Interview: Chad Ford of BOWL-A-RAMA

“We all got together and put on comps and demos and built ramps, doing whatever we could to keep skating happening and to keep it moving forward.” – Chad Ford

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The BOWL-A-RAMA™ has been brought to us from a few figures of skating past who could be labelled the Australian Skate Guards. After a skate boom in the 70’s, followed by the death of the wide-spread obsession with skateboarding in the early 80‘s. With the sport being labelled as a little punk’s past time, it was then more than ever that skateboarding needed a life support. During this time along came Mr Chad Ford and his crew to make their effort in keeping skateboarding’s head ironically above water, playing their part in ensuring the sport didn’t fade into the blue abyss of extinction.

The above effort is overly apparent when you visit a BOWL-A-RAMA™ event in this keen day and age. Designed to portray skateboarding in a positive light to the world, influencing peoples’ opinion on the wooden sport, the BOWL-A-RAMA™ is a short period on the Australian calendar that can only be described as one of the best days of skateboarding. All the pros, amateurs and legends alike, all gathered in the heat to a pool with no water. Doesn’t seem to make sense until you see Bob Burnquist 540 McTwist out of the concrete skate container, rising above your head as your eyes roll back in amazement, and you’re left standing there feeling like you’re truly in the presence of supernatural beings.

The road has been a long and dusty one for the lads at the BOWL-A-RAMA™, but each year they’re getting closer and closer to a nicely tarred, or should I say paved, path as this events skyrockets in growth and popularity.

So, Mr Chad Ford, am I correct in saying that you’re the guy who started BOWL-A-RAMA™ and the whole concept?

Yep! A couple of friends and myself started it back in the beginning of 2005. The first one was kind of the official opening of the Bondi Skatepark.

You designed that skatepark didn’t you?

Yeah, my day job is actually designing skateparks.

I was just about to ask, what experience did you have prior to starting BOWL-A-RAMA™?

I grew up skating my whole life. My friends and I were trying to start a scene back in the early-mid 80’s, but there weren’t that many skaters at the time and there wasn’t much going on skate-wise. Until things started to pick up and it all started coming back in, there wasn’t that much happening.

If we wanted to do something we had to do it ourselves. We all got together and put on comps and demos and built ramps, doing whatever we could to keep skating happening and to keep it moving forward. That was the generation that I grew up in, we did whatever it took to make something happen. If we didn’t do it, at the time, no one was going to.

So when you started BOWL-A-RAMA™ what was the state of the skate industry at the time?

Skating was at a bit of a peak around then, in 2005. The skatepark boom was in full swing and there were a few major events going on. Globe was having their World Cup events in Melbourne at the time so there were a few positive things happening. The opportunity popped up for us to do something in a different way that came for skaters from skaters. We saw a lot of benefit in setting up events in places where skaters get to ride every single day. If you get the best riders in the world and put them into your local spot, it’s going to grow that local team because the locals can see what is possible there and they can spend the rest of the year working on their repertoire and hopefully end up in the comp. Nathan ‘Jimmi’ Beck is a great example of that.

When did the big sponsors come on board? Has it always been the Vans BOWL-A-RAMA™?

Vans came on board in the second year. The first year we just kind of begged, borrowed and stole whatever we needed to make it happen. It was when Vans and the World Cup came on board that things really started to take off. The first year there was a crew from overseas just hanging around and the second year was when competitors started coming just for BOWL-A-RAMA™. Vans have been on board for about six years now. We’ve really appreciated their support and their sharing in our vision.

Could you ever have imagined that the event would become as big and popular as it is now?

We always kind of knew where it was possible to go with it. We just had to convince other people that this kind of event was possible in Australia or even in other spots around the world. Every year we’re growing more and we’ve had the opportunity to put a little more back into skating and pay skaters a little bit more. That was our ultimate goal: to create an incredible event that showcases the best of the Australian skateboard scene and showing the world that they need to be a part of that. Also to show skateboarding in the best light possible to the public and invite them in. We always had the vision that this was all possible. It wouldn’t have been achievable without our team of people who shared in this vision.

What does the future hold for BOWL-A-RAMA™?

We will be expanding, holding more events in places where we can have a positive impact on the skate scene. We don’t like flying in and doing a big show and then leaving. We want whatever we do to be part of the local scene and we want the locals to be part of it. We are currently talking with different people regarding finding scenes where BOWL-A-RAMA™ will have the most beneficial impact.

How soon do you think you will be holding a girls division?

We have been trying to get industry support for a professional women’s division since we started, but no one will back it. There is also no local professional women’s scene anymore. If the support and riders were there then it would be on. I think there needs to be a more proactive approach taken by the females in growing a grassroots amateur scene that comes from them and positively portrays them in the way they feel is best. From there it will develop into a professional competition that will be more effective in building a long term scene that gives back in the right ways. If anyone is interested we are more than happy to get on board and make it happen.

Who are the local and international skaters that are coming up?

Nathan “Jimmi” Beck is definitely on his way up. RJ Barbaro gets better every year. There are some new kids that were shining in The Dew Am Jam this year who are amazing too. I think the important thing is that they don’t rush it, though. They need to take some time and be happy being an amateur for a couple more years until they are really amazing. Stage parents should keep out of the picture and let the kids develop at their own speed and become amazing skaters that everyone wants to hang with rather than trying to avoid because of their parents/managers.

What’s the biggest bail you’ve ever seen?

BOWL-A-RAMA™ has all the very best bowl skaters in the world and they know what they are doing so We haven’t really had that many slams. Renton’s bell ringer last year was easily the biggest and worst, but we haven’t really had anything close to that before or after. Renton still owes me dinner at Icebergs.

Lastly, how can skaters get themselves into the event?

There are a limited number of rider positions available in the competition (40 PRO position and 24 MASTERS positions). These positions are filled in order of rank. If a rider has previous WCS (World Cup of Skateboarding) points from other prior events then they shall be allowed entry first and the riders with higher ranking will receive first spots. If there are any remaining rider spots these shall be filled by wildcard entry.

Wildcard entry for Bondi is done through placings at BOWL-A-RAMA™ Wellington. This year Wellington served to rank the wildcard entries for Bondi. If a rider was seeking a spot in Bondi and did not have previous WCS points then they needed to enter Wellington to earn their spot for Bondi. Five spots in each division were held for wildcards and the highest placed riders in Wellington without WCS points were ranked in order for these spots. Wellington is the first stop of the year for the Bowl Series and is the only event where open pro entry is available.

PRO entry guidelines are quite tough. All competitors must be at least 16 years of age. If a competitor is younger than 16 then their sponsor must turn them pro to be eligible to enter. MASTERS entry guidelines state all competitors must be at least 40 years of age and have a history of being paid to ride their skateboard professionally to be eligible to enter.

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For more on the BOWL-A-RAMA visit the official website.

Photo credit: Sam Coady

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© Jonathan Boonzaaier 2016

Jonathan Boonzaaier Editorial Journalist Bowl-a-rama Article

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