| ||Tuesday, August 15|
|SKATEBOARDING | AGGRESSIVE IN-LINE SKATING | DOWNHILL IN-LINE SKATING
BICYCLE STUNT | SPORTCLIMBING | BIG-AIR SNOWBOARDING | SKYSURFING
STREET LUGE | WATERSPORTS
Skateboarding's popularity continues to rise, not only with those who enjoy the sport, but with Madison Avenue, as well. Advertisers recognize that skateboarding is a prime vehicle through which they can reach their favorite demographic: young males.
Skateboarders have been present in campaigns for products from soft drinks to potato chips, candy to phone companies, and Nike's campaign, which asks, "What if all athletes were treated like skateboarders?"
Most of what is happening in skateboarding today is coming not from the skateboarders themselves, but from corporate sponsors and the mass media.
However, the real question is: How does increased visibility in the marketing world translate in the real world? The answer is, not well.
In a survey published in ASR (Action Sports Retailer) industry magazine last September, there was growth in the footwear and deck categories, with wheels, apparel and safety equipment following. But overall sales were down slightly compared to the previous year's survey.
There has been a rise in the number of new skateparks being built around the country, giving a boost to the skating community in many towns. The many different ramps, pipes and bowls at these parks has led to a change in equipment.
While in the early 1990's small boards and tiny wheels ruled, now there is a wide range of boards and wheels in use. Wheel diameters are larger, deck width continues to grow, and long boards are gaining in popularity, especially in beach communities and among those that just want to use their skateboard to cruise or as a mode of transportation. While the vert ramp tends to be the favorite at competitions, street shots continue to dominate both the advertising and editorial pages in magazines.
In Escondido, Calif., near San Diego, city officials recently opened the $2 million Escondido Sports Center, featuring a 20,000 sqare foot skate park. The complex is the first municipal facility of its kind in the county, city officials say.
There continues to be a huge crossover between skateboarding and snowboarding. With many athletes participating in both sports, tricks have developed which can be done on boards either with or without wheels.Aggressive in-line skating
The biggest thing to happen in aggressive in-line during 1997-98 was the introduction of the amateur circuit. Organized by Aggressive Skaters Association (ASA), this circuit marked the first time skaters had a clearly defined path to follow toward becoming a professional skater. "Before it was who you knew," said Todd Shays, executive director of ASA, "now it clearly has more to do with how you do in competition. Having a performance-based measurement has raised the bar in the competitive world and legitimized the pro class. It's been a wake up call for the industry and a great way for new skaters to rise in the ranks." Jason Roy, Tribe team manager and in-line competitive judge agrees. "The amateur circuit has increased the enthusiasm among skaters, especially the younger ones. Now there's an organized way to find success. The competitive stepping stones go from local contests to regional and on to national. Skaters who can follow that path not only have more competition confidence and experience, but they also know where they stand in the big picture. It's much more clear." And the best thing is that the new competitive atmosphere hasn't changed the ambience of the sport. "It's still based on fun and teetering on the edge of craziness," Shays said. "That will never change, nor should it." As an example, Shays told of the national ASA comp in Naples, Florida last October when Chris Edwards jumped out of an airborne construction crane to the vert ramp during the finals. "We had the crane there for aerial photography, but Chris got it in his head to begin his run from the crane," Shays said. "He stood on the fence inside the basket and flew onto the ramp. You know how Chris is, he almost gets angry with intensity. What was anyone going to do but watch it happen. We knew it was history being made. That's our sport. There's an energy to it that's going to dominate no matter what the structure." Downhill in-line skating
When the sport of in-line skating is mentioned, most people think of pad clad skaters coasting along parkways, or playing hockey in the neighborhood, or baggy-pantsed kids grinding along park benches. Yet there is a whole other side to this popular past time. Add a fifth wheel to those recreational cruisers and you have high-speed foot rockets. Add a steep hill, and things really begin to look different. The sport of in-line racing has been around for years. In-line skates took over the outdoor speed skating arena from roller-skates in the late eighties. Now there are many different types of in-line races, from 100-meter sprints to full-blown marathons, and when the X Games roll around, there is downhill racing. When ESPN first introduced downhill in-line racing, the strategies were different. Whoever sprinted into the first turn first usually was the winner, but now it has become increasingly important to have strategy, to draft, and to know when to attack the course and other skaters. As in-line has grown, so have the national governing bodies that sanction it. In the past there was only United States Amateur Roller Skating (USA/RS), which covers all aspects of in-line skating. They receive funding from the Olympic Committee to help promote various programs. As in-line racing has increased in popularity, a new governing body has surfaced to focus on in-line events, especially outdoor races. USA In-line Racing (USA/IR), which sanctions and promotes outdoor races. Although not an official national governing board, USA/IR does rank racers through a National Points Circuit (NPC). It is important to note that racers still have to go through USA/RS in order to compete at the World Championship, and this is a big consideration among in-line racers. Currently there are no other sanctioned downhill in-line races besides the X Games, but there is rumor of a downhill series in 1999, and possibly a few European events. Bicycle stunt riding
This year's street course designers promise to make the event more homogenous to the skills of the competitors. To do so, they will incorporate elements typically found in street style competitions with those found in park riding scenarios. The two different forms available to the riders will allow them to showcase their abilities in each style. This should give the public a better understanding about what is involved in street riding, as well as increase the level of competition between the riders. This is the first time ever that "doubles vert" will be a competitive event. Riders ride doubles regularly in demos and shows, but there has never before been a doubles vert competition. The riders are as interested in seeing how the competition develops as the spectators will be in watching this dangerous event. For riders to be able to ride double on a vert ramp, they must ride in opposite directions. They will both hit the same wall at the same time, one crossing over the top of the other or airing side-by-side. Team members must naturally ride in opposite directions, or one of the members must be able to ride switch with proficiency. This necessarily limits the team combination possibilities. Flatland continues to stand out as the most difficult of the specialties. These riders are some of the most dedicated athletes in the X Games. They spend more than double the time perfecting their moves than do riders in the other disciplines. Flatland judging has recently placed more emphasis on originality, rather than new moves. Judges are looking for original links from move to move, and the level of creativeness a rider possesses. There is some talk of changing the competition format of flatland in the future, but as it stands now, the X Games will be judged as it was last year. Bicycle Stunt is on a major upswing. Industry people are saying that "BMX is back." BMX is the term used when one is talking about 20-inch bikes as an entire sport (BMX, vert, street, dirt jumping, flatland, and park riding). Although Bicycle Stunt, or freestyle, represents only about 5 percent of the total BMX scene, it too is growing in popularity. In the 1995 Extreme Games, there were less than 10 different bike companies represented. This year there will be close to 20. More companies in the sport means more opportunity for riders to gain sponsorship, and make bike riding their career. Riders are now actually able to make a living practicing in their sport. With this increased riding and training time, riders are improving at an astounding rate. The gap is getting narrower between the top riders and the up-and-comers. This year's competition could see several riders challenging the elite for the top spots. The equipment that the riders are using has not changed drastically in the last year, but riders' abilities certainly have. Rider T.J. Lavin says, "Moves that were once impossible are now being pulled every day." Some riders are still wearing skate helmets, but more are expected to be wearing full-face, moto-cross helmets in '98, as more difficult moves are being attempted. There is also a trend toward narrower handlebars, although Dennis McCoy and Matt Hoffman are still using wide bars, and no brakes. The riders' ability has been more of a factor in the increasing popularity of the sport than has the equipment they are using. The culture surrounding the Bicycle Stunt scene is not quite as radical as it once was. More and more riders are coming onto the scene from all over the country and the world. The culture of the scene -- the music, the hairstyles and the clothing styles -- reflect this diversity. Due to the wide range of athletes, it is hard to pinpoint any one characteristic to reflect the styles of the sport. It is no longer true that you can spot an extreme athlete by their hairstyle or the music they listen to. The sport of Bicycle Stunt has grown, and will continue to grow tremendously, with its coverage in the X Games. According to Steve Swope (of Hoffman Bikes), "Most riders are pretty happy with the products now available, and the direction the sport is headed." Everyone involved is looking forward to seeing where the sport progresses from here. The Bicycle Stunt event at the '98 X Games is expected to be the most competitive contest to date. Sportclimbing
Last year, Americans were told in climbing magazines that their standard left much to be desired compared to the rest of the world -- particularly Europe.
Adding to the frustration, the climbers carrying the best U.S. hopes were not allowed to compete in World Cup competitions, as both Katie Brown and Chris Sharma were too young. Was it Europe's last hope of keeping the Americans at bay?
With Brown winning the last two X Games events and Sharma poised to be a real threat, the Europeans had reason to be afraid. All the two young Americans had to do was wait for a birthday to roll around. For Sharma the wait was worth it, as he became the first American man to win a World Cup event. For Brown, her World Cup debut in the final event of the year produced a disappointing sevneth-place finish.Since the 1997 X Games there have been seven major international events -- Five World Cup's (up from three last year), the July International Open held in Serre Chevalier, France, and the very popular Masters event held in Arco, Italy, in September. The gloom that had once threatened international climbing events due mainly to sponsorship or the lack thereof has dissipated.
With extra confidence in the sport, the demand for competitions continues to grow. This has no doubt been fueled by the media and general public's interest in the sport caused in part to the ESPN X Games and the success that American competitors are now having in the international arena.It is a little ironic that in a sport dominated by Europeans, the latest trend among the top competitors is toward the aspect of climbing that is traditionally very strong in America -- bouldering.
The growth of bouldering competitions in Europe has been enormous. They have broad appeal; climbers, spectators and especially organizers love them. There is no isolation, no ropes, no long extended routes, but there is plenty of dynamic, exciting and committed climbing.
Bouldering focuses on the movement being a lot more powerful and intense, and so the climber that does well at bouldering rarely does as well at roped climbing. Bouldering competitions are also a huge hit with spectators, as the competitors are close to the ground and every expression on their face inspires wild cheering and screaming.Big-air snowboarding
The winter of 1997 came earlier than usual, with the debut of the Big Air competition at the X Games in June.
Creating snow in San Diego in the middle of summer was no easy feat, with the snowmaking process behind schedule right from the start. But after 38 hours of snowmaking, nine semi-truck loads of liquid nitrogen, 200 tons of snow, and more than 500 man hours, the jump was complete.
Steps have been taken to make the snowmaking process for the Big Air jump at the 1998 X Games more reliable, as it will be made from shaved ice, as opposed to liquid nitrogen. Sport Organizer Don Bostick said, "The new design is killer."
The MTV Sports and Music Festival Big Air jump in Texas used shaved ice, and the snowmaking process proved to be much more successful.
All 16 athletes who competed in the Big Air competition in San Diego made the trek to Crested Butte for Winter X 1998. However, with the Olympic qualifying competitions looming large, several athletes chose to compete only in the halfpipe, not wanting to risk injury.
The world was watching as snowboarding made its Olympic debut with competition in two different disciplines: Giant Slalom and Halfpipe. Five of the six U.S. Olympians were Winter X athletes: Shannon Dunn, Cara-Beth Burnside and Michele Taggart on the women's side, and Todd Richards and Ross Powers on the men's side. The men's team was rounded out by the only non-Xer, Ron Chiodi. Alternates were Bjorn Leines and Barrett Christy.
Powers continued the winning streak he started in Crested Butte, bringing home the bronze, while Dunn brought home a bronze on the women's side. Winter X Halfpipe gold medalist, Nicola Thost, took the Olympic Gold home to Germany.Skysurfing
Skysurfing celebrates its sixth birthday in 1998, making it young by any standards, and is definitely experiencing growing pains. As the most expensive sport of the X Games, the investment, both financial and in training, required to compete at a world class level takes its toll on teams, causing almost constant realignment of partners.
"The delusional effects of passion generally wear off after the savings account is depleted," sport organizer Pete McKeeman said. "All the exposure in the world is totally worthless unless it can be converted into something that pays the Visa bill and puts food in your mouth."
As in all sports, training is a key element. If a top pro team makes an average of 500 jumps per year, that's 10 jumps per training day. Since each jump equals only one minute of maximum training time, the athletes get only 10 minutes of training time per day -- and even that is spaced about one jump every 40 to 60 minutes. Over a year that would equal 8.3 hours of training time, not much by any standards.
But the inherent limited training time is just one challenge skysurfers face. The actual cost of taking those practice jumps, plus the high cost of equipment, makes skysurfing beyond the reach of most aspiring athletes.
Each jump costs approximately $18 in the U.S. and $20-34 in Europe. The top pro teams will make about 500 jumps a year, 10 jumps a day when training. So a typical training day with 10 jumps would add up quickly.
The cost of the jump covers the rental of the aircraft, but the cost of equipment adds to the economic burden. The camera helmets cost $300-$700. The parachute rigs cost $4,000-$5,000. The skyboard costs $600-$700. Jump suits cost $300. The digital camcorder costs $2,000-$3,000. For each of the last two years, a U.S. based team averaged $40,000-$45,000 dollars to equip, train, travel and compete on the five stops of the tour (including the X Games). The foreign teams traveling from abroad have even higher travel expenses. This cost becomes obviously high when you consider the maximum training time per jump is one minute.
In 1996, Bob Greiner and Clif Burch ('96 X Games gold) almost made a clean sweep of the top prize money available on the tour with four golds and a silver. Had they done so, the most they could have earned was $22,000 in winnings for the entire year. The 1997 purse was the same.
Unfortunately, sponsorship dollars have not been as forthcoming as one would have hoped. The late Rob Harris (gold 1995) and his partner Joe Jennings had experienced some financial success prior to Rob's death while skydiving for a commercial shoot. However, teams such as Dan Drury and Rob Chickering -- who call themselves Two Guys With Jobs -- have yet to see the fruits of sponsorship dollars. Most teams are in the same financial boat.
"You either live it or you don't and if you do, you're almost always a minority among other jumpers," explained McKeeman. "Everyone jumps out of perfectly good airplanes, which as corny as it sounds, creates a bond that transcends the petty rivalries common in other sports."
There are no statistics on skysurfing growth. However, new skysurfing teams do trickle in. The total number of world class competitive skysurfing teams remains around two dozen.Street luge
What's new in the sport of street luge? Where is street luge going? Downhill, and fast. That's OK, because street lugers like it that way.
Hurtling down mountain roads in excess of 70 miles and hour, a half-inch above the ground and with no brakes might sound insane to some, but it is an obsession for others. The sport itself is traveling at high speeds.
The X Games were the first to bring the sport of street luge into the limelight, debuting at the 1995 Extreme Games. With an increase in public interest and television publicity the sport has not stopped growing. However, with the growth has come some changes.No longer is street luge supported by a loose-knit underground of riders on shabby garage-built sleds trying not to get ticketed by the police. Street luge has grown into a bonafide sport with governing bodies, technological advances and professional riders. Along with the increase in popularity has come a growth in organization, and because of this the sport has experienced some growing pains. Past conflicts between various governing bodies has drawn some divisions within the luging community. There are currently three organizations that govern the sport of street luge: EDI, RAIL, IGSA. All are headed by current street luge elite and are racing hard to claim the No. 1 spot among the sport's participants.
Of all the X Games events, barefoot jumping is the one that only the elite even attempt. "Barefoot jumping is not for the recreational barefooter," says Brian Heeney of the American Barefoot Club, summing up the perception of the sport among the skiing community. The sport is so selective it takes years to reach the point that you could compete in a barefoot jump competition, and even then you have to take a skiing test. "It's so heavily scrutinized. It's so selective and radical," Heeney said. "It's only the water, your feet and the ramp." Last year 326 barefoot jumpers competed in tournaments in North America, 450 worldwide. Even so, there are only 20 skiers in the world who have the skills to compete at the X Games level. Since its beginning, the X Games format has added some excitement to the jumping event by adding tricks before the jump. Now the bar has been raised even higher. New to the event in 1998 are obstacles in the water. Barefooters now will have to maneuver around gates in the course before the jump ramp. In addition, other obstacles will be in the course that the footers will have to jump or perform tricks over. In the past at the X Games, two distinct styles have prevailed, and no one can predict which style will come out on top this year. In 1996, gold medalist Ron Scarpa relied on tricks to capture more bonus points on his way to the title. Last year, underdog Peter Fleck used the "go long or go home" approach, throwing style and technique out the door and relying on pure distance. Fleck used the same approach his first two years at the X Games but couldn't land the jumps. Last year, it all came together, and he proved that big jumps could win the X Games over trick skiing specialists such as Scarpa and Justin Seers. Both Fleck and Scarpa will be the early favorites when the athletes converge on San Diego again.