The feeling was palpable and one I haven’t felt in a while; it was similar to the first day of school or arriving at a summer camp not really knowing anyone. I haven’t been to a big contest in a long time and after I found a cheap flight to Miami the same week as the Franky Morales Invitational 2 (FMI2), it seemed meant to be. So, I left the still Winter-esque weather of Canada and headed South.
Arriving on the Friday afternoon before the contest, I settled into my fleabag motel in North Miami Beach and pretty soon things started coming together. Purposely booking the “hotel” because it was close to the beach and the North Beach Public Skatepark, while still being relatively close to Skatebird where the contest was taking place, I walked by the park and noticed a Bladie (Korina Calderon) skating in the park. Rushing back to my room to throw on my skates, I returned to the park only to run into Fritz Peitzner from Carriers Shop. My first time meeting him, Fritz was beyond friendly and even offered to help me out with another story I’m working on for Be-Mag. A good start to the weekend.
On Saturday, warmups for FMI2 started around 10 a.m. I got there just after 11 a.m. and already skaters were going off; it was my first time seeing Diaby Diako in-person and the man does not disappoint. Even in warmups, he was getting ridiculous air and practicing gaps that most people would never think of, let alone attempt. Yep, it was already evident that it was going to be a good day.
Right from the get-go, the vibe at Skatebird was fun and positive. Skaters (including rollerskaters) of all ages, genders, and from all over the U.S. and the world were there smiling, joking, introducing themselves to each other and in many cases catching up with old friends.
PHOTOS: DEVON BABIN
The Bladies category kicked it all off and it’s safe to say they absolutely killed it. Chynna Weierstall is even more impressive in-person, with smooth, technical, and in many cases gutsy grinds that left their mark on everyone in the park–backsliding the down rail in the middle of the park, fakie alley-oop makio on the highest quarterpipe in the park that probably had 4 feet of vert on it, it was a beautiful sight to see.
Miami’s own Gaby Valesquez was another Bladie to be reckoned with, but unfortunately, she injured her knee attempting a 540 and had to leave the competition. Daniela Salgado, I’m pretty sure, is invincible. Not only did she pull off some impressive grinds and rollerskating-inspired flips, but she also bounced back up from every fall and even went on to compete against the men later on in the day. While there were too many Bladies competing to name them all, another inspiring skater was Sammy Riesco who, from my understanding, only started on blades fairly recently, but you wouldn’t know it. A veteran rollerskater, she came and conquered, with a particular soul grind on the big down ledge that had everybody cheering. Later that night we found out that Chynna took first place (and had to go to the hospital after splitting her shin open), Daniela took a much deserved second place, and Sammy took third place to the shock of only herself–I think everyone in the building knew just how well she skated that day.
There was an incredible pool of talent, and the wild part is that there should have been more. Speaking to Tim Franken (probably one of the nicest dudes I’ve ever met), I was informed about the thousands of flight cancellations that happened because of a weather system overtaking Florida so many skaters weren’t able to make it. Apparently Chad Hornish, as an example, was in the airport ready to fly to Miami when his flight was cancelled, and he was by no means the only one.
There were too many amazing tricks to highlight them all in one article (lots of videos available though), but it’s important to mention Yasmany CM who decided to dial it up a bit and leap from the spectator deck onto the course which was at least 15 feet (4.6 meters for the rest of the world) into the park. With nine different groups of skaters in the prelims, talent was abundant, but this was a contest after all, and the judges went to work picking the top 20 skaters to move onto the semi-finals.
Long gone are the days of animosity between bladers and rollerskaters, because the support both sides were giving each other was something special. I’m not going to pretend like I know much about tricks in quad skating, but I do know I was impressed throughout. A mix of young and older, males and females all competed against each other and the spectators loved every second of it.
When the dust settled, Angela Casale who was smiling all day whether she was hitting grinds on the quarter pipe, pulling 360s all over the course, or even falling occasionally, took first place. Dean Lemessy, the self-proclaimed Tupac Shakur of rollerskating, took second. And taking up third was Derek Rosenbauer.
The organizers threw us a fantastic curveball for the semi-finals. On the schedule, a “pump track race” was listed at the same time as the semi-finals. The semis took place on the pump track but calling it a pump track is a massive understatement. Yeah, it’s a pump track but it also had a wide range of obstacles for skaters to take advantage of. Skaters started grinding the top of the giant clamshell in the middle of the track, and in my humble opinion, Korey Waikiki owned it on this day. Pablo Porta was rolling on a small ledge then landing a good 12 feet below and I’m still wondering how his knees still work. Joey Chase pulled a torque-slide on the handrail on the giant staircase just outside of the track. Demetrios George who was both filming skaters’ lines and competing himself also conquered the handrail with a back fastslide which was documented in incredible fashion.
Wake Schepman was determined to land a massive gap on the pump track (and did!); Diaby was pulling big gaps into the course from the spectator area and owning the pump track with airs across the various launch areas and pulling topside acids and backside royales on the top of the clamshell, Jon Fromm does what Jon Fromm does and that is pulling savvy, technical grinds all over the place, and one skater whose name I didn’t get was attempting to flip out of the pump track onto a nearby roof. And those are just a few highlights from what must have been a difficult task for the judges–cutting the 20 skaters in the finals to 5 that would move onto the finals.
It turns out that cutting the crop of skaters to five was impossible because eight skaters were selected to move onto the finals. The finals were held back inside the park, but a couple of obstacles were added to the course, including a grind box right in front of the main handrail in the park and a picnic table in the far right corner of the park just beside a kink rail and in front of a quarter pipe. The table was removed not too far into the finals, though, as it was more getting in the way than giving skaters options for tricks.
This was one of those situations where you simply didn’t know where to look. All the skaters were in one session, so tricks were going off all over the park. Korey Waikiki, Jon Fromm, and Demetrios George were (among other things) making the most of that new grind box, going for big transfers from the box to the handrail. The energy was building and things really started getting crazy when Zack Pollack decided he wanted to attempt launching out of the quarter pipe onto the edge of the skatepark onto the fence and then onto a thin handrail in the spectator area. Wake Schepman thought it was a good idea (and it was) to launch an incredible distance from one ramp to a quarter pipe, soul grind the coping, and then gap out of the course entirely.
Diaby Diako got into the fun and also started gapping out of the park onto another thin handrail outside of the park. This is where I turned into a crash pad for him; as I was watching Pollack attempt his own gap to the handrail, I didn’t notice Daby doing something similar on the other side of the park and I hope I was more of a cushion than anything because we had a good crash (I apologized to him afterward for not being aware, and he was gracious enough to accept the apology).
And as the seconds counted down, Diaby upped the ante once again. Launching out of the park, he 360’d onto the fence then leaped to the handrail landing a frontside and cementing his win. It was something to behold. Later that night all the winners were crowned with Diaby Diako taking first, Korey Waikiki taking second, and Jon Fromm taking third. There’s a lot of talk about how to grow the sport and events like this are a huge step in that direction. Exposing young people to the sport, aligning with rollerskaters (and really anyone on wheels as far as I’m concerned), supporting each other, skating for pure enjoyment and passion – it all rubs off and it all matters. I’ve come out of this event more energized than I have been in a long time; this was something truly special to behold and I’m beyond happy to have seen it up close. The future is bright.