By Zachary Swickey
Growing up, watching ESPN’s X Games was a necessity at the cool kids' lunch table at school. It collectively blew our minds to see our skateboarding idols soar through the air or Moto X riders launching a 350-pound machine off a dirt ramp while trying to land a can-can. At the time, the "Tony Hawk Pro Skater" video game franchise further propelled skateboarding into the pop culture mainstream.
So, it was a pleasure and a dream come true to spend a day at this year’s X-Games in Los Angeles. As you walk up to the L.A. Live district – the headquarters of the Games, which includes the Staples Center, Nokia Theatre, Gilbert Lindsay Plaza and Chick Hearn Court – you can’t help but be overcome by the sights.
The amount of planning that must go into this event is mindboggling. Take for example, the gigantic “Double Loop Dare” set up by Hot Wheels (in the middle of downtown Los Angeles), which looked like your typical double car loop from the toy manufacturer, except that it was a life size six-story vertical loop that two insane drivers would attempt to successfully drive through.
Things kicked off for me at the Big Air Skate finals. As I watched the competitors take their practice runs, it appeared that landing any trick off the giant ramp was a success in and of itself. The legendary Bob Burnquist is still at it at 35 years old; however, an injury earlier in the week seemed to be giving him trouble (he had even been utilizing a wheelchair) as the Brazilian skating icon repeatedly limped off after his practice jumps.
While the injury appeared to trouble Bob, he pulled through and ultimately persevered, taking home the gold medal for the second consecutive year with a score of 94.33 on his third and final attempt – landing a switch-backside-Ollie 180 over the 70 foot gap, which propelled him into the quarter pipe where he then nailed an Indy 720 fakie.
Bob bested second place winner 15-year-old Mitchie Brusco, who wasn’t even born when Bob first began competing in the X Games when they debuted in 1995.
While snapping pics of the event, the world’s tallest photographer joined alongside me. I was stunned as I looked up to see legendary pitcher Randy Johnson (you know, the guy who blasted a bird to smithereens with a pitch one time?). At 6’10” he was impossible to miss, but wasn’t thrilled with being spotted. however, he didn’t mine chumming it up with me.
“Randy! Pleasure to take pics next to you sir. Grew up watching you,” I said to him.
“Getting some good shoots?” he asked.
“Well, I’m kind of a novice when it comes to sport’s photography,” I admitted.
“We’re all novices,” he joked at me with an elbow nudge.
Next, I made my way to the Staples Center to capture the Moto X madness. First up was a fan-favorite, the Moto X Best Whip contest. What is a “whip,” you ask? While admittedly hard to define, it is the act of throwing one’s machine sideways as hard as possible while still bring it back for the landing, and with some flair, of course.
This particular event was 100 percent fan-judged via text messages at the end of a single, six-minute simultaneous run featuring all of the riders. Unsurprisingly, Jeremy “Twitch” Stenberg took home the fan-voted gold (he was the clear winner), which is his impressive ninth medal in 13 years of competing.
One of the most spectacular moments of the day was witnessing the Moto X Best trick finals. The trick that Aussie winner Jackson “Jacko” Strong pulled off for the gold medal was simply jaw-dropping, and I’m sure he had some very rough landings in preparation beforehand for his wildly difficult stunt.
In technical X Games jargon, the brand new trick, “Jack,” was a variation of the special flip body varial backflip that was invented by BMX rider “Special” Greg Powell, who happens to be Strong’s Nitro Circus Live tour mate. In simpler terms, I saw a dude doing a freaking backflip on top of his motorcycle while it simply floated in place for its landing. Incredible!