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26 Jan 2015

Snapshot: The Inaugural El Gato Classic

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Tony Hawk skates at the El Gato Classic. Tony Hawk skates at the El Gato Classic. Kevin Fitzgerald

When the Independent interviewed local professional skateboarder Eddie “El Gato” Elguera about his inaugural El Gato Classic, he said one goal of the event was to “honor the past and champion the future.”

That’s exactly the vibe that the event at the Palm Springs Skatepark had last weekend, on Jan. 24 and 25.

At 10 a.m. on Saturday, a large crowd gathered around the Nude Bowl replica for the Legends Jam, which lasted into the afternoon and led into the Vert Demo in the Palm Springs High School parking lot. Many legendary names were present, including Steve Caballero, Mike McGill, Micke Alba, Jim Gray, Scott Foss and Tony Magnusson.

Most of the Legends Jam was announced by Christian Hosoi, who had an injured knee and therefore only skated briefly. Highlights included a shirtless David Hackett landing his trademark “Hackett Slash” in the bowl; Steve Caballero’s numerous attempts (with plenty of spills) to do the “Elguerial,” Eddie Elguera’s signature move; Jim Gray’s comedic spectacles after each run (while wearing a T-shirt that said “I want to be a skater”); and Mike McGill’s many spills. McGill was apparently injured during a recent skateboarding event, yet still took part in the jam. Hats off to him.

Speaking of injuries: After the 50-year-old Caballero took a hard spill, I asked him if it hurt more or less than it did when he was a teenager. “It hurts just as bad, only longer,” he replied.

Later in the afternoon, a large crowd gathered to see the Vert Demo—the one event to feature Tony Hawk. He brought the ramp for the demo, which also featured Eddie Elguera, Kevin Staab, Steve Caballero, Neal Hendrix and younger-generation skaters Lincoln Ueda, 15-year-old Tom Schaar, and 11-year-old Evan “Big E” Doherty.

Before the demo started, Elguera thanked the audience for showing up and gave the microphone to his wife, Dawna, who said they plan to make the El Gato Classic an annual event—the “Coachella of Skateboarding.”

Elguera started by landing his namesake trick, the “Elguerial,” which earned him a loud ovation. Christian Hosoi showed up with his pads and helmet, announcing from the top of the ramp and taking one gentle, non-technical run. Tony Hawk’s childhood friend Kevin Staab was dressed in all purple gear, matching his purple hair and well-known punk-rock attitude; he put on an impressive display of classic vert tricks, such as his trademarked “blunt to fakie.”

Tony Hawk’s runs were just as mesmerizing and impressive as the vert runs he did during his younger days, which won him millions in prize money—and frustrated contemporaries who would complain that he always had new tricks at every contest. It’s been said that Hawk is not a stylish skater, but his execution of tricks like the 900, the trick that Hawk was the first to complete after many failed attempts, was flawless.

Even though Caballero fell several times in the bowl, he came to the vert ramp as if he wasn’t as tired. While his first couple of runs were brief and ended in spills, he managed to shake them off and put on an incredible performance in his third run, landing his trademarked “Caballerial.” He made several other impressive runs after that.

Hendrix and Ueda brought power and air in both of their runs, with Ueda going the highest of all. Hendrix’s executions were powerful enough that Hosoi announced, “Hendrix is shaking the ramp right now.”

Elguera at one point mentioned that he brought in Tom Schaar and Big-E to “give the legends a break.” Schaar was impressive to watch, as he brought newly formed tricks and amazing skill to the demo. Big-E was the youngest and the smallest of the skaters, but his skill level was amazing: He was able to pull off multiple 900s. In fact, he landed 10 900s before he stopped and took a place at the top of the vert ramp.

On Sunday morning, Elguera, Hosoi and Caballero led church services at Elguera’s church, The Rock, in Palm Desert. Later, as they arrived at the Palm Springs Skatepark, a crowd slowly started to build to witness the Legends Contest. Scott Foss was one of the early arrivals and watched a couple other legends join locals in the bowl as organizers set up. During a practice run, Foss took a nasty spill. Fortunately, he recovered enough that he was able to participate.

Shortly after Elguera, Hosoi, Caballero and others arrived, Elguera announced they were going to scratch the idea of the contest, because they only raised about $2,000 for the prize purse; instead, they were going to make it into another jam.

Elguera made several stunning runs, as did Caballero and Tony Magnusson. Hosoi also participated, albeit cautiously, due to his knee injury. David Hackett landed a perfect “Hackett Slash” that was even better than the one he made Saturday. Hosoi and Elguera did a triples run with Brad Bowman that went faster and faster inside the deep end of the bowl before Hosoi jumped out—with his board going up and hitting one of the photographers in the face.

On hand to watch the jam was the inventor of the “invert,” Bobby Valdez. Magnusson did an amazing invert as a tribute to Valdez during one of his runs.

One great thing about skateboarding is the laid-back nature of the sport. The legends were approachable and more than willing to sign autographs, pose for pictures and shake the hands of fans—even Tony Hawk, who stuck around after the vert demo.

It was a great first event. Here’s hoping the El Gato Classic continues to grow in the years ahead, and becomes another exciting annual event in Palm Springs.

Scroll down to see a gallery of photos by Kevin Fitzgerald.

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