What a difference a day makes. Between practice and prelims, some of the skaters in Flushing really turned it on. It seemed like each new jam session got more and more intense, and that may well have been the case, considering the judges -- Dan Pensyl, Mike Sinclair and Rodney Torres, to name a few -- saved some of the heaviest hitters, including Paul Rodriguez, Chris Cole, Shane O'Neill and Sean Malto, to compete in the final two heats of the day.
Today's events unfolded with a perfect blend of the expected and the unexpected. Vans and Alien Workshop pro Anthony Van Engelen told judges this was the first contest he'd competed in since 1995, but you wouldn't know it watching him compete. Van Engelen didn't make the finals but he ripped all day. Another skater who didn't advance but deserves a mention for his crowd-wowing style is Vans and Anti Hero's own Chris Pfanner. The rookie pro got people up out of their seats when he pulled an after-the-buzzer melon grab ollie off the 9-stair deck over seven feet of flat and a hubba ledge to land in the embankment beyond. It's worth mentioning that Zoo York's Brandon Westgate, a big ollie beast in his own right, pointed to Pfanner's snaps as the best thing he saw all day. "I liked Pfanner's ollie. So sick," Westgate said.
As for the heavy hitters, Paul Rodriguez was the obvious winner of the day, qualifying first after annihilating the entire course in a meticulous and calculated fashion. But it was Rodriguez's switchstance onslaught in the final obstacle area -- the 9-stair and rail -- that really sealed the deal. Switch Smith grinds, switch flips, nosegrinds and more put him well above the shoulders of his peers when it came to overall points.
Chris Cole was close on the trail of Rodriguez with powerful and consistent tricks on every obstacle, though it seemed he might even be holding back a bit, saving his real power moves for the finals.
The Best Trick contest, held on the Tech Deck manual, ledge and wallie area was dominated by a fierce Torey Pudwill. His backside noseblunt pop-ins could have been enough to win but his video-game style combo move is what really set him apart. Pudwill may be the only pro out right now pulling kickflip backside lipslide to backside tailslides; he's certainly the only one pulling it on command in contests. Next level.
The story of the day would not be complete without mention of rookie pro Shane O'Neill. After his performance on the 9-stair and rail, the crowd in Queens was shocked to learn that O'Neill hadn't made the cut for the finals. The tricky thing is that each obstacle area is scored equally and each area is split in its scoring based on the three skateable obstacles within its zone. Though O'Neill's switch flip to switch back lip on the nine-stair rail and his blindside nollie 180 flip down the nine stair got the most applause of the day, his overall points didn't match up with some of the other skaters who spread their moves across all obstacles and zones. Still, O'Neill's peers were shocked at the judgment. Red Bull Manny Mania's 2009 champion Eli Reed said O'Neill's switch flip to switch back lip down the nine stair rail was his favorite thing seen all day.
On Sunday, the Maloof Money Cup am contest gets underway at 11a.m. EST, followed at by the pro finals at 3 p.m., where one skater will walk away with $100,000. The am contest should be gnarly and exciting to watch as the pro comp with so many of the top ams hungry to prove themselves in front of their pro peers and the world at large. Baker's Theotis Beasley, Plan B's Felipe Gustavo, Zoo York's Ron Deily and Fiveboro's Willy Akers should all be worth keeping an eye out for.
If I were a gambling man, I'd say the safest money for the finals would be on Rodriguez. But with Cole, Pudwill and Greg Lutzka, Ryan Decenzo and Sean Malto in the mix, anything could happen. It's going to be one for the books.