Open Letter + Format C by Michael Sommer

An open letter to Flatland

Is flatland dying? Is flat dead? I think  you have to ask the question “what is flatland for yourself?” in the first place to know what is dead or not.
Flatland can be a lot of things. It can be the artform where riders push the sport by not just making it more difficult by going higher or faster but doing more progressive and harder stuff. While streettricks most of the time evolve around doubles, triples and higher basics, the basics in flatland are not even done yet. There is no real structure in the trickculture which is good on the artistic side of flatland because there is so much freedom in our sport and lifestyle but on the other hand it´s bad for the contestside because the comparision is getting harder and harder… well almost impossible.
Flatland can also be a sport where people ride contests and train hard to dial tricks. It takes a lot of training, memory and patience to show as many hard tricks in a 3minute run as possible. Effraim Catlow once said, “on vert it is good to have the tricks back to back but in flatland almost everything is back to back.”

When I started riding I was excited about all the new stuff that happened. New tricks, new videos, new creativity. I saw people pushing the artform side of riding. They managed to make their dreams come true. A new video with new tricks was fuel for me to also learn more and one day be good enough to also learn my own stuff. Real videoparts and videotricks are hard to find nowadays. For me Marttis endpart in Chad Johnstons background is the last REAL videopart. It was original and highest-level riding and showed tricks that took maybe 60 trys to pull. Nowadays things changed a bit because almost everything is aviable through the internet. A lot of riders out there only put perfect contesttricks on tape and online. Of course there are still exceptions… Cory Fester pops to my mind as an example. Also some riders don´t even go to contests and if they do, they won´t compete. But they request footage of this or that contest in a fucking forum because it´s much easier to sit in front of a screen where you are your own god of the keyboard than to go on a jorney and proof individuality and personality, personal and riding wise, without being able to just switch off the screen after a sarcastic post.

So basically there are only a few that take the pain of putting real videoparts together because the easy and fast fame at a contest by showing that you can do somebody elses or a trendy trick is much more interesting. It´s the same with getting good placing with an easy but perfect run. nowadays it seems like a quality proof to some riders so it takes out the progression of flatland a bit.

The skills I gathered over the first few years of riding had led to trying other peoples tricks too which for me always got boring sooner or later because I saw that I could do them and it wasn´t fulfilling my personal feeling of riding. It never was a big deal for me to learn them. I never was happy with my riding anyways and I always wanted to rise to the next level of riding. What I want to say is that if riders learn other riders tricks they actually are just in a process on the way to what I call “grandmaster”. A grandmaster is a rider who does own tricks, with own style, looking for new doors, new concepts and a way to put the border of flatland one step further. In a nutshell: a progressive individual. That´s at least where I wanna be one day. In the end it´s all about a feeling we get on our bikes. Weather it´s copying or riding original. Everybody enjoys riding in a different way and as long as you don´t battle somebody in a contest who beats you with your own tricks, everything should be cool.

On the other side of the medal there are the contests. You go there and try the best you can do. If the best you can do there is riding as a grandmaster it would be the perfect thing. But what about people who see other riders doing a trick, being able to videoanalyze every link with the help of youtube etc.? …And the whole thing for free? In my eyes they can win contests but they have to have a very high level of difficulty and consistence because they copy.

When I do bad at contests I sometimes consider to quit riding contests in a serious way because apart from nervosity I have to deal with too many things that are like lottery for me. It takes so much energy to get dialled just to find out that because of some factors I´ll not do good. Not being able to show what I can do.

Every rider rides best at home at his homespot. I went to loads of different places in my life and watched riders like Martti Kuoppa or Matti Röse ride their homespots. I saw clips of riders that got shot on homespots. That was sometimes more than awesome riding of grandmasters!
Now we travel to a contest. Sometimes many hours by plane, car or train and we ride a floor that most of the time is shitty but when the floor was good, I always witnessed the best riding from all the riders and not just the ones who had advantage because of some missing qualityfactors of the floor.
So what does a floor need to be good? I would say: flat, even, grippy and big. Now I don´t know a lot of contests that had a good floor in the last time based on that definition. the FISE for example: I wasn´t there but from what I saw it couldn´t really hold up to the size part.
If you look at other sports, and yes I consider contest riding also a sport, you´ll find very strict rules for utilities, areas, floors, gras, shoes, swimsuits, distances and even wind. basically everything. Why not for a flatland surface?
Having a shitty area in my eyes equals a swimmingpool for professional swimmers with so little water in there that they touch the ground every time they try to pull their arms full force
or a 100m sprinter that has to run on grass, without spikes on his shoes.

How should riders like Alexis Desolneux for example proof on a small area what he can do? If Alexis has a nice floor, he pulls some shit which most of the time is stuff that is beyond most pros abilities. Remember the FISE when it was on a huge asphaltarea? I think he got 2nd place even with some touches. With tiny areas it gets narrowed down to the riders who spin in circles on 2x2 m also it´s dangerous because when the floor is bad of course everyone wants to catch some time to get used to the shitty surface which ends in chaos and injury. Beside that on a bigger area we would see martti pedaling even faster on his rollaid :-)

That´s most of the time my personal favourite! I rode a lot of contests in my life and the best results were always the ones where there was good grip. With good grip I can try harder tricks because I can rely on the floor that it doesn´t let me slip away, getting a good feeling, having the floor as my friend and not as my enemy. I still question the quality of my worlds run in Prague 2005 but I was really happy to have the contest on grippy asphalt and for some unknown reason I must have looked confident enough in my run for the judges to take a dream back home I never worked for.
Nowadays so many people are crying for new contest tricks and bitching about how this or that rider didn´t do good tricks at this or that comp. I hear the flow topic all over the contest scene and the fucking internet but how should you ride flowing, inovative and dynamic when the floor swallows all your speed by letting you slip away? what other choice do you have if you go on a contesttrip than to water down all your combos because of the floor? …and I think when York Uno slips and falls on a steamroller, it should be a sign because he can do them anywhere.
Not everyone gets the chance to show what they can do on a shitty surface and to be honest it takes away the competition and the chances to raise the level of difficulty and most importantly quality and diversity of contest riding on cost of the riders who just can´t ride on a slippery, uneven, bouncy, dusty, small area. Nobody wants to see people try a trick for 10 times and slip away. So you better try to play save, keep the level a bit lower because the normal spectator who doesn´t ride himself thinks that with the impressive size and quality of the dirtpark, the nice big vertramp and the huge professional ramppark right next door, the flatlandsurface will also be top-notch and fulfilling the very high standards and needs of an professional and international contestarea. Ergo: flatland can look quite stupid to the normal spectator because there are a lot of riders not pulling their tricks… so lets rather get the easy entertained and go watch the backflip on ramppark!

Hello, I ride street!
Now imagine a bumpy floor. How many riders do you know who practice on bumpy floor at home to learn new tricks? It´s not flatland anymore because there are obstacles on the contest area that most people can´t handle. Pretty simple!
Flatland as a contestsport need to grow more because it´s far from being dead but the low media coverage and sometimes the lack of interest of even some flatlanders lets people think that it is dying. The average flatlander and the average streetrider are actually totally different so if a magazine for example only has rock and roll and streetriding in there, how could riders that are interestet in flatland identify with that? Same vice versa. Contests are good because they are the interface where people get in touch with the sport and hopefully the artform. The media is our friend in that case but it would be more interesting for out- and insiders to have good contestconditions so it feels good for rider and looks good for the spectator. Like a high quality jam session with good conditions where the spectators are just witnesses of some good riding and not a show where the riders adjust more to the crowd and the floor than to riding. If the sessions are good, the good vibe will be there automatically and if that happens the crowd always goes crazy!
Some of the contestorganizers are holding flatland back that way by accident. They believe in flatland, want to keep it “alive” by still having it but in the end they get the exact opposite outcome because they are only providing the needs of a few riders and since touching in a contest is bad you´ll see people fuck up their runs and it will become less interesting for spectators and media. Vicious circle, init?

Don´t judge so you won´t get judged.
I think there were a lot of contests where the riders were not happy with the results. Not the personal happiness. I mean the fair happiness. If you ride your run you get a feeling for the quality of the run. Sometimes the feeling is good if you try hard and pull shit and sometimes it´s a bad feeling if you fuck up. At least you have a subjective view on your run and if you watch other riders run you also get a subjective view of your run compared to another riders run. If you are not bigheaded you will not lie to yourself by pretending you rode better if you didn´t. a judgingsystem based on this would be cool but of course it´s hippie fiction so the next lottery was always the judging. Who is judging? What are they looking out for? I saw riders win a contest with a no touch run that consisted of masterclasslevel tricks and I´ve seen grandmasters win with quite some touches but original hard moves. Both is really cool nowadays but it would be cool to know what to work on for a contest.

Format C:

I made up a simple format that cut´s down the judges freedom to a system and symbiosis between fact and point of view. It is very intuitive and can be used instantly just by watching a rider. It´s just nessesary to have judges who have knowledge about difficulty and originality.
First of all I want to say that this is just an idea I´d like to present and nobody has to do it that way. It´s something for the sharing pool…

First, take a combo… Viki Gomez for example:
Switchfood firehydrant to blindside overframe jump to steamroller turbine out. Whole combo without touching the tire

For every trick in a combo you can get 4 points:
1 point for a filler,
2 points for a good trick,
3 points for a good and hard trick
4 for a burner.

That would go like this with the Viki combo:
Switchfood firehydrant (1point) to blindside overframe jump  to steamroller (3points) turbine out. (2 points) =6 points

On top of that there are additions:

O – originality: 2 extra points
C – copy: 1 minus points
F – footsave on the tire in switches 1 minus point
S – scuffing: 2 minus points
T – touches
R – repeated tricks. No benefits.

That´s to keep the people from doing a hundred fillers and placing good.

So again with the 6points viki combo:
Switchfood firehydrant to blindside overframe jump  to stemrollerturbine out.
So he´d get the 6 points plus 2 extra for the O =8points

And in the end of the combo the judge can give up to 5 points for the overall expression of the combo which also includes brakeless skills, flow and style. For example if the combo was sketchy pulled the rider would not get the full combo points.
So if viki himself does that combo he´d get 6+2+5= 13 points for it.
It sounds complicated but when you see a rider and you have a pen in your hand just taking notes by putting bars on paper it is very easy to make out the score for a run after the run. During the run you don´t have numbers. It´s just bars and letters.

My explanation for this:
I think all flatlanders agree when I say that originality is one of the highest forms of riding. So to give 2 extra points is fair for sure.
Like I always say. It´s not too hard to look at a movement and learn it instead of taking the doubts of not knowing if it is possible. So if you pull a signature trick you will get 2 to 4 points for difficulty and 2 extras for originality.. That means up to 6 points. If someone else is doing that move he also will get the 3 or 4 difficultypoints but he will be punished with minus 1 because if you have a burner combo but its not your trick, the trick should not be a burner anymore. But in the end, if you would count that up, you still have at least 2-3 points for a hard good trick.
I think nowadays if you want to be the best you have to do many things but one of them is to ride on a high difficulty level. MOST of the time if you put your foot on the tire it makes things easier. It is the judges to decide though when they put the F on the paper. This is fair  because if you roll you have to pump which takes away time that riders with one kick already use for the next trick.
I think I don´t have to explain this. Scuffing makes tricks easier and saves a trick. But the judges have to see the difference between saving and getting speed.
Touches will be subtracted in the end
Repeated tricks. You just don’t get the points for a move you already PULLED in a previous combo but that doesn´t count with turbines and loop combos which raise the difficulty of a combo because over 3 turbines those tricks can be harder. Again the judge has to be qualified to see and judge this.

This all may sound complicated but it´s easy to use. Just make notebars for the tricks and letters for the other stuff . You intstantly know what´s hard or not if you are a qualified judge and if judged right and fair with all the knowledge all judges should get the same results.

Thanx for reading this. Stay motivated and positive!

2008-08-08 - Michael Sommer