Takin' it to the streets

For most skateboarders, the action isn't vertical

Posted: Thursday, August 04, 2005

 

  For amateur street skater Donny Duhadway, seen here skateboarding in Mission Viejo, Calif., Tuesday, August 2, 2005, and the vast majority of skateboarders nationwide, launch ramps and big air elicit scorn and big bored yawns. The real action is on the street. The 2005 X Games 11, which includes both styles of skateboarding competition, begins Thursday, Aug. 4, in Los Angeles. AP Photo/Chris Carlson

For amateur street skater Donny Duhadway, seen here skateboarding in Mission Viejo, Calif., Tuesday, August 2, 2005, and the vast majority of skateboarders nationwide, launch ramps and big air elicit scorn and big bored yawns. The real action is on the street. The 2005 X Games 11, which includes both styles of skateboarding competition, begins Thursday, Aug. 4, in Los Angeles.

AP Photo/Chris Carlson

LAKE FOREST, Calif. — Yeah, it took some guts to jump over the Great Wall of China on a skateboard. You'll just never convince Donny Duhadway that pro skater Danny Way's leap last month was anything more than a stunt.

''It's not even skateboarding. It's like a daredevil thing,'' the 16-year-old street skater with braces and shoulder-length curly hair said during a break at an Orange County skate park. ''That's not cool!''

The growing gulf between vert skaters' aerobatics and the more popular closer-to-the-ground technical finesse that Duhadway and others embrace will be on display at ESPN X Games 11.

Other sports at the games, which begin Thursday in Los Angeles, are motocross, BMX freestyle and wakeboarding. In-line skating has been dropped and a surfing event was held Tuesday in Mexico.

Way, whose China jump drew national headlines, again will take to the massive mega ramp he created — and which debuted at last year's X Games. He's expected to dominate in the big air contest, which will be broadcast live Sunday on ABC. Street skaters are relegated to a tape-delayed broadcast on ESPN.

Although X Games manager Chris Stiepock calls street skaters the ''rock stars'' of the insular skate world, they're largely unknown outside it. With studied cool and a wariness of the corporate world, they also trail vert skaters in major endorsements from non-skate companies, which can be a key source of income for pros.

It's the result of the gap between the crowd-pleasing drama of mid-air flips and the sometimes imperceptible nuances of street tricks.

''People that don't know anything about skateboarding don't really know what they're seeing'' in street skating, said pro skater Rick McCrank. ''They don't know if that's harder than the next thing. But on vert, it's more spectacular. You could just be doing the easiest thing on vert, and someone would think it was amazing.''

The 29-year-old McCrank skated vert at a park where he grew up in Ottawa, but quit after two summers when the park shut down.

He's among the majority. About three-quarters of the nation's 10.5 million skateboarders prefer the streets to skate parks and ramps, according to data from marketing researchers American Sports Data Inc. and Board-Trac Inc. An even higher percentage stick to the streets when skaters under 12 aren't considered, Board-Trac's Marie Case said.

Other action sports have worked to smooth over splits between disciplines. In motocross, a race blending leapers with racers was introduced to X Games last year. The supermoto combines big jumps with a dirt and street course and proved popular with all types of riders. It will be held Sunday.

A similarly blended skateboard discipline called transition or park was dropped from X Games two years ago after only street skaters showed up — and then complained that it wasn't ''natural'' enough. The all-street course last year included stairs, picnic tables, ledges and rails.

Event champion Paul Rodriguez Jr., the 20-year-old son of comedian and actor Paul Rodriguez, said there were no parks with halfpipes or vert ramps where he grew up in Los Angeles' San Fernando Valley.

''Basically, I just stuck to the streets,'' he said in between signing autographs at the Lake Forest skate park last month. ''To this day, I don't know one kid that skates vert.''

Part of the reason for that, McCrank says, is the aging and corporate image of the elite vert and big air skateboarders. ''Everybody that's doing it is kinda old now, and the kids look up to people their age,'' he said.

McCrank has a friend teaching youngsters how to tackle halfpipes, and jokingly recommends they stick with it.

''That's where the money is, the soup deals,'' he said. The reference was to repeat X Games vert champion Bucky Lasek's two-year endorsement of Campbell's Soup At Hand, a partnership McCrank calls ''hilarious.''

''It's so beyond skateboarding, it's funny,'' he adds.

Skaters and other pro action sports stars walk a fine line with the business world. They rely heavily on sponsors for income, but can lose street cred if the product they're endorsing isn't accepted in the skate community.

Stiepock said it took some doing to convince street stars to even show for the biggest, most well-known action sports contest because of its corporate, made-for-TV image.

''They were not standing in line to get into the X Games,'' he said.

Among sponsors, Mountain Dew gets the OK because it latched on to action sports long ago. Cell phone companies are also fine.

But a food company deal — like Tony Hawk's with Bagel Bites — can be tricky. Lasek faced derision over his soup endorsement and recently parted ways with Campbell's after two years.

But street skating eventually may be forced to face up to its own popularity. Rodriguez is sponsored by Nike, which in March released the Zoom Air Paul Rodriguez, putting him among the elite athletes with signature shoes from that company.



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