Kelle Huston, Nyjah Huston's mother, became a true believer tonight.
About an hour before the doors opened to general ticket holders at the Citizens Business Bank Arena here in Ontario, Calif., she entered the sports facility through the VIP entrance.
Mrs. Huston told this reporter that her 17-year-old son -- who has commanded the attention of the skateboarding industry with unprecedented levels of athleticism simply never seen in skateboarding prior to his emergence -- was starting to face some distractions common to sports celebrities of his growing stature. For example, this weekend Huston invited over 100 friends to this weekend's high profile contest. She worried that these friends might cause him to lose his legendary focus.
"If he wins tonight, even with all those distractions, I'll become a true believer," she said.
Huston did not disappoint his fans or his mom.
Whether it was his gargantuan kickflip backside tailslide on the big hubba ledge or his kickflip backside nosegrind, Huston showed the crowd why, when it comes to Street League, he is nearly peerless.
Even a casual observer could see that Huston is a cut way above other riders. He doesn't fall. He just doesn't fall. His board and feet and arms and legs all seem to be in perfect harmony. His board flips a lot and he lands on it every time after it is done flipping.
Critics continue to fret that Huston's athleticism has left insufficient room for artistry. But, increasingly, that argument is starting to seem a bit untenable.
Is Huston ungraceful? No. Are his tricks progressive and relevant and serving to advance skateboarding? Yes. Are his video parts legit? Yes.
So what seem to be the problem?
Perhaps it's that when Nyjah Huston is in the ring... uh... on the plaza-style Street League course... it doesn't quite feel like a fair fight.
Thus Huston earned the top spot in today's qualifying.
P-ROD FINALLY BRINGS HIS A-GAME TO STREET LEAGUE
"Underdog" and "Paul Rodriguez" are not two words you don't often see in the same sentence.
And yet Paul Rodriguez, at least where Street League is concerned, has never quite been at his competitive best.
On the one hand, Rodriguez was one of the first of a new breed of pro skaters to adopt the habits, collect the sponsors and maintain the regimen of a more mainstream professional athlete. As a result, he earned a string of X Games victories and other high-profile contest wins.
Yet, in the past couple years, he has had trouble truly martialing his abilities in a contest setting.
For some reason, when the crowd was there, he had not been able to fully access his talents.
But tonight, most agreed, that Rodriguez offered his most compelling, and proficient Street League performance to date.
"He finally got the bugs out," said one young fan.
Rodriguez electrified the audience with such feats as a switch backside tailslide on the imposing hubba ledge as well as a giant switch kickflip and switch 360 flip all of which helped solidify his standing in Ontario. As a result of his strategic abilities and what can only be called super sick, buttery smooth steezy gnarliness, judges awarded him with a richly deserved third place.
Meanwhile, Sean Malto was able to reach Street League's upper echelons by being smooth, stylish and consistent. Not that his tricks were something to be dismissed. His nollie noseblunt on the hubba ledge was greeted with a roar from the audience.
Judges granted Malto second place.
Luan Oliveira also showed that he can more than hold his own in Street League. Some skaters can go big. Some can be quite technical. But to truly rise in Street League's ranks you have to marry the super big and the crazy tech. Oliveira did just that today.
His colossal frontside 180 flip over the hubba ledge put to rest any notion that he is what is sometimes derogatorily known as a "ledge dancer."
Chaz Ortiz, whose consistency is reminiscent of Malto's, was able to clinch fifth place with a nollie big spin down the big set of stairs.
SALABANZI SUFFERS SETBACK
Alas, other professionals saw just how treacherous Street League's competitive terrain can be.
Bastien Salabanzi was a favorite of the Kansas City crowd and earned a second place finish in Kansas City. Many (including this reporter) have fallen rather hard for his compelling comeback narrative.
This time last year he was living a fairly quiet life in Bordeaux, France. As a Street Leaguer he is now doing double kickflip backside lipslides for cheering crowds.
But his performance at Friday's qualifying was marred by several missteps. Though his tricks are almost always impressive, rigorous, sometimes unforgiving levels of consistency are required of anyone hoping to earn a top five finish in a Street League event.
Then there are those Street League pros, such as Austyn Gillette, who show that grace and style cannot be easily quantified. Gillette makes even the most basic tricks, like a flat ground backside 180 kickflip, look like a work of art. The way he stands on a skateboard, the way he pushes, causes even the most seasoned skateboarding observers to swoon.
Though Gillette is not, nor ever will be, a Street League force on the order of Huston, he remains a skater's skater.
And yet, what number can you assign to a skater's basic stance? How many points can you give for someone dropping into a quarterpipe in a really cool way?
Either way, Street League has proved itself to be an important showcase for a fairly diverse group of professional skateboarders.
As fans clamored outside the arena's VIP entrance hoping for an autograph from such luminaries as Eric Koston and Geoff Rowley the mood was giddy.
"You see it in the videos, but then it's right there in front of you," said one autograph-seeker. "It's just so sick."
Street League stop two finals air on ESPN2 and online at ESPN3 on Saturday, June 16 at 9:30 p.m. EST.