New York's latest skatepark—a 16,000-square-foot concrete plaza, built at the cost of $1.5 million and located at Flushing Meadows—has been donated to the city by the entrepreneurs Joe and Gavin Maloof. The Maloof brothers are the scions of a West Coast family who own and operate the Sacramento Kings and the Palms casino in Las Vegas. And since 2008, the brothers have also overseen the Maloof Money Cup, a contest, as its name suggests, with the most lucrative purse in professional skateboarding.
The inaugural 2008 Maloof event, and the 2009 follow-up, were both held at the Orange County Fairgrounds in Costa Mesa, California. But because the O.C. Fairgrounds refuse to house permanent structures of this scale, both courses were promptly destroyed following competition. A third annual contest is scheduled there in August, and the same fate awaits this year's park.
The big money involved in these events has drawn the Maloof brothers the ire of those hardcore skaters who prefer their skateboarding free of the trappings and crass commercialism of major league sports. The Maloofs are aware of their critics, and that's why the Queens plaza will remain intact for public use, as will the street course and vert ramp they plan to construct in 2011 in South Africa.
"It's really a travesty [to tear down parks]," Joe Maloof admitted, when I interviewed him after the opening ceremony. Still, he was proud of the Queens course. Designed with the input of local pro Steve Rodriguez, the park is a simulacrum of NYC street skating, featuring obstacles that pay homage to specific spots across the five boroughs.
Joe was also pleased that his events have attracted a number of purist street skaters, guys who usually eschew contests. "We listen to the skaters," he said. "We didn't come in like we were know-it-alls."
Just as Joe and I finished talking, the former X-Games champion Eric Koston arrived to survey the course. At 35, he may be old for a pro, but he's still one of skating's premiere stylists. I asked Koston what made the Money Cup different from other contests, like the X-Games or the Dew Tour.
"Not a whole hell of a lot, really," Koston said. "There's more dough?"
Local Skaters, Big Bucks: The Maloof Money Cup
The following day, I saw the future of skateboarding, and it was foam fingers.
At 11am, two hours before the start of the competition, the stands were already teeming with excitable pubescent groms, many of whom were brandishing navy blue foam fingers advertising CCS, the Amazon.com of skateboarding.
CCS was one of several Maloof sponsors that had set up a booth adjacent to the skatepark, at the Vendor Village. It was there that one could acquire foam fingers, eat funnel fries and fried Oreos, listen to Blink-182 knockoff bands, and purchase items that in some cases had something to do with skateboarding (Vans sneakers) and in other cases nothing at all (Oakley sunglasses, Skull Candy headphones, MetroPlus health insurance, Vitamin Water "water").
In addition to the Vendor Village, a large white media tent had been put up at the periphery of the skatepark. I found myself returning to it repeatedly, because, in addition to the succor of water and air-conditioning, this tent offered a behind-the-scenes view of the extreme sports industrial complex. There were several flatscreens inside the tent, all of them but one displaying Fuel TV's live coverage of an event that was happening a mere 50 yards away. The other television was connected to an Xbox 360 and was devoted to Electronic Arts' SKATE(tm) 3 game, which now offers a "Maloof Queens" level as a downloadable update.