I’ve watched Omar Hassan and admired his skateboarding talent for many years. I recall his early Blockhead days and his subsequent rise to superstar status. He is always a top contender in any competitive arena. Omar is a skateboarder at heart. He can ride street, vert, pools, pipes and probably anything else that he can find. He is a dominant force to be reckoned with. About ten years ago, there was a contest on the beach in Huntington. The ramp was situated on the sand and the crowd was right up against it. The vert ramp had a huge channeled ‘bar of doom’ at one end. A smaller ramp was set back and situated a few feet from the coping. It created one long unbroken piece of coping that ran from one end of the vert ramp to the other edge. This ‘bar of doom’ was a tall order. To grind across it was gnarly because if you missed, you fell about twelve feet to the flat bottom below. Few stepped up. In Omar’s last run, he popped out onto the deck and stood there. Immobile. His dark eyes scanned the crowd. Finally, he wiped the sweat from his face. The crowd was roaring. Omar took two huge pushes along the deck and threw himself into a lipslide across the ‘bar of doom!’ He spun in a lazy arc like a slow- motion propeller and slammed into the flat bottom below. Dazed, he reached for his board. The crowd yelled his name. He pulled himself to his feet and made his way up the painful twenty stairs to the deck. Omar set his jaw, pushed across the deck and conquered. Indomitable. Will power.
I sat and asked Omar about bowl riding, the early Combi contests, the changes occurring in skateboarding and how he views it all. He was open, honest and matter-of-fact. I came away with a clearer understanding of the man and his longevity as one of bowl ridings powerful pioneers. We started talking about bowl riding and how things began for him. Omar related to me how he grew up, his crew and what they had to ride. He told me how his brother would take him to the OG Combi at Pipeline in Upland. He stated that this was where he learned. They would ride parks, pools and anything else that was around. In the late 1980′s and early 1990′s, skateparks were almost done. Omar relates, “Well, here in Orange County, we had Belmars and Chickens pools. They were made- to -skate pools but they were the only things around and they felt like backyard pools to us. They had good transitions and concrete coping. Guys like Salba would hunt and find pools. If I didn’t ride with them, I rode what I could. With Belmars and Chickens, it really opened up a door for me because I had a pool at my disposal all the time. We had a really cool scene. All my friends just got together and rode. Of the many guys from my era, I got a real start in how important carving and riding bowls and pools could be. I had that access and it helped me tremendously. Kids from my generation really didn’t have that early education. Maybe guys like Danny Way and Peter Hewitt… they had Del Mar, they understood it too. For the most part, the riders of my generation rode street, vert and mini ramps. That was what they had.”
Omar and I spoke about the early nineties. He laughingly described the small wheels and big pants era. Omar stated that back then there was only a handful of guys riding vert and bowls because parks were gone and as he puts it, “… nobody had bowls and nobody really understood.” I asked him about the resurgence of bowl riding contests. He was quick to point out that it was the Marseille bowl contest that he recalled as being a starting point. Omar went on, “I think that Marseille was important because it catered to those guys that weren’t labeled as street or vert skaters. John Cardiel. Dan Drehobl. Alan Peterson. In my mind, these guys were the essence of what skateboarding was all about. They weren’t really contest riders but they ripped. The Marseille bowl contest really opened peoples eyes and displayed something that World Cup and other events were not covering. Contests were mostly street and vert. This whole other side of skateboarding on concrete had been neglected. “
Omar told me that “… the Marseille contests were almost like a “get together and skate” type of thing. There was money on the line, beer, food and everyone really amped it up. Thrasher and Jake Phelps were involved as was Heineken. Needless to say, it went off! It started a whole trend for bowl riding. Riders respected each other and had fun. There was less pressure because there were no rules at Marseille. The format was loose. When you limit the riders to four or five runs, that’s only four or five lines. In actuality, it limits the level of skating because there are like fifty lines that could be done!”
Omar grew up with the OG Combi pool in Upland. Once the new Combi was built by Carge in Orange County at Vans skate park, Omar and his friends rode it all the time. Omar described those early Vans Combi days. “We rode the Vans Combi for four or five years before they had the first Protec contest. It was usually the same guys. In my opinion, once you add an event to a place like that, all these people start coming out of the woodwork because the competitive skaters want to get in there and… there is money on the line. People start coming and– you know — training for the events. In the beginning, the Combi had gnarly big coping and it was all lumpy. We rode it constantly and there was nothing to gain. It was only for fun. As far as the new 2010 changes go, it’s easier to ride and user friendly but I liked it just the way it was… I rode it all the time.”
We discussed the bowl contests that are currently being added to the competition schedule the last few years. Omar told me, “This is inevitable. Skateboarding is becoming more mainstream. People are trying to attach themselves to it and also there is the money aspect to be considered. My favorite events are those that are run by skaters. The North Shore Bowl Jam is an example. The organizers chose a few select riders and there was a raw intensity present in that contest. It was the format. There were no rules.” Omar went on to tell me that he thinks some of best parks come out of Oregon and places like that. Omar- “They become weathered and rough. A park can never be perfect. The best thing is getting into a car and driving out to nowhere and finding a rough, old bowl. Those are still the most fun parks to go and pioneer. It is the search for that feeling… Whether it is a great park done by site people that know what they are doing or by some local guys that want their own scene, it’s the pioneering of that place. Riding something new. This is skateboarding to me.”
Thank you to Omar Hassan for taking the time with us. Thank you to MRZ for the wonderful images. Thank you to Grant Brittain for the Belmars image. Skate- Ozzie