It’s ironic that the only spots we were kicked out of at The Windy City Riot this year were the skateparks. Perhaps the authorities were trying to remind us that the word “riot” used to mean something. On Friday, July 27th at 12:28 PM I received the unexpected message: “Northbrook Park District called and is threatening to close the park. Don’t head to the park yet. We’re likely relocating. Will send an update within an hour. Please do not respond to this text.” And within an hour I got word that we were moving the WCR park competition from the comfort and luxury of a beautiful cement park in Chicago’s affluent northwest suburbs to the urine soaked grime of the Logan Square skatepark where the noise of the crowd would be muffled beneath the never-ending rumble of traffic on Interstate 90.
Not that any of that mattered. The Windy City Riot is, and has always been, a street contest. The park event was a blast. We had fun, drank beers, talked with friends and skated, but it was all in anticipation of the main event which for the second year in row took place on Chicago’s lakefront path.
The first spot was The Slabs, a literal image of America’s crumbling infrastructure. Basically it’s a portion of the lakefront path which has collapsed into Lake Michigan, maybe due to a misguided terrorist attack or global warming-induced apocalyptic weather, but probably just due to neglect. Half of it is fenced off for public safety and the other half is not, I guess because we can’t afford any more chain-link fencing. The smashed cement has created jagged launch ramps, banks, and a submerged handrail. There’s also a really boring ledge at the top that everyone skated. Other spots included a handicap rail, a launch to rail transfer, two benches on the path that combine into a launch/ledge line, and finally a gnarly looking kink rail that most people wouldn’t consider skating on a normal day.
Forgive me, I’m not going to run through a play-by-play of what went down during the event. Written descriptions of tricks are pretty boring and, let’s face it, most of you are only reading this because it’s running alongside the pictures.
Instead I think it’s important to discuss what role street contests play in rollerblading in 2012. If an 11th annual event seems like an odd anniversary for a retrospective I will justify this by pointing out that Steve Lerner is the first rollerblader to win the WCR twice (2009 and 2012). This seems as good a milestone as a round number to consider looking back.
When Jon Julio organized the first IMYTA, he chose to hold it in San Francisco outside the walls of X-Games 6. It was a bold (though humble) move. The top bladers in the sport came together to play an illegal game of S.K.AT.E. in their natural venue. It inspired bladers from all across the country to hold their own events, and that inspiration became necessity as it coincided with the removal of rollerblading from the X-Games and the transition of ASA from the Aggressive Skaters Association competition circuit to the Action Sports Association event tour. As the national structure of rollerblading competition began to crumble, people like Drew Bachrach, Adam Gibson, Daniel Kinney, and Adam Bender began to build what would become the basis of competitive rollerblading through the next decade with events like The Chi City True Street Comp, The Eye For Eye Battle, The Bittercold Showdown, and The Mile High Battle (there were others, of course, but I’m Midwestern and don’t remember those).
These events became so commonplace that they were sometimes happening multiple times a year (Eye For Eye at its peak consisted of 3 events across multiple states and the IMYTA was international). They were important for two reasons. First, they carried us through a period of time where traditional park events were nearly non-existent. Second, and more importantly, they brought rollerbladers from large geographic areas together on a regular basis. Not only skating side-by-side, but eating together, getting lost together, partying in the hotels together, and sometimes getting arrested together. Not just your average kids on the streets; Pros, Ams, and the people who looked up to them were all standing in line at Burger Kings between skate spots across Fly-over Country. Our industry was small but it felt like the most important thing in the world because we were all there, together.
The Windy City Riot began as something of a passing of the torch. Drew Bachrach had organized The Chi City True Street Competition in 2000, which was followed by the CCTSC2 organized by Scottie Bee, Bill Berger and the Old Orland Skate House the following year. Around this time, Travis Conn and Chicago’s VFW crew were able to secure $2,000 dollars in sponsorship funds from Red Bull and organized the Windy City Riot with a significant purse in 2002 and 2003. In 2004, Collin Martin took over and it became the defining annual event in Chicago rollerblading.
The event changed too, and not only because of the shift in organizers. In its earliest form the WCR consisted of a herd of competitors cruising through Downtown Chicago from spot to spot, often chased by police. It was not uncommon to see bladers in fights with security guards or paddy wagons chasing waves of kids in front of tourists at the Rock ‘n Roll McDonald’s. Over time many of the competitors became spectators and those spectators brought friends. Eventually the “Windy City” became the general Chicagoland area, and the herd of rollerbladers was replaced by pedestrians standing around watching strangers throw themselves down stair sets between long car rides from suburb to suburb. In it’s current form, with waves of bicycles pushing through the lakefront path, the WCR looks more like a Critical Mass event than the IMYTA.
That’s not to say that any of these changes have been bad. The important thing to note is that rollerblading events are adaptable and that street contests don’t need to define our sport. In fact, “critical mass” is something of a visual metaphor for the current state of rollerblading competition. If we want to share what we do with the public we can’t do it through street events. There is literally no room for more spectators. To suggest otherwise is like Michael Corleone suggesting the family will someday become a legitimate business venture.
I was ecstatic the week after the WCR to see the announcement that The Blading Cup is going to be televised on Fox Sports Net. People have been working behind the scenes for years to get rollerblading back in front of a national audience. It’s an important step forward. I hope as we see a shift in competitive rollerblading back to park contests there will still be room for the events that have carried us this far, but I’m concerned the very nature of broadening our appeal precludes that option. I want to see the day where both street and park events can coexist, with the spectators in the stands and the true believers out in the urine soaked grime, chased by paddy wagons.
Photos by Marcin Tomaszczyk
Windy City Riot 2012 Results
Day 1 – Park Contest
1st – Michael Garlinghouse ($200)
2nd – Jimmy Spetz ($100)
3rd – Ryan Sibbio ($50)
1. Shane McClay ($40)
2. Abdiel Rosario
3. Adam Fabian
4. Mark Tverskoy
Day 2 – Street Contest
1st Place – Steve Lerner ($2,000)
2nd Place – Travis Rhodes ($440)
3rd Place – Michael Froemling ($120)
4th – Garret Mitchellin ($20)
5th – Paul John ($20)
6th – Jeph Howard ($20)
7th – Matthias St. John ($20)
Best Trick: Ryan Sibbio ($200 and a 30 rack from Shredweiser)
Best Style: Travis Rhodes ($20)
High Jump: Dwight Harding (58″ – a new WCR Record – $40)
Flatland: Rory Melehan ($40)
Biggest Baby: “2Chains”
Old Man: Rory Melehan ($20)
Should Have Skated: Gabe Talamantes
Most Flamboyant: Ryan O’Neil