[Update Aug. 4, 2014: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Detroit currently has no skate parks, ignoring the likes of Ride It sculpture park. We regret the oversight.]
Last year, a group of extreme-sports enthusiasts put together a bid for Detroit to host ESPN’s X Games, releasing a video showing dudes and bros alike skateboarding, motorbiking, and BMX-ing their way through Detroit’s iconic backdrop. It was a dramatic and compelling case, and though it built a palpable buzz around Detroit and extreme sports, the group wound up losing the bid to the safer choice of Austin, Texas.
The momentum built for the X Games didn’t die, however. Because of that video, the action-sports clothing brand Zumiez decided to bring their Best Foot Forward national skateboarding championships to the Motor City, where 37 winning regional amateurs from the summer-long qualifying tour will compete at a free event in Detroit on Aug. 9 in a skate park built inside the old Michigan Theatre building.
Co-organizers Garret Koehler and Derrick Dykas say that Zumiez reached out to them in the aftermath of the hype they built for the X Games bid. “A failure is when you don’t put everything into it,” Dykas says of the original bid. “I think we were offering a better product than Austin at the end of the day.”
Koehler agrees, and notes that the X Games bid mobilized young people around Detroit. “It wasn’t a failure because so much of the community rallied behind it,” says Koehler. “I met people who had moved back to Detroit from Boston, from Chicago, and said that seeing the X Games bid, the way that it exploded nationally, got [them] interested in moving back to Detroit.”
The Michigan Theatre building should provide an intriguing environment for the event. In typical only-in-Detroit fashion, the theater — with its ornate, Neo-Rennaissance interior — has been operating as a parking garage. Dykas says the entire skate park has to be built — and dismantled — within a 48-hour window (according to a spokesman at Zumiez, this is a typical time frame for an event like this). The contest itself will occupy only a 12-hour window in the middle, with organizers anticipating that the event will draw thousands.
It should be noted that this isn’t a temporary skate park made out of wood or other modular materials — concrete is being poured. It might seem like a waste, but the group is hoping to relocate the structures to a more permanent location elsewhere in the city. The tentative plan for now is to donate structures from the finals to a park Dykas hopes to build on the tennis courts near the Coleman Young Community Center.
Traditionally, the Best Foot Forward Tour is a breakout moment for its athletes, with its winners going on to become household names in skateboarding and win sponsorships. Michigan’s favorite to win is Dustin Blauvelt, who won the local stop of the Best Foot Forward qualifying tour held at Modern Skate & Surf in Royal Oak earlier this summer.
“These are kids that are potentially the future of skateboarding and just haven’t had their breakout moment,” Dykas says. “This is that moment for them.”
In addition to the skateboarding contest, the event will feature musical performances from punk bands Death (who are enjoying their own wave of hype right now) and Trash Talk. The Michigan Theatre hasn’t hosted music since its days as the Michigan Palace in the ’70s (if you don’t count the rap battle in Eminem’s 8 Mile, that is).
Koehler says he would like to see skateboard culture take off in Detroit, and hopes the event will help popularize it here. “There’s a really low barrier of entry to get into skateboarding in terms of cost,” Koehler says. “It was and should be a great thing for inner-city kids to do. And it shouldn’t be criminalized. It should just be kids having something to do in a city that doesn’t have many things for kids to do.”
The Zumiez Best Foot Forward finals will be held Saturday, Aug. 9, from 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. at the Michigan Theatre building; 220 Bagley St., Detroit; zumiezbestfootforward.com. Admission is free.
There will also be an official after-party at 441 W. Canfield, Detroit (in a warehouse behind Shinola) from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m., featuring a half-pipe, an open skate jam (skateboards only, no bikes), and performances by Black Noi$e, Rough Francis, and ZelooperZ. Admission is $5.