"Oh, are you kidding me?" Tony Hawk exclaimed from the commentators' booth as then 16-year-old wunderkind Mitchie Brusco landed an effortless 1080 on the MegaRamp in the Skateboard Big Air finals at X Games Barcelona 2013.
Brusco was about two years old when Hawk brought the first-ever 900 to X Games 1999 and says he remembers getting his own first skateboard not long after, when he was three. He first popped up on Hawk's radar at age five, when he began getting media attention as a young skateboard prodigy. By the time he was 13, he was skating Hawk's private vert ramp and getting informal coaching from his lifelong hero.
In July 2011, at 15, he became the first skater to land the 900 in MegaRamp competition. He spun that 900 so fast and so effortlessly that it left everyone wondering: why not go for a 1080? But the difference between a 900 and a 1080 is much more than an extra half turn. Brusco says it took him a couple of years -- and a couple of growth spurts -- to figure it out.
"You can't think of it as just another 180 because it's not just a matter of spinning a little bit more... it's an entirely different trick," says Brusco, explaining that a 900 is, in some respects, more like a 540 or even a simple 180. "The difference is that for a 900 you can take off going in one direction and re-enter going in that same direction. For a 1080 you either have to start or finish riding fakie, which makes it much more difficult. In other words, it's more like a really fast 720 or a 360. The whole torque and axis of the spin is completely different from the 900."
Brusco says his first serious attempt was earlier in 2013, while filming for Hawk's YouTube channel, the Ride Channel. He put his wheels down several times but kept landing way in the backseat, his board shooting out from under him, before deciding to give it a rest. "That was when I knew, for sure, that it was possible," he says. But progression in skateboarding moves pretty fast: his friend and competitor Tom Schaar ended up beating him to it, landing the 1080 on a scaled-down "Mini Mega" version of the MegaRamp. That left Brusco even more determined to bring it to the full-size X Games Big Air ramp.
During finals in Barcelona, Brusco dropped in to the ramp in his usual stance, with his right foot forward, then launched a kickflip 180 over the 50-foot gap. That set him up to ride fakie into the quarterpipe, where he spun the 1080 like it was nothing. As he put it, rather nonchalantly, in his post-run interview, "all the big stuff goes down at X Games."
For as effortlessly as he made it look, Brusco says he just barely understands the physics behind what makes such a rotation possible. He's still in high school, after all, and says he's still looking into it. "Mostly you just have to go for it," he shrugs.
Even more amazing: Brusco landed that 1080 looking like he had still more to give.
"Yes, but to be honest I don't think 1260s and 1440s and 1620s or whatever are necessarily the future of skateboarding," he says. "Those things will probably happen, and I might be one of the people trying them, but right now I'm more interested in more technical tricks, riding switch, seeing what else is possible. There's more to skateboarding than big spins."
In Barcelona, the 1080 was ultimately only good enough for the second step of the podium, behind Big Air dominator Bob Burnquist. Brusco's been training at Burnquist's backyard MegaRamp for the last three years and knows it's going to take something special, and not just on the quarterpipe, to beat him. Furthermore, Brusco says, he's increasingly been shifting his focus back to the halfpipe. He'll be skating the Big Air contest this week in Austin, but says his top priority is winning gold in Vert. To get there, he'll have to topple another longtime mentor, Bucky Lasek, who won all four X Games Vert events in 2013.
"Just before I landed the 1080, Bucky was there rooting for me, like, 'Dude! You got it, bro!' He's a good friend and has helped me out a lot over the years, but in Vert he's also the guy to beat," Brusco says. "To get on top of the podium will take staying on my board with one of the best runs I have on paper. It's going to take more than just riding well. It's going to need to be my best day ever, and that's what I'm going for."