recognize have found new avenues to earn on their talents. Jaren and Fabiola work the All-Wheel Sports angle. Nel Martin and Marco De Santi are part of the Beatles Love show for Cirque in Vegas. And that’s how Cletus Kuhn ended up in their backyard for a day of vert blading in the good ol’ U.S. of A for the birth of UHL — USA Halfpipe League.
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The sun was just rising and traffic was already accumulating as I stumbled out of bed, worked a bagel into the toaster, ground some coffee and got my gear together for a trip to Las Vegas.
First up, drive from west Los Angeles to Pasadena to meet up with my traveling companions. A few pit stops and several hours later, and we arrived at Marco De Santi’s house were a handful of people were already congregating. Out in the backyard the full vert ram loomed intimidatingly overhead. I remember thinking “I suppose I didn’t really need to bring my blades after all.”
Throughout the afternoon more people arrived and the excitement grew. You could see the bladers getting antsy on the ramp. By now Nel and others were starting to warm up, and that’s when Marco threw a big 900 attempt — only to come up short and put his wheel through the ramp.
New necessary repair aside, it was shaping up to be a perfect day in the desert paradise of Las Vegas, complete with poolside drinks along with freshly grilled oicaña and chicken sandwiches. When everyone was fed, relaxed and ready to go, Nel explained the jam session format and judging criteria to the contestants.
The comp kicked off with a first round that was individual skaters each getting four runs, and you could watch each skater up their game from run to run. The progression was constant.
Rafael’s performance was overshadowed only by his ear to ear smile, pleasing the crowd with a slow laid out backflip. Pavel displayed a good mixture of grinds, big airs and bio spins. Dania got our attention with number of double grab airs and some grabbed back fastslides on the coping. Ernesto put his camera down to squeeze in a few runs and laced some fully-extended rocket grab spins in addition to some long, stylish grinds on the coping.
Otto Bolanos’ smooth boosts into the sky were followed brilliantly by inverted spins.
Nick showed us some changeups high on the coping and created some big excitement with what appeared to be a nine hundred misty flip. Leo’s laid back style surprised with a dexterous combination of grabs, spins and grinds. Amy gave us a fun display of handstands and airs on her quads. Dereck managed to fit in a few good runs in addition to helping with the camera. Boris laid down a few flips, spins and a very impressive 360 kind grind.
Local shredder Tony Rivituso lent a little more street style to the vert discipline and surely didn’t disappoint with his huge gap off the side of the ramp out over the fence and into the street. We wish his heels a speedy recovery.
After a break the doubles competition got underway and here we got to see the hosts Marco and Nel show us their veteran status. It was just an amazing display or coordination and skill, working together to provide difficult tricks in tandem rhythm.
Otto and Rafael were wonderful to watch in their contrasting colors with perfectly timed airs and razor close inverted spins above and below each other. Amy and Dania teamed up for doubles, and in addition to some synchronized airs, they used a tag team approach which perhaps was a first at doubles competition.
Once the doubles competition concluded a number of non-competitors enjoyed some time on the vert ramp, Marco and Nel showed us some more incredibly consistent and floaty airs, and then a best trick jam session started going down.
It was a non-traditional best comp where the riders would throw their best trick and receive cash on the spot from Gadgik. After it died down a little, Colin decided to jump from the vert ramp deck into the pool, which received the official best trick status.
Prizes were then set out on the ramp and and Miguel hosted the awards. Though he insisted that everyone won because we are all in it together, he still read off the list of the competitors’ final standing and introduced them to receive their prizes.
1st: Rafael Lima
2nd: Otto Bolanos
3rd: Pavel Mitrenga
4th: Ernesto Borges
5th: Boris Grozev, Leo Riot
6th: Nick Calderon
7th: Dania Amman
8th: Tony Rivutoso
9th: Dereck Duarte
10th: Amy West
After the awards people slowly dispersed and there was talk of going out for dinner. Of course before heading out we sat around for a while in typical blader fashion, but eventually we met up with all the winners, accompanied by Nel, Marco, Jon and Rick, and enjoyed a satiating sushi dinner. By the time we finished dinner it was midnight. Some went out on the town to taste the Vegas night life, but we hit the road and headed home.
By the time we got to my house, it was just a few minutes after I’d woken up 24 hours earlier.
This was the first time I had a chance to see a vert competition in person.
The skating was world class.
The crowd was a lot of fun.
The day was a dreamy rhythm of blades on the ramp, interrupted only by the peaceful silence of hang time complemented with cheers against the backdrop of a palm tree skyline. I have to say it was absolutely incredible.
Many thanks to Marco De Santi and Nel Martin for hosting the event.
Thanks to the sponsors that helped to make it happen: Gadgik, Paul Mitchell, Keeper Energy Drink, Reverse Skates, Razors Skates.
Words and Photos by Cletus Kuhn
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When and where will the next UHL comp be held?? We’re skating vert in South Florida ..c’mon down; it’s nice and warm all year ’round!