Date: January 12th, 2013
Report by Łukasz Dziatkiewicz
Skateboarding is a theme which very rarely appears in pinball games. The Internet Pinball Database shows only four machines, one is quite popular - Radical! - but the rest are definitely not - Skateball (1980, Bally), Skateboard (1980, Inder) and Skate King which is a home made one-off machine.
But that doesn’t mean there are not many skateboarders who like pinball.
In our Polish association (PSF) we have one young skateboarder who loves pinball. His name is Piotrek Heller and last year he even tried playing pinball on a board during one tournament. It didn't help his performance though.
Until recently I didn’t think there could be any kind of a real relation between skateboarding and pinball. A pinballer could be skateboarder, but then so could a boxer, pianist, philatelist, fisherman, or an FBI or insurance agent.
But I was wrong!
I changed my mind at the end of last year when I found on the New York Pinball League website the Reciprocal Skateshop in Manhattan's East Village, New York. This place has the largest number of pinball machines in the whole of NY - currently nine.
The store has two rooms; the first is mainly for boards, accessories and clothing, but the second is mainly pinballs! Man, look at this video!
That day I met and had a short chat with Reciprocal's owner, 39-year-old Jon Ehrlich. And, of course, played some games.
He told me about tournament Pinferno which would be held there January 12th. Unfortunately there was no possibility of me playing in the seventh edition of this event since the entry list of players from across the US was already full. Despite this, I decided to come and see the tournament, and I was lucky – a place became available for me.
I was so happy and excited. It was my first tournament in the US.
For the Pinferno tournament the organizers moved four pinballs to the first room and added a borrowed electromechanical game Mars Trek (at the present time they don’t have any EM or alphanumeric games).
Each contestant in the four-player teams played two games in each round. The best player got 7 points, second got 5 points, third got 3 and last place zero.
These point were totalled after all the rounds had been played, and best 24 players qualified for the next round.
I won three games and had enough points to get to the second stage. What a success for me! By then it was around 20:30 and some players still had play-offs to complete due to the inevitable tied number of points.
This seems like a good moment to introduce the interview I did with Jon after the tournament, to find out more about him, his place, and how Pinferno began.
How long have you been a pinball fan?
Jon: I’ve been playing pinball since I was old enough to stand. I started playing in arcades at my grandfather’s restaurant at Coney Island, Brooklyn. From 1964 until 1989, he owned a hot dog restaurant that was Nathan’s biggest competitor. They had plenty of pins in the back, amongst several of the newest video games. I would stand on phone books to see over the glass. Once my parents moved me out to the suburbs of New York, I found myself flocking to the local mall arcades, such as “Aladdin’s Castle”, and “Mr. Arcade”. It was all I wanted to do, but at the time I never imagined how it was going to sculpt my career as an adult.
Jon: Pinball came first for me. I grew up as a BMX’er, and hung out with skateboarders. I had always envisioned having pinball in a skateshop, because I always believed there was a direct crossover. Both require accurate timing, hand/eye coordination, and patience. I figured it was a natural combination.
Jon: Once I began building a sizable pinball collection, I was looking for places to route machines. As I mentioned, I wanted to try it in a skateshop, so I began routing a few in the shop I now own. Soon afterward, the owner approached me about buying the business, as he wanted out, and it was failing. I agreed, and turned it around, expanding the shop, adding more machines, and much more skateboard product.
Jon: My first pinball was a N.I.B. Stern Spider-Man. I live across the street from a bar that used to always get the newest machines first. At the time, life had caused me to sort of fall out of pinball, from the way I had used to play. So, I hadn’t been paying attention to the pinball industry news, or the rumors of the games soon to be released. I walked into that bar the day they unboxed one of the first SM machines to leave the Stern factory, and I was shocked. I thought to myself “Damn, that even LOOKS sexy!” I played one game, and it immediately re-invigorated pinball for me. I almost had forgotten how great the game can be.
I spent countless hours and dollars on that machine, that I said to myself “I may as well just buy one of these, ‘cause that’s pretty much what I’m doing anyway, at the rate that I’m shovelling money into it”. Also, I had just left a Wall Street job after 13 years, so I wanted to buy myself something cool.
I can vividly remember calling the distributor to order it, and he said to me, “Just so you know… it’s expensive!”. I replied, “Good, it should be just tell me where to send the check”.
From there I decided that I wanted to learn how to repair everything on a machine. I decided to buy myself a fixer-upper. Less than a month after getting my SM, I bought a beater The Getaway. It turned out to be way more of a fixer-upper than I had bargained for. Having committed myself to refurbishing the game back to ‘like-new’ condition, I spent 200-300 hours restoring it. As a result, it played great and I learned well more than I’d hoped for. The Getaway was the first machine in the shop, and though it has come and gone several times since, it’s still in the shop today.
Jon: I have somewhere between 40-50 tables at the moment.
Jon: I do all the work on the machines myself. However when I was prepping the machines for Pinferno, I looked to my friend Eddie Cramer to help me, as it’s way too much work for any one person. He’s such a smart technician and a great friend.
Jon: The latest tournament was Pinferno VII: Not Your PAPA’s Pinferno. 64 people - which was twice the number of participants as the last instalment. This was the 6th Pinferno held in Reciprocal, as Pinferno I was held in my apartment with 20 people on 4 machines.
We do one or two tournaments a year, depending on how busy the skateshop is, though it had been almost 2 years since Pinferno VI, because we underwent a major expansion last year.
Jon: PAPA sponsored Pinferno VII, giving us $1500 in cash prizes to give to players. They also made us part of their 'PAPA Circuit', which chooses 10 tournaments from around the country and makes us a sanctioned PAPA event. It was a great honor for us, and we hope they choose to do it with us again down the road.
Jon: The skaters are slowly warming up to pinball. They initially found it uninteresting and didn't pay it much mind, but every day we see more and more skaters that have either loved the game since childhood, or are introduced to it here and immediately fall in love with it.
Jon: We have the good fortune of many people coming into our shop and experiencing pinball for the first time. Too many to count really. The greatest thing we get to see is parents bringing their kids in to see a real life machine for the first time. Almost without fail, they love it more than any video games they could ever play.
Jon: The machines definitely don’t make enough money to pay for themselves; the rent in NYC, the parts, the electricity and the time I put into them. But they attract people to the shop, which as a result, means we never have to advertise. Not to mention, they’re just so fun to have around when we need a break from building skateboards. Pinball began as a hobby, and I’ll always be a hobbyist and player first.
Jon: I’m still recovering from this one. Traditionally we do one every six months to a year. I’ll probably aim to have Pinferno number eight in the fall of 2013, when the weather cools down in NYC.
Jon: I have more machines than I need at this point, but I would never say no to any games that I love but don’t have yet.
Only the top 24 players qualified for the second round, which is a single elimination bracket.
The top 8 point-scorers from the first round got a bye through the first tier of the bracket. All the matches were best of three, with the loser of each game choosing either the next game, or the playing order.
Next I played one-on-one with another guy in the best-of-three series. We drew the Spanish Mars Trek (1977, Sonic). I was seeing this game for the very first time - it wasn't even familiar to me from books or the internet. I lost, but not badly.
Then, as the loser, I could choose the next pinball – The Shadow, which I love. Again I lost, and this time it was much worse.
It was about 10pm when I left Reciprocal, stuffed full of the many different kinds of delicious pizza which Jon had ordered. I also left with the return of my entry fee (as one of the 24 qualified players), a souvenir T-shirt, many autographs, some flyers of the current Stern pinball, Avengers, and PAPA baseball caps from Mark Steinman, chief of PAPA (thank you for your sponsoring us again) which will be drawn as prizes for the contestants in the next Polish Pinball Championships.
PAPA took care of this tournament. Mark wasn’t the only notable pin person I met in Reciprocal. There was also Steven Bowden, Steve Zahler, Trent Augenstein and Lyman Sheats who works for Stern as software engineer.
I haven’t mentioned everyone, but as you can see some of the top US players were there. Many of these (and the other guys) had nice pinball clothes, especially T-shirts. I like most Eddie Cramer's with two pictures on his shirt (front and back).
Pinferno VII ended at about 2am on Sunday morning.
Tim Tournay was the grand champion, Sean “The Storm” Grant placed second, while Mark Steinman was third and Lyman Sheats fourth.
It wasn’t just a pinball tournament, and here's the proof from the New York Times.
That was my 30th (give or take one or two) visit in New York, but it was one of my best days in this city. Pinball day in the Big Apple is definitely the best, and I’ll certainly be returning to Reciprocal.
© Pinball News 2013