Yesterday morning, XGames.com released a photo gallery spotlighting the
50 most influential people in action sports as we know it today. The collection doesn't stop with pro riders, either; it encompasses a variety of individuals whose contributions to our world have made it a bigger, safer, more enjoyable or more exciting place.
Everyone loves a list, whether it's People magazine's most beautiful celebrities of 2012 or Santa's running index of the naughty and nice. This gallery highlights who we believe are currently the 50 most influential figures in action sports. Through talent, tenacity and technology, they have contributed the kinds of innovations to the shared shred space that make a statement about their place in our world. In 2005, a hard crash on a jump in Whistler's snowboard park left Aaron Coret paralyzed from the neck down. Instead of giving up on snowboarding, Coret teamed up with his good friend Stephen Slen to create a safety device for skiers and snowboarders. The result is the Katal Landing Pad. When Jack Dorsey launched Twitter in 2006, the impact his brevity-based social-media platform would have on action sports wasn't even a blip on his radar. Since then, however, tweets have evolved from communication to currency, sparking digital conversations worth real dollars to professional athletes. Mike Olson co-founded Mervin Manufacturing with Pete Saari in the late '70s, and has been behind many of the innovations in snowboard technology ever since. Besides being one of the only snowboard companies to still build boards in the United States, the Mervin factory is aggressively "green." Canadian ski halfpipe coach Trennon Paynter will be the one guiding Canada's best freeskiers to their first Olympics appearance in 2014. Last summer, he installed the team's trampoline training center in his backyard. Dorian, of the Big Island, competed on the World Tour from 1993 to 2004 before focusing on big wave riding. Today, he is pushing what is possible behind a ski or paddling in at Jaws and Teahupoo, and is the most decorated Billabong XXL competitor ever. Over the past four years, the music of Santi White (better known by her stage name, Santigold) has been used in nearly double that number of action-sports videos. Her marriage to pro snowboarder Trevor "Trouble" Andrew -- himself a musician -- makes an easily understood connection between the worlds of sport and sound. Freestyle motocross star Nate Adams has 13 X Games medals and is renowned for his meticulous, calculated style. He is the only rider to have won two consecutive Red Bull X-Fighters titles (2009 and 2010) but suffered serious arm and shoulder injuries late in 2011. The 28-year-old tied Travis Pastrana for the most X Games Moto X medals and should soon be back on top. David Reddick has been the photo editor at Powder and Bike magazines since 1992 and he's launched many photographers' careers. "No one has had more of an influence on the evolution of ski photography than Reddick," says photographer Grant Gunderson. "The Art of Flight" isn't the only project to break the sound barrier on the wings of Red Bull. Launched six years ago in Austria, Red Bull Media House, masterminded by the energy drink's founder, Dietrich Mateschitz, is led in the U.S. by managing director Werner Brell. The Media House has put its energy behind everything from shred flicks to its own print magazine, The Red Bulletin, to Red Bull Records. In 2007, a series of video documentaries titled "Epicly Later'd" began on Vice.com. The brainchild of skateboard photographer Patrick O'Dell,"Epicly Later'd" was a look into the lives of professional skateboarders. "Epicly Later'd" showed the good, the bad and the ugly of dysfunctional teenage superstars, with all their quirks and insecurities. If John John Florence, Dane Reynolds and Craig Anderson are today's most influential surfers, then the man they all want to make movies with, Kai Neville, is important, too. "Modern Collective" and "Dear Suburbia" have set new standards for surf cinema. Although technical street riding has emerged as the most popular discipline in BMX riding today, a new movement rekindling BMX's ability to pedal fast and air as high as possible on transition has sprouted up in the past few years, and Austin's Tom Dugan is at the forefront of the revolution. Once an X Games medalist, Candide Thovex went on to win the overall title of the Freeride World Tour. This year, he debuted a feature film called "Few Words," which brought the versatile French skier to the mainstream. Ingrid Backstrom has starred in Matchstick Productions films for the past nine years, and earned six Powder Video Award nominations for Best Female Performance. She is widely considered the best female big-mountain skier of her generation. Two-time Olympic medalist Kelly Clark has been winning halfpipe contests since she first started entering them in the late '90s, but like most competitors she has had her on and off moments over the years. Then 2011 hit and Clark proceeded to win 13 contests in a row. She went on to finish out 2012 with a total of 19 first-place finishes to her credit. The Australian freestyle motocross daredevil is a master of the long-distance jump. He broke Evel Knievel's distance record with a 322-foot jump, cleared the Corinth Gap in Greece, jumped from a ramp to the top of the Arc de Triomphe replica in Las Vegas and did a backflip across an open Tower Bridge in London. In 2007, Josh Loubek co-founded the Association of Freeskiing Professionals, the sport's governing body. He's been head ski judge at eight X Games, and in 2014, there's a good chance he'll be the head judge of the Olympic debut for ski pipe and slope. From its humble beginnings as a gymnastics-only summer camp in central Pennsylvania to its eventual destiny as a top-of-the-line multisport training resource with sister facilities in California, Colorado and China, the Woodward brand, as nurtured by president/founder Gary Ream, has pushed performance from skateboarding to BMX to freeskiing. Ralph Sinisi emerged in the mid-'90s pushing the envelope on technical, ambidextrous street riding. When shoulder surgeries sidelined him, he started the first East Coast BMX brand solely devoted to producing BMX components for BMX street riding. In the 12 years since Animal Bikes has started, the brand has changed the face of the BMX industry. The trend in sponsorship for female athletes in the action sports world tends to favor those who are good not only at what they do but also can rep sponsors' lines of street wear. Every once in a while, someone comes along who is so mind-blowing that she actually gets judged on her board skills rather than whether she looks good in a pair of jeans. Jess Kimura is one of those women. A ski racer turned big-mountain film star turned mountaineer and author, Aspen's Chris Davenport has remained influential in freeskiing for longer than nearly anyone. "Changing my direction has helped me maintain my stature in the sport," he says. A freestyle motocross pioneer, Brian Deegan had won three X Games Moto X Best Trick medals before taking on rallycross and off-road truck racing. He's won championships in off-road racing and a 2011 X Games Rally X gold medal, and was second in the 2012 Global RallyCross Championship season. In the early '00s, NYC's Edwin De La Rosa took to the streets with a unique approach to BMX riding. Utilizing a simplified setup (no brakes, four pegs), De La Rosa focused on skate-influenced lines, ambidextrous grinds (on both sides of the bike) and a refined street style that set the framework for legendary video parts from Animal Bikes and Skavenger. The definition of child prodigy, Sheckler has been winning contests, traveling the world and skating at a high level since he was 8 years old. In 2013, we'll see the release of the new Plan B video, in which Sheckler will undoubtedly have an amazing part, along with Street League and X Games appearances. With the advent of YouTube, sponsor-me videos are now dropped handily onto a Web-based host that makes it a cinch for clips to go viral, get seen by industry heads and ultimately, though not always, net their nervous debutantes legit deals with brand giants. Even professional-grade full edits now premier on YouTube and sites like it. Grant Taylor is everything that is good and real and raw and true in skateboarding. The Atlanta native was put on a skateboard as a 1-year-old by his father, legendary skater Thomas Taylor. Winning the Thrasher Magazine Skater of the Year award in 2011, Taylor is inspiring the new generation to get out there and skate it all. Ty Evans is one of the greatest, if not the greatest, skateboarding filmmaker of all time. Beginning with his stint at Transworld Skateboarding and its series of skate videos, Evans teamed up with director Spike Jonze to become the most emulated filmmaker in the skateboard industry. His Girl/Chocolate video "Pretty Sweet" may be the best-selling skate video of all time. Joe "Butcher" Kowalski burst onto the BMX scene in the mid-'90s, first as a dirt rider sponsored by Hoffman Bikes. He quickly expanded into skatepark and street riding. Take a look at any BMX Street rider's grinds currently competing in the X Games, and there's a good chance Butcher did it first on a rough ledge somewhere in Allentown, Pa. GoPro is a rare example of mass-marketed technology inspired by, rather than just finding later applications within, action sports. Developed by Nick Woodman in 2002 to capture POV surf footage, the product has evolved from 35 mm film to digital HD to 3D and is now used on land and in the air as often as at sea. France's Matthias Dandois is at the forefront of a new highly technical flatland movement that combines the intricacies of flatland riding with BMX street obstacles. Formerly a dedicated flatland rider, Dandois began expanding his horizons several years ago into the realm of BMX street. And at age 23, there's no telling where he might take it next. The snowmobile master kept pushing the boundaries of freestyle until he missed Winter X Games Aspen 2012 because of injuries. LaVallee has seven X Games medals, nearly landed the first double backflip in the 2009 Snowmobile Next Trick at Winter X, and set a world record by jumping a snowmobile 412 feet across San Diego Bay. When Tom Wallisch won Level 1's Super Unknown contest in 2007, he was a kid from Pittsburgh. Now, he's an X Games gold medalist with lots of fans (20,000 Twitter followers and more than 100,000 Facebook fans) and his own video project. A former member of the Canadian freestyle ski team, an X Games TV analyst and still a pro skier, Mike Douglas launched Salomon Freeski TV in 2007, one of the first ski webisodes, which re-engineered how ski companies market their brand. It's been a good year for John John Florence. A strong contender for the ASP's Rookie of the Year award, winning the Billabong Pro in Rio, Brazil, he wasn't eliminated from the world title hunt until the second-to-last event of the year. He founded Burton Snowboards, one of the original snowboard companies, and, decades later, continues to steer the ship. Most big moves he makes on behalf of that company are often met with reactions akin to mass hysteria because the decisions have such far-reaching effects. The world loves the gifted but goofy Dane Reynolds, 27, who couldn't care less about contests. The natural California talent burned out on the Tour in 2011 but still competes occasionally, usually making everyone look silly simply by having fun. Gilmore won the ASP women's world title in 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010. But in 2011, a random physical attack and a new crop of hungry fem shredders knocked her off her game. She came back to take her fifth world title this past summer in France. Jeremy Jones had starred in more than 50 snowboard movies featuring him riding down mountain peaks in faraway places when he decided to quit his motorized transportation addiction. Not only have Jones' last two movies "Deeper" and "Further" sparked a splitboard revolution, he has helped raise awareness of the effect of climate change through his nonprofit Protect Our Winters. Just 22, Ashley Fiolek has established herself as the top name in women's motocross, but she will no longer race WMX. Her accomplishments include four WMX championships in the past five years and two X Games Racing gold medals despite profound deafness. While Tony Hawk may be best known for having one of the longest and most prolific careers of any professional skateboarder, his work with his namesake charity organization transcends the sport. To date, the Tony Hawk Foundation has helped build more than 500 public skateparks in low-income areas throughout the U.S., giving millions of kids the chance to skate. There a few examples of skateboarders making the transition from child prodigy to full-fledged superstar: Tony Hawk, Steve Caballero, Ryan Sheckler and now Nyjah Huston. Huston, 18, has racked up more Street League and X Games victories over the past few years than most could dream of winning in a lifetime -- and there's no end in sight. In life, Sarah Burke was among themost influential freeskiers of her generation, helping to put halfpipe skiing in the Olympics and women into major contests. In death, Burke's legacy continues to inspire those in the action sports community and beyond. As a co-founder of DC Shoes, Ken Block has been able to fund his passion for rally racing, which led him to create the popular Gymkhana drifting videos. Millions of views of his hoonigan skills on YouTube have propelled Block to pop culture fame. Though some claim they can make movies like Curt Morgan given a big budget, the fact remains Morgan was the first to film snowboarding using Hollywood-level cameras. Travis Rice and Morgan's movies have changed the way action sports are captured on film. Rob Dyrdek became a pro skatboarder in the early '90s, but his part in the DC Video turned his fortune. Next came the MTV hit "Rob and Big," then "Rob Dyrdek's Fantasy Factory" and "Ridiculousness." He also bought Alien Workshop and started Street League. With the first perfect SuperPipe run score in X Games history and 24 collective X Games medals in three separate disciplines (Slopestyle, SuperPipe and Vert Skateboarding), Shaun White is not only one of the most dominant competitors in the X Games, he's one of the most dominant action sports athletes of all time. After conquering the freestyle motocross world, Travis Pastrana set out to blaze new trails in the action sports landscape. The 11-time X Games gold medalist continues to compete in RallyCross while aiming for the NASCAR Nationwide series in 2013. No athlete has ever dominated a sport like Kelly Slater has. At the age of 40, with 11 world titles, 50 ASP wins and philanthropic efforts to help conserve ocean ecosystems, it doesn't even matter that he didn't win the 2012 ASP world title.
Part of what makes the culture of action sports unique is that the criteria for admittance extend beyond athletic prowess. Our scene is home to artists, musicians, filmmakers and designers -- the trendsetters and tastemakers whose impact on how we perceive ourselves, and how the larger world views us, is undeniable. To that end, you'll see such names as Santi White (pictured above), whose songs pepper shred-movie soundtracks; Chad Hurley and Steve Chen, whose visionary YouTube platform has rendered the traditional sponsor-me tape obsolete; and Werner Brell, whose guidance of Red Bull Media House has carried action-sports films over the mainstream threshold.
No list is all things to all people; opinions are like elbows, after all. But we like some healthy debate around here. Check out the gallery and comment below to share your perspective on who's in, who's out and why.