By Daniel Gesmer: E-mail: SeismicSK8@aol.com
Why has flatland freestyle skateboarding, the sport's first and oldest discipline, essentially vanished? One answer frequently given is that freestyle competitions don't draw enough of a crowd to pay for themselves. This may be true, but I am tempted to conclude that the fundamental problem is one of marketing: nobody knows how to promote freestyle.
It is hard for freestyle to compete with street obstacle or ramp events on the single level of thrill-packing tricks; it is the artistic element which has the potential to draw unique attention to it. When this artistic element is brought into a clearer light - by the contest producers and judges - the audiences ought to show up just as, for example, they do for figure skating events.
In the future, then, freestyle events ought to be judged in the way that figure skating competitions are judged - i.e., for every routine the skater is given two scores, one measuring the technical aspects of the performance (difficulty, variety, consistency, falls, etc.) and the other measuring the stylistic or artistic aspects of the performance (musical interpretation, body form and expression, originality, etc.). In the case of ties, the figure skater with the higher artistic score is given the higher place.
I am convinced that this will help restore the freestyle event to its former position of prominence in the sport. Freestyle competitors will be encouraged to develop the expressive dimension of their routines, and the unique artistic appeals of the event will be highlighted for the benefit of spectators.
THE UNIQUE CHARACTERISTICS OF FREESTYLE SKATEBOARDING
1) Freestyle offers safer participation for a wider age-range and ability-range. If you're on flat ground, you can't fall very far downwards (and chances are you're not rolling too terribly fast).
2) To practice freestyle, you don't need to construct elaborate ramps. All you need is a large, smooth, flat area.
3) Freestyle is the easiest event to understand and enjoy for those who've never seen any skateboarding. It can seem less repetitive and monotonous than ramp skating; and the similarity to figure skating provides a ready link to something that many people already understand, accept, and appreciate.
4) Freestyle offers not just the daredevil thrills 'n' spills of ramp skating, but also an artistic component. Routines are carefully choreographed to music, etc.
5) Freestyle is amenable to a more sophisticated judging procedure than other types of skating. The sometimes intangible element of style is easier to get a handle on, and more noticeable and significant to spectators' enjoyment. Therefore, spectators can get more deeply involved with the event.
6) Freestylists tend to be disciplined, responsible and mature. They have to be if they hope to excel in the event, which demands great patience and diligence.
7) Learning freestyle has to be a gradual, step-by-step process. This means not only safer learning, but also the cultivation of more sophisticated learning skills. Freestylists have to break down their maneuvers more. So freestyle can teach people analytical learning skills that are applicable to school work and other areas of life.
8) Freestyle may be the event that progresses and evolves with the most order and consistency. Further, innovations in freestyle have often served as the foundation for new developments in street and ramp skating. The freestyle maneuvers invented in the sport's earliest days form the basis upon which all other techniques have been built. And the extraordinary innovations of freestyle legend Rodney Mullen practically gave birth to modern street skating.