Last fall, as part of a series about 16-year-old athletes for VICE Sports, I profiled the up-and-coming skateboarder Jagger Eaton. Though he had a string of impressive showings in amateur contests and had starred in a Rob Dyrdek–produced Nickelodeon show, Jagger hadn’t released any major video parts or received much coverage in the skate media. As soon as I saw him skating in person, though, I was blown away. Cruising around Encinitas’s Poods skate park, he skated with an ease and grace that immediately made him stand out. Plus, he was the nicest kid. I came away expecting big things.
For over two decades, the Skatepark of Tampa has held perhaps the most prestigious contest in skateboarding. It doesn't have the purse of the big-money competitions like Street League, but it's got history and heart. Every year a who’s who of the skate industry heads to Florida for a weekend of parties, stunts (“Door Gap Best Trick,” “Death Race”), and, most importantly, the Tampa Pro. Nearly every winner has become an icon in the skate world—and most of them were already huge before they won. When I saw on Instagram that Jagger was there, I thought that he would probably win it eventually, but I had no idea it would be this year. “Honestly, I didn’t think it was going to be this year either,” he told me when I called him yesterday to ask about his big win. For one thing, he’s not actually pro, so he didn’t even know if his registration would be approved until a few weeks go.
VICE: First off, congratulations. How does it feel?
Jagger Eaton: Thank you, man. I’m stoked. It was a super fun contest. I was just super stoked to compete with the pros.
You’re still listed as an am on the Plan B website. How were you able to enter a pro contest?
I just tried to register for the contest, and it got approved. I booked my flight a week before the contest and went out there. Plus I’ve grown a little bit, and my voice got a bit deeper. I think that was little bit of it, plus I put out a bit of street footage.
When you win a contest as prestigious as Tampa Pro, does that sort of force your board sponsor Plan B to turn you pro?
I don’t really know how it goes. I mean, I love Plan B, and I love where they’re at, and if I get to turn pro for a brand like Plan B, I’m stoked. That’s the main goal. But if not, I love where I’m at. I love skateboarding in general. If that’s what I gotta do and I’m not pro yet, that’s what I’m going to do.
So you’re just waiting to figure out what’s next?
I’m just floating [laughs]. I’m just a little fish in a gigantic ocean floating.
Were you nervous before the contest?
Yeah, I was definitely nervous, mostly just because I’m competing with the people I look up to so much, like Nyjah [Huston] and Kelvin [Hoefler]. As far as contests go, I’m definitely nervous to compete, but overall I’m just excited to be able to compete with pros. You’re not necessarily competing against anybody; you’re competing with yourself. That’s the best part of the whole thing: Nobody’s really there to beat each other. I’m competitive, but it’s just fun.
But having the entire skateboard industry in the crowd must be a lot of pressure.
Exactly. Phelper was watching me right there. That’s intimidating—I look up to him and what he’s done for skateboarding. It’s definitely intimidating having everyone’s eyes on you the whole time, but overall your skateboarding stands for what you are. To be able to go out there and skate and do your tricks and have fun is what it’s all about.
When, between registering and finishing your final run, did you realize that you might actually win?
Overall, you should go into every contest thinking you’re going to win. I don’t really see a point in not going into every contest thinking you’re going to win. That’s just how it is in every sport. But, you know, honestly I really didn’t think I had a chance to win. I was so stoked just to even be in that contest. That contest is so legendary, to just be in there and be able to compete with the people I look up to was just rad. That was the goal of this whole journey, and the fact that I got to do it and came out on top hasn’t even kicked in yet.
To win a contest like this, you really have to land everything, but were there any specific tricks that you felt uncertain about?
As far as the finals run, it was that kickflip back-lip, right off the back 180 nosegrind. That was the one trick I didn’t do in qualifiers or semi-finals. I waited until finals to do that, and luckily I made it when I needed to.
The list of Tampa Pro winners is filled with some of the greatest skaters ever. What’s it like seeing your name alongside those guys?
That’s really honestly why it hasn’t set in yet. It’s like, Eric Koston and Greg Lutzka winning it three times—it’s intimidating. I’m skating this contest where my favorite skaters in the whole world have skated. It’s pretty gnarly. All you want to do is just like, impress them and show them that you can hang. That’s the main goal. The fact that I’m up there as one of the winners, I’m beyond thankful and stoked and humbled by the experience. It was just surreal. I’m really stoked.
How did you celebrate?
I went home and washed the champagne off me. I hurt my heel really bad in qualifying, so I went home and just iced and wrapped my foot all day [after qualifiers]. I woke up, had a little bit of pain in my heel, but I went and skated. Then [after winning] I went to the pool and got a Caesar salad and a coke. Then I went to a big Red Bull dinner with all the guys. It was a good night. And my dad was there too, which was super rad.
So you celebrated winning the most famous contest in skateboarding with a Caesar salad and a Coke.
Not just a Caesar salad. It had chicken on it, Hanson. I really celebrated: two Cokes, molten lava chocolate cake, and Caesar salad. Nothing short of perfect.
Any plans for the $20,000 prize?
Well, I mean, after taxes… I think I’m just going to put it away and just save it. I’m 17 right now. I’m going to try to get a house in LA or San Diego when I’m 18. Trying to move out there and start my journey as an adult.
You’re skating in this year’s Street League and Vans Park Series tours. I heard those will work as the qualifiers for skateboarding in the 2020 Olympics?
Street League will be the Olympic street qualifier for 2020, and Vans Park Series will be the park qualifier. They’ll start all the Olympic qualifiers next year.
So you still have a bit of time, but I imagine you’ve got your eye on it?
I mean, yeah, that’d be awesome. It’s not my main goal in skateboarding, but if I’m there, why wouldn’t you want to compete for your country? That’s one of the biggest goals in any sport. That would be awesome.
Sign up for our newsletter to get the best of VICE delivered to your inbox daily.
Follow Hanson O'Haver on Twitter.