When the American Football League and the National Football League first squared off in the Super Bowl, the spectacle was lightly regarded. Popular opinion held that the established NFL was far superior to the upstart AFL, and this belief threatened to sap support for a merger between the leagues after the Green Bay Packers won the first two installments in the game in 1967 and 1968, respectively.
By the time that Joe Namath and the New York Jets turned up for Super Bowl III in Miami in January 1969, the oddsmakers had already decided that NFL's Indianapolis Colts would continue the trend. To the shock of everyone, perhaps except Namath, the Jets upended those Colts, setting the Super Bowl on a course to become one of the most electric events in all of sports.
The founder of Street League Skateboarding, former professional skateboarder and current reality television star, Rob Dyrdek drew inspiration from the Super Bowl in creating a jewel championship event for profesional skateboarders and, perhaps more importantly, for skateboarding fans.
To add even further simlarities between the first winner-take-all Street League Skateboarding Championship (the debut season awarded a title based on total points accrued in all events) and one of the sporting events that inspired it, there was a wholly unexpected upset put into the record books early. After dominating the 2011 Street League season, Nyjah Huston was the overwhelming favorite to finish his clean sweep of the season's event in Newark, NJ. To the shock of everyone, likely even Namath, fresh-faced Sean Malto stepped in and swiped the crown from Morgan. Malto's triumph highlighted the stakes in a championship contest such as this and provided a defining moment for a sport still establishing itself.
“Our winner-takes-all championship came to a close with a storybook ending,” said Dyrdek after the event, which had to fend off Hurricane Irene just to take place. “Sean came in without missing one trick when it mattered and finally put an end to what was an unreal win streak from Nyjah. All-in-all, the level of skating by the top ten street league pros was simply incredible.”
Dyrdek was kind enough to sit down with HuffPost Sports for a few minutes to talk about the genesis of the Street League Skateboarding Championship as well as the his dedication to bringing skateboarding to a town near you.
HuffPost Sports: Where did you get the inspiration for the Street League Championship?
Rob Dyrdek: Street League Skateboarding is the premier professional skateboarding league in the world, with the biggest prize money in history. This is our second season and instead of awarding a championship based on overall points like last year we have this championship event.
After watching the Super Bowl last year, I realized that what makes the Super Bowl so much better than the other World Series and NBA Finals is that it's one moment that you have to win it all. So this year we decided to do three events where being in the Top 10 in overall points just qualified you for the championship, which is basically the "Super Bowl" of skateboarding. There is a $200,000 first prize, championship ring and watch valued at about $50,000 and the title of Street League champion.
HuffPost Sports: As someone who first made his name as a professional skater, do you ever get the itch to go out there and compete?
Dyrdek: Even in my heyday I wouldn't have put myself in the echelon where these guys are at, even if we went back 20 years. Now, do I wish that this existed when I was younger? Oh, boy, you better believe it. You gotta understand, I was sleeping on couches. I think top prize for contests when I first turned pro was like $500. When I was 16, I sold one board and got a $2 check and had to cash it because that was the only money that I had that month.
This weekend we've got a kid who has already $800,000-plus over the last year and a half, and that has nothing to do with all the money that he makes off of his endorsements or the fact that all these kids make millions who are in that top echelon.
Is there a part of me that would love the glory of putting down a trick when it all mattered? You better believe it. But I helped develop this sport into what it is with a group of kids that all came up around the same age and kind of walked the sport into the era of big sponsorships and energy drinks and all that stuff. Now it's important to me to move forward and help create the foundation of the future of this sport. So, establish it first by showing this is what pro skateboarding is today, this is the way you see it. And then start building what you see in that arena in communities all over the country to kind of lay down the foundation so the sport can grow forever.
HuffPost Sports: When did you first conceive of Street League?
Dyrdek: Half of my success is my fearlessness and recklessness, of just seeing the end and not stopping until you get there. For something like this, it's ever evolving, This has been an idea that I've had for probably seven years.
One of the first problems we had was building skate plazas instead of skate parks. In Ohio, I built the world's first skate plaza. Right, now I didn't just build it: I went out and shot photos of everything I skated and taught myself to draft in 30/1 scale. I drafted a 30,000 square-foot plaza and had it built in my hometown in Ohio. And what I did there at the opening was basically had the test for Street League, where I divided that plaza up into three sections and had a contest with guys skating each section. It was real rough and raw.
It took me many years of studying sports and beginning to understand them to really get in the mindset of why are the NFL and Major League Basketball and the NBA so successful? What is going on there that is not happening with skateboarding that I need to adopt? And part of that is creating the instant scoring format that is easy to follow.
It's like watching three periods of a hockey game where you're accumulating points one trick at a time, getting a zero to 10. If you miss you get a zero and you're accumulating points up until this exciting crescendo where a guy has that single moment to win or lose an event. That hasn't happened in action sports before Street League, and we've had some incredible moments of watching a kid lose $150,000 on his final trick. Before that, an arena's never erupted on a guy falling. Falling has always been kind of a nuisance, but that place went wild when that kid bailed and lost $150,000. So, it's adding that true sport element to it, and the story telling that sports has that makes it so special.
HuffPost Sports: What other sports leagues or people have impacted or influenced you the most?
Dyrdek: Without a doubt Dana White is my biggest influence. I was texting him today. I even went with him to UFC's big press conference to announce their television deal with FOX. I was so honored to be there with them. It was like me, Dana, Georges St-Pierre and the Fer and I get to sit back and watch. This is them going to the mainstream and being put right there with the Super Bowl and the World Series. I equate where I'm at right now with maybe seven or eight years ago for them. Everybody knew something was special in the '80s with the ultimate fighting championships but it wasn't until they put in the weight classes, they put in the rules, they put in the time limit-when they refined it and allowed it to become mixed martial arts-is when it became this super sport.
Basically, that's how I look at everything I'm doing with Street League. By putting in the scoring system and this format, I want to make it so that anyone can watch it, enjoy it, and feel the rush of it. Now it's about building the stars and building a rooting audience that wants to see their favorite guy and see him win or lose.
HuffPost Sports: Have the top skateboarders been open to joining this mainstream league?
Dyrdek: A few years ago, the elite pros didn't go to contests. My whole argument was that it's not that they didn't want to go and be on the big stage, but the people who built the courses and make the contests don't really listen to the skaters and aren't really from the world. My whole thing is that all you've got to do is build it right and the best are going to come. The want the same shine. They want to have a stage but they don't like being mixed with a bunch of other sports. Skateboarders are very elitist. Our top street skater will make a million dollars a year and never go to a contest. So, we sort of broke the paradigm that you were other a contest or pure street skater. Now all the best contest skaters and all the best street skaters compete against each other. I killed that immediately in one year. For our industry, there is a core percentage that is just never going to like what you do, but for the most part that's not true. That's why I was able to go out and sign all these elite guys exclusively, even thought they have multi-million dollar contracts with all these brands that expect to see them at all these different events. The reality of it is that this is the first time that someone from our world has created something for us. So it certainly makes a difference on how it is supported and how it is received, and it reealy feels like all of us doing it together.
HuffPost Sports: How much more can skateboarding evolve?
Dyrdek: A slam dunk or a breakdance move is limited by what the physical body can do. Now, a skateboard is limitless by design, by not only the dynamic of the board and the way it goes but also what you build to skate on. Basically it's like a slam dunk contest that will progress every for the life of the sport. Five years from now there are going to be kids doing stuff that we didn't think was possible.
HuffPost Sports: What moves today would have seemed impossible back in your day?
Dyrdek: There is a trick called a kick flip, backside, lip slide on a hand rail. I was probably pro for seven or eight years before someone did it for the first time and it was like "oh my goodness." Like it was done on a small seven-stair rail and it was just like "oh my lord." Now that's a low-scoring move in this league. Not even five years ago it was groundbreaking.
HuffPost Sports: As a former skater, how does it feel to be provided a place for young skaters to pursue their dreams?
Dyrdek: It's unbelievable. There is so much passion and love behind getting it to this level. I just know that t's beyond creating a contest and an event. It's laying the groundwork to inspire a world of skateboarers. But t's very methodic. It's showcase it and then build it for the community. Shwo the communities that if you want to have a place for your kids then build this exact thing. And I'm going oto design it for you and show you the way. Then it grows forever and the kid's are going to be doing stuff that we never would have imagined.
It's hard to describe. I'm sure I'll appreciate it many years from now, but as I'm in the fire, I know that three's still so much that I need to do to make it better. I need to make the broadcasts sharper and improve every last aspect of making the product better. and getting these places built all over the country to really cross over and have skateboarding have a sustainable boom. We know it's in that mainsteam consciousness and it has been for the last 15 or 20 years but I have this vision for a sustainable boom, where the same way that there is a baseball field and a basketball court in every community, a skate plaza will be no different. There's going to be kids that grow up there who go on to make millions of dollars on the main stage the same as other athletics do.