Southern California has to be considered the hub of skateboarding, so it should be no surprise whenever a local kid bursts onto the scene. The latest gem to be uncovered from this area is 17-year-old Brendon Villanueva from the town of Poway, about 30 minutes from San Diego.
It's not like Brendon was exactly a secret before this summer, but there's no doubt he's elevated his profile. In July, he was invited to compete at the X Games' Hometown Heroes contest, an amateur comp that took place on their skateboard street course. Competing alongside a group of skaters that included Tyson Bowerbank, Brendon walked away with the silver medal.
A week before his X Games appearance, Brendon dropped by Skatelab for a Gatorade Free Flow qualifying event, won the whole thing, and earned a spot in the finals for the 3rd year in a row.
Brendon's win at Skatelab put him into finals
Despite the experience, Brendon didn't believe it gave him much of an edge when it came time to compete at finals. "I didn't really think of it that way," Brendon told us. "I just wanted to skate really well and stay on my board. I was just trying to stay focused and see what happened."
Brendon first offered us a glimpse into his potential in 2009, when he reached the podium in his first appearance at Gatorade Free Flow Finals, placing 3rd in the skate park division. After finishing 18th in finals the following summer, Brendon was back in Salt Lake City this year, and he showed everyone that he was back on his game.
"I was kind of nervous because there were a lot of good people [competing in finals], and I've already seen most of the kids there skate," Brendon recalled. "I've seen [some of them] if they were there a year ago, and I've seen footage of kids. So I was kind of nervous, but I just had to keep focused and then just practice the whole time."
Brendon at Gatorade Free Flow Finals in Salt Lake City
A list of pros that included Manny Santiago, Ke'chaud Johnson, and a couple previous Gatorade Free Flow Tour champions, Timmy Knuth and Chaz Ortiz, were in attendance for Brendon's coming-out party. Brendon dominated the opening round jam session of the contest. The judges rewarded his consistency and degree of difficulty with a score that was more than 4 points higher than any other rider in the contest, making him the top qualifier headed into Round 2.
With the scores wiped clean, Brendon continued to impress, laying down the best solo run of the 6 superfinalists, followed by another brilliant jam session.
"I've always wanted to win one of these and skate against the pros, so I was pretty hyped," Brendon said.
It was Brendon's uncle who taught him how to skate when he was just 3 years old. "He kept me into it and kept me skating," Brendon recalled. "All his friends used to skate around my grandparents' house, so I'd go hang out with them and skate."
Since that time, Brendon has grown up with a local skate scene that has enabled him to make skateboarding his life.
Among the local parks Brendon enjoys riding are Stoner Skatepark in Los Angeles and his hometown skatepark in Poway. He also enjoys a good street sesh though, particularly through downtown areas in San Diego and Los Angeles.
Since his Gatorade Free Flow Tour win, Brendon's been back home in California practicing and getting his tricks dialed. Next up for him is the Dew Tour contest in Las Vegas, into which he's earned a wild card invite to compete against the pros as a result of his Gatorade Free Flow Tour championship. This is a discipline in which the Gatorade Free Flow Tour has turned out some very successful competitors. Timmy Knuth (2008 winner) is consistently qualifying for Dew Tour finals, Alec Majerus (2010 winner) put on a show in Vegas last year at his Dew Tour debut, and you already know the deal with Chaz (2007 winner) - he collected 2 Dew Cups in a 3-year span.
Brendon gets some well-deserved props from a fellow champion after his win
Brendon's hoping to make finals, but the main thing for him is to give it the best he's got. "I just want to skate good, and skate how I did at Salt Lake," he said.
Living in SoCal has allowed Brendon to skate with some of the pros that live there, including Dew Tour riders Jordan Hoffart and Theotis Beasley. Now he'll be competing against them. "That's gonna be tight skating with Jordan," Brendon said of his friend.
Check out excerpts from our interview with Brendon below.
Gatorade Free Flow Tour: Living in SoCal, have you been able to ride with any of the pros that live there?
Brendon Villanueva: Yeah, I skate with a few, like Jordan Hoffart. I know him, so I try and go skating with him sometimes. And I've skated with Theotis [Beasley] a few times in L.A.
GFFT: What are your favorite parks or spots to skate?
BV: Probably one of my favorite parks is Stoner Skatepark in L.A. And then Poway Skatepark; that's my local skatepark. And then I just like to go street skating in downtown San Diego and downtown L.A.
GFFT: What did you think about your odds of winning headed into Gatorade Free Flow Finals?
BV: I was kind of nervous because there were a lot of good people, and I've already seen most of the kids there skate. I've seen [some of them] if they were there a year ago, and I've seen footage of kids. So I was kind of nervous, but I just had to keep focused and then just practice the whole time.
GFFT: Having been to finals the past 2 years, and even making the podium once, did you feel like that gave you an advantage?
BV: I didn't really think of it that way. I just wanted to skate really well and stay on my board. I don't know, I was just trying to stay focused and see what happened.
GFFT: After competing on the old Dew Tour courses the last 2 years, did you like the new concrete course design?
BV: Yeah, I definitely liked it way better because on concrete, you get a more crisp pop, so it's way better for skating.
GFFT: We haven't seen the course design for Las Vegas yet, but are there any features you'd like to see included?
BV: I just hope it's similar to the Salt Lake course because that was a super-good course, and I like to skate rails a lot, so hopefully there's some good rails.
GFFT: Did you do anything special to prepare for the Gatorade Free Flow Finals?
BV: Nothing serious, just skated. Practiced at some of my home parks just to get some tricks down.
GFFT: How did it feel to finally win the finals this year?
BV: It felt super-good. I was proud. I've always wanted to win one of these and skate against the pros, so I was pretty hyped.
GFFT: How has the whole experience been over the last few weeks, since the win?
BV: It's been pretty good. I've just been hanging out and skating a bunch around my town. I told my friends, and they're super-hyped for me to go out there and skate against the pros.
GFFT: Heading into Vegas, do you have any goals or expectations you've set for the contest?
BV: I just want to skate good and skate how I did at Salt Lake, and maybe go to the finals if it's possible.
GFFT: Are there any particualr pros you're looking forward to riding with for this first time?
BV: Probably P-Rod. And that's gonna be tight skating with Jordan Hoffart. He's a homie, and I'll be able to skate against him in contests. That'll be sick to just skate with him.
GFFT: What are your plans for next year? I assume you'd like to enter Dew Tour qualifiers?
BV: Yeah, I'm gonna try and enter some of those contests and just try and skate well.
GFFT: Anything else in the works for after Vegas is over with?
BV: I don't even know. I'm flying from Vegas to another contest finals after that. It's in Texas for the Volcom Wild in the Parks contest.
Brendon will be in Vegas next weekend competing at the Dew Tour, and we wish him the best of luck! Check back over the next week, as we have features coming up on Luke Parker and Jonathan Schwan. And if you missed last week's story on BMX park champion Brandon Loupos, be sure to check that out.