Vans' decades-long involvement in skateboarding continues this weekend when Brazilian Pedro Barros, Californian Lizzie Armanto and dozens more top athletes compete in the Vans Park Series Pro Tour World Championships at a new skatepark in Salt Lake City.
Vans will crown world champions for the fourth straight year in what's become the world's premier park terrain series, which is being used as a blueprint by the IOC for skateboarding's Olympic debut at Tokyo next summer.
Vans has been leaving its mark on skateboarding for years, most recently by building permanent skateparks to leave behind after the competition.
This contest will be at the new Vans-Utah Sports Commission Skatepark. Skateboarding pioneer Tony Hawk, who does commentary and analysis on the webcasts of tour contests, attended the unveiling earlier this week.
"We're on a mission to try to put in as many skateparks as possible and leave a legacy behind and help create a hub for emerging talent," Bobby Gascon, Vans' director of global marketing, said in a phone interview.
This year's tour started on a temporary course in Shanghai and continued at a skatepark built last year in Sao Paulo, Brazil. New skateparks were built for the stops in Montreal, Paris and Salt Lake City.
"For us it's what kind of moves the needle," Gascon said. "There's one thing about inspiring and showing them what can be done, but enabling is part of the brand ethos, including enabling creativity."
Barros, 24, grew up in Florianópolis skating everything from a dirt road on his way to school, to streets and skateparks. He said the Vans tour is leaving a positive legacy for a sport that's always been on the fringes.
"Skateboarding has been in the underground for like over 40 years now and a lot of people don't understand what it is," said Barros, who won the Vans tour stops in Sao Paulo and Montreal. "A lot of people look at skateboarders as outlaws or rebels. We get looked down on by society because we're skateboarders a lot of times. If you put a park in a city or a neighborhood, it gives them everything — friendship, family, opportunity, and that's already a lot."
The Vans world championship comes a week before World Skate's world championships in Sao Paulo, which will serve as one of several qualifying events for the Olympics.
Barros said he's not getting too wrapped up in his Olympic prospects just yet, or even using this contest as a warmup for next week's contest.
"In the end this is all about skateboarding and getting together with your friends and pushing the bar of a lifestyle we live and support and love," he said. "That's the main goal always."
Armanto, 26, who lives in Oceanside, California, said she learned to skate at a local skatepark in Santa Monica.
She said she's been focusing on contests this year after working on videos the previous year or so.
"All the best girls are pretty much here," she said. "The level of skating has gone up tremendously, especially because of the Olympics. It's really cool to see the level of women's skating stepping up."
She holds dual U.S.-Finnish citizenship and said she'll try to qualify for Finland in order to open up a spot for another American.
"In skateboarding I feel it doesn't matter where you're from, it's what you do," she said. "For me it's important that the best skateboarders show up in the 2020 Olympics."
A total of 80 spots will be available for the Olympics, with 20 per event, which include men's and women's park and street.
"When we created the park series, that influenced the IOC's decision in introducing skateboarding in Tokyo in park and street," Gascon said. "They saw the power we had. Obviously we cover all the continents and have prize parity, with men and women both involved. The level in women's participation in park is really compelling. We've built something robust and powerful and compelling, that's easy to understand."
The men's and women's champions each receive $30,000.
The men's and women's semifinals were Friday and the finals are Saturday. The live stream featuring Hawk's commentary begins at 2 p.m. EDT Saturday at vansparkseries.com.
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