In Vans’ ongoing effort to provide the greatest skateboard contest experience in the history of the world, the Vans Park Series recently announced, at the request of the riders, that the contest will be switching to an all jam session format for the upcoming 2020 season.

The Vans Park Series recognized that in this highly competitive skateboard year it’s important to remind the world that skateboard contests should belong to skateboarders and without the support of the skateboard community there is no contest. Vans and Steve Van Doren have a long tradition of soliciting input from skaters that dates back nearly to the company’s inception in the 70s when Steve befriended Tony Alva and Stacy Peralta both of whom helped design the world’s first skate shoe, so it’s no surprise that VPS would attempt to realize the competitors’ vision of what a skateboard contest should look like. Admittedly, the jam session idea had been kicked around for a while, but Cardiel’s comments in his interview last month helped move the needle.

“One. Hundred. Percent,” John said after he was asked if switching to jam format was a good idea. “It makes for a more respectable first place.”

While Josh Borden does a crail scraper across the coping, Ronnie Sandoval takes the high road with a f/s air.  Photo: Anthony Acosta</span>

While Josh Borden does a crail scraper across the coping, Ronnie Sandoval takes the high road with a f/s air. Anthony Acosta

The move to jam format was originally something the VPS competitors had begun pushing for once the intense Olympic Qualifying roadmap was spelled out. The skaters asked for a contest that is less like a contest and more like a skate session (aka a party). So Vans listened and agreed: jam session is the answer.

For those unfamiliar with a jam session format, it is no format. Each heat of three skaters will be given one introductory run where they skate until they fall, after which there is a five-minute jam session that the competitors can use however they want. When the judges say, “Go,” anything goes. Doesn’t matter if there’s one person in the bowl, or all three, competitors can drop in wherever and whenever they want. In a jam session, anarchy rules (a favorite oxymoron of mine).

Skateboarding has been tinkering with contest formats for a long time. While other contest series may continue to rely on old, stale formats for their events, Vans recognizes that skateboarding is constantly progressing and that’s why VPS has said that their goal is to continually evolve with skateboarding and to create spaces where skaters are encouraged to push the boundaries. The jam session creates the perfect environment to showcase what skateboarding is really about—freedom, no rules, do what you want. When you don’t have to focus on a litany of compulsory tricks to please the judges and you’re free to skate how you want and explore your own trip, that’s when innovation and progression flourish.

It could be argued that jam sessions have the potential to create some of the greatest skateboarding moments possible (see Marseille below) since it’s typically in the fury of a heated session that one is most susceptible to being possessed by “The Stoke.” It’s when everyone’s pushing their hardest, when everyone’s going for it—maybe it started with one dude just trying to make something, but the enchantment soon spreads to everyone—when you start feeling it, you’re on it, you can do no wrong, you can land anything, that’s when The Stoke infects the session’s collective consciousness with a surge of power giving you a maniacal strength that makes you invincible. When you’re filled with The Stoke you start trying stuff you never thought possible and, next thing you know, you do something no one thought possible.

It’s hard to create that type of potency in any environment, but it’s especially difficult in a traditional contest setting where everyone has to wait their turn, wait for the judges to tally their scores, wait, wait, and wait some more. The jam session, on the other hand, is an open invitation to The Stoke.

To help get you in the mood for the arrival of The Stoke, here are a handful of our favorite jam sessions ever—these aren’t the only jam sessions ever, just some of the ones we’re very fond of. Should be an exciting year. Now, let’s pump up the jam.

Jim’s Ramp Jam, featuring the “Texas Death Match 2000” finals.

Jim’s Ramp Jam

This contest—if you can even call it that because it looked like no other contest I’ve ever seen—went down in 1996 in Jim Theibaud’s Oakland warehouse on his expansive mini ramp and it was one of the most refreshing events of the decade thanks to the “Texas Death Match 2000” finals. While a gluttony of pa$$ionless, corporate sponsored contests were being held throughout the world at the time, Jim had the radical idea of throwing a backyard ramp jam for skaters, by skaters. And it was indeed radical. As I wrote in my article at the time:

“It was a tough contest. I’ve never seen anything like it. The final jam session was the finest snake session ever. Anarchy was promoted. Chaos was endorsed. Taking people out was encouraged. There were no less than two people on the ramp at a time. Collisions all over the place. It looked like 26 figure skaters trying to perform their routines during a hockey game. It was a mess. A nine-man dog fight.”

My favorite quote from the day came from fourth place finisher, Kris Markovich, who said, “I’ve played every sport, and all of them combined can’t even come close to how crazy that was.”

John Cardiel’s b/s 360.

Bowl Riders, Marseille

Ah, the Marseille bowl in the South of France. One of the best and most beautiful skate spots in the world and home to what was one of the best annual events: the Bowlrider Comp. The second contest in 2000 was easily one of the gnarliest final jam sessions ever, but it was fraught with controversy. As I wrote back then:

“The controversy involved John Cardiel who simply couldn’t put it together in the finals. And then, near the end, he broke his board. He went insane. With his board bent, v-shaped in the middle, he frantically started destroying the bowls. The crowd was going nuts. John was making everything. In the last five minutes of the jam, on a broken board, John was the best skater out there. And then, to top it off, he did a b/s 360 grab over the gap that separates the shallow section from the seven-foot bowl. I understand no one has ever done that before—and John did it on a broken board.”

The problem, however, lay with the judges who awarded Cardiel 6th place. It can only be surmised that they were using some sort of point-based system to tally scores instead of a more “holistic” method of judging that a jam session deserves. No one is sure what contest the judges were watching because to everyone else in attendance there was no question that first place belonged to the person who put on one of the greatest displays of skateboarding ever seen.

As Jake Phelps said regarding the decision, “It’s like Rocky: he lost the first fifteen rounds, but he knocked the guy out in the last round.”

The crowd booed, and wouldn’t stop booing, during the awards ceremony. When Omar Hassan accepted first place, he graciously said into the microphone, “We all know this contest belongs to Cardiel.”

Dime Glory Challenge.

Dime Glory Challenge

While the Dime Glory contests in Canada aren’t technically “jam sessions,” they do evoke a similar atmosphere: FUUUUUUN!

You know why they’re fun: because they don’t try to turn a skateboard contest into a sportsball game. They discovered that the best part of any contest is the sideshow stuff to the main event, like highest air contest, or longest carve, or highest ollie, best trick, etc.. The irony, however, is that the whole reason Dime Glory is so fun is because the majority of the events aren’t judged, but rather use traditional sports metrics to measure the competitor’s performances. There’s no question or debate about who won “highest ollie,” it’s whoever went the highest. “Longest carve” goes to whoever carved the furthest. It’s silly and lighthearted as skateboarding should be. Simple, yet genius.

The Van Doren Invitational 2015, Huntington Beach, CA.

Van Doren Invitational

Vans is not unfamiliar with the jam format because the VPS predecessor, The Van Doren Invitational, was an all jam format. It’s a surprise that this Huntington Beach bowl was still standing at the end of the contest because these dudes deployed a scorched earth strategy that absolutely destroyed the place and laid it to waste. Check out some of the close calls in the video.

Thrasher Death Match, NYC, 2019.

Thrasher Death Match

I have to admit, as big of a supporter of the jam format as I am, it also scares the hell out of me and I don’t want to have anything to do with one ever—at least not inside the bowl. Case in point: Thrasher’s 2019 NYC Death Match and specifically the actual Death Match that occurs around 1:20. If you’ve ever wondered what happens when a couple dozen people all drop in at the same time, have a look-see. Fortunately, we’ll be watching the VPS gladiator battles safely from the sidelines and we can’t wait because the 2020 season is gearing up to be the gnarliest year ever.