Brazilian Slayer at the Third Lair
With five second left in his run, Tulio de Oliveira rolls to the top of the corner platform, skids to a stop, and looks over the 25,000 square-foot assemblage of ramps and rails at Golden Valley's Third Lair skate park.
The voice of the emcee rattles over the heads of some 200 skaters and spectators:
"Time for one last trick, Tulio!"
Although de Oliveira's laid down a solid line of tricks, the 17-year-old needs something to seal the deal -- a real hammer of a last trick to solidify his third and last run in the expert division of the third annual Midwest Melee, an open contest that draws skateboarders from all over the Midwest. De Oliveira postponed his stay in the United States to skate in the melee before returning home to São Paulo, Brazil.
After eyeing the embankment flanked by a grind bar nearby the judges' table, de Oliveira makes a "raise the roof" gesture to the crowd and offers folded palms to the ceiling before stepping onto his board and rolling down the masonite transition. People along the periphery holler as de Oliveira positions his feet in preparation for the hammer -- in this case, a nollie heelflip backside lipslide. At the peak of the bank, de Oliveira stomps the nose of his skateboard as his back foot flicks across the tail, causing him to pop into the air -- his board flipping under him -- and above the dinner table-length grind rail. As the board completes its rotation de Oliveira extends his feet, pressing the middle of the skateboard perpendicularly to the metal rail, and begins to slide.
The only audible sound is de Oliveira's white urethane wheels connecting with the Masonite platform. Then the park erupts in hollers. Skateboarders around the park slap their skateboards on the concrete floor or the metal coping of the ramps. De Oliveira, sweaty, beaming, and embarrassed, drags his heel as he slowed to a stop. After popping his board into his hand, he claps briefly before looking down at his shoes.
"Now that's how you finish up the Melee!" shouts emcee Steve Gareri, co-owner of Third Lair.
As the five judges tabulate the scores, de Oliveira sits on a plastic couch next to a friend in the park's fenced-in parking lot.
"You were great," the friend remarks.
"I know, I saw," de Oliveira replies.
She looks at him. "Did you just say you sucked?"
"No. I mean, 'saw', like past-tense of 'to see?'"
The friend looks dubious for a moment; then her eyes light up. "Oh! Oh, you 'know how great you were, because you saw,'" she says.
De Oliveira smiles a moment before looking up at her again. "Thanks," he says softly. "Thanks."
The São Paulo, Brazil, native has spent the better part of 2005 traveling the States and Europe skating in a string of highbrow amateur contests because "in Brazil we have contests and we have companies, but if you work hard at skating there still aren't as many opportunities as in America." At these contests, the team managers of skateboard companies often sniff out promising skaters the same way college recruiters do talented football players.
Financially backed by his family and several Brazilian skateboard companies, de Oliveira entered the Tampa Am contest in January, where he placed 16th in the semi-finals. Tom Rohrer, a fellow skater from Plymouth, Minnesota became pals with de Oliveira, and the two kept in touch when he returned to Brazil. In the spring the Rohrer family invited him to stay with them in Minnesota so he could compete alongside Tom in Third Lair's Damn Am contest in June, where de Oliveira placed 8th.
In July he flew to Europe to compete in the annual World Cup Skateboarding contest series, a tri-pronged event that took him to France, the Czech Republic, and Germany, where his cumulative performances landed him a 20th world ranking. And while the World Cup only ranks the skateboarders who can afford to hang out in Europe for three weeks, plenty of the sport's most recognized pros (Rick McCrank, 29th; MTV jackass Bam Margera, 68th; and Tony Trujillo, 83rd) made the trip this year and placed, well, noticeably lower than de Oliveira.
Back in Minnesota for the Melee, de Oliveira cruised through the qualifying heats to skate in the finals Sunday. During his run he wore a t-shirt that in Magic Marker read, "God bless the Rohrer family."
Later that afternoon during the awards ceremony, Steve Gareri announces the winners in each category. As the fifth and fourth place finishers emerge from the huddle of skaters, de Oliveira is surprised to hear his name announced so soon. Ousted by first place and second place finishers Jason Barr, 18, of Rice Lake, WI, and local ripper Ryan Yost, 17, of Minneapolis, respectively, de Oliveira isn't pissed off by his third place finish. Yet he isn't satisfied, either.
"I'm going to be back next year," he says, and walks off.