In doing the William Sharp book, I looked through his archive of contest photographs. He had images from the Spring Valley and Upland contests of Hester I. He also had some amazing images from Hester II at Del Mar and Upland. The Combi contest is tomorrow at Vans in Orange, California. I’ve been to most of them over the last ten years. I’ve written about them and had others do guest posts on Blue Tile Obsession. From Eric Nash, Chris Miller, the Alba brothers, to Jeff Grosso, Lance Mountain and almost everyone in between, the contests have been compared, pondered and dissected with surgical precision.
Over the last few days, I’ve been posting some classic images from the Pipeline Combi pool in Upland. The park and its radical terrain, helped to create a wave of powerful skateboarders that seriously pushed the known limits of skateboarding at that time. The park lasted from May 1977 to November 1988. After it closed, local riders rode the pool even as the heavy steel blades fell in swinging, frenetic motion. They almost couldn’t believe its end had come.
In 1998, Vans opened the Vans Skateboard Park inside of a mall in Orange, California. In planning it, Vans had brought in Dave Duncan and Rick Carje — among others — to bring about a return of the Combi pool. Rick Carje had built Kelly Belmars and Chicken’s pools and had worked with Dave Duncan building ramps and things. They met with Vans and Don Hoffman of the original Pipeline Combi. Duncan, Belmar, Carje and Chuck Hults all put their heads together to decide how to rebuild the Combi pool. Rick Carje said that with a crew of about twenty workers, they finished the Vans Combi in about a month.
Eventually, Vans decided on having a pool party contest in the Combi pool. A few guys that rode the pool regularly, had a bit of an advantage. The Vans Combi was plaster. It was lumpy and the coping stuck out. According to Omar Hassan, “You had to put the time in to ride the Combi well. The regular sessions were made up of only people who really wanted to ride it. It was bumpy and slippery… we loved it.” Brian Patch, Bob Burnquist, Omar Hassan, Rune Glifberg, Jeff Grosso, Steve Alba, Lance Mountain, Chris Miller and a few others knew where to draw the lines and how to maintain speed. They rode it often and they rode it well. Vans didn’t realize the impact these early contests would have. No one did. According to some of the early contest riders, it was a return of the big bowl riding contests that they recalled from their youth.
The Vans Combi contests were held every spring and continued to grow. The contest is now considered the High Holy Day for bowl riding enthusiasts. Vans has a live webcast that is seen all over the world. To place well at the Vans Combi contest is considered a major achievement in a skateboarders career.
Fast Forward. 2010. Vans decided to refurbish the Combi pool. Some alterations were made to the shape and a new surface was put onto the pool. New coping and tiles were placed onto the entire pool as well. The Combi refurbishing made the pool much more ‘user friendly’ and an entirely new crew of young skaters began competing and riding the Combi on a regular basis. Lines that Steve Alba, Chris Miller and others had laid down years before in the original Pipeline Combi pool, were mimicked and copied… Trick combinations put down by Rune Glifberg and Bucky Lasek were usurped as well.
The young upstarts failed to consider a simple time-honored truth. Glory gotten on the backs of others, is no glory at all. Etiquette would often be lacking. One year during practice sessions, I watched groms brazenly drop in and snake Bucky, Salba and Omar. They shook their heads in annoyance. I bet that when Bucky, Salba and Omar were young, they would’ve never dreamed of snaking one of the greats. It simply wasn’t done.
The Combi contests have evolved in the past few years. There has been a changing of the guard in a way. The format has been changed. Pro, Masters and Legends divisions separate the riders… big money drew some skaters out of a sleepy, big bellied ‘retirement’ and the hunger for Vans cash, accolades and Vans Combi Banner credentials started watering down the pure punk-ass debacle that once was the Vans Combi Contest. We’ll see where it goes… for now, I’ll sit back and watch my favorite skateboarders draw lines and throw themselves around all day. The energy level in that building, on that day, during that venue is consistently crazy. It is insane. I’ll take insane over mundane any day. Thank you to MRZ and William Sharp for the images. Skate- Ozzie