Big Air's future contenders
FOZ DO IGUAÇU, Brazil -- For the past eight years, dating back to 2006, Bob Burnquist has earned a medal in every X Games Skateboard Big Air competition -- five gold, two silver and one bronze. Thursday's win under the lights in his native Brazil was Burnquist's third straight X Games victory on the MegaRamp, a singular hardwood structure that sends skaters down an elevator roll-in, soaring over a 65-foot gap then rocketing up a 27-foot wall toward outer space.
In each of the eight years Burnquist has medaled, his performance has included a caveat. There are a handful of MegaRamps on earth, and one of them happens to be in his backyard. Everyone in skateboarding knows it. And every time Burnquist wins, he is docked a few public-perception points for the so-called advantage.
Thursday night, as the purple sky gave way to a crescent moon, eight competitors dropped in time and again, landing a succession of tricks that had never been done in competition. Lost in the celebration on the hardwood, however, was a pertinent fact -- perhaps the biggest factor at play on this historic night.
In the months leading up to X Games Foz, each of the eight competitors spent a significant amount of time training on Burnquists ramp. No bad vibes, no unwelcome scowl, just an open invitation to skate.
Burnquist has never charged another skater to use his ramp, even though he has spent tens of thousands of dollars to maintain it since two cranes and a small army of harnessed workers built it in 2006.
Charging his competition to use his backyard ramp, bronze medalist Jake Brown conceded, "would probably be a good idea." After all, the point is to win, right?
"You don't do anything alone," Burnquist said, almost shouting to drown out the Brazilian throngs chanting his name. "It's not fun if it's just you. If I'm filming a new trick, yeah, I'm going to keep it quiet, but when it's pre-event like this, if you keep people from skating and come out here and win, in the back of your head you feel like you had an advantage."
It goes further than that. Four years ago, Nolan Munroe, Thursday's seventh-place finisher, was skating at a prestigious bowl competition in Southern California called the Pro-tec Pool Party. Knowing that Munroe, then 16, was also a competitive snowboarder, Burnquist walked up and asked if he might be interested in trying out the MegaRamp. Munroe, starstruck by the 23-time X Games medalist, said sure. Burnquist invited him to his home and taught him to skate the MegaRamp across the field from the goats and chickens and horses that live on Burnquist's 11-acre property."He pretty much recruited me into it," Munroe said.
If you keep people from skating and come out here and win, in the back of your head you feel like you had an advantage.Bob Burnquist
Around that same time, Burnquist invited a 9-year-old Tom Schaar to ride the vert ramp on his property and eventually started mentoring him on the MegaRamp, too.
Now 13, Schaar is one of a handful of teenagers right on Burnquist's skateboard wheels in Big Air competitions, including Thursday, when he finished fourth. No matter. Burnquist, 36, still texts Schaar -- who is a friend of Burnquist's 13-year-old daughter Lotus -- and invites him over when he's planning to ride the MegaRamp.
Can you imagine Michael Jordan doing that for a young LeBron James?
Lest anyone get the wrong idea, the MegaRamp is not just another place to ride a skateboard. It's the sport's Evel Knievel discipline, a white-knuckle ride from start to finish.
"The first time, you literally want to poop your pants," Munroe said. "Your heart starts racing and you can't breathe."
Added skateboard legend Bucky Lasek, who has finished in the top five of X Games Big Air events three times: "Making the next-level magic happen on a MegaRamp, you're risking your life. I stopped doing it because my body told me to."
Due in large part to the fear factor, the number of MegaRamp skateboarders remains small. Burnquist didn't start until he was 25. But he has encouraged to see younger skaters getting into the event.
"We're going to see some amazing stuff," he said. "I'm glad I'm not going to have to battle them too long. I'm not about to retire, but I'm going to see Tom and Mitchie [Brusco, 16] and all these other kids go at it for some time. And I hope Brazilian kids too."
More than an hour after he'd won gold, Burnquist was still sweating through his body armor and ripped jeans, his face glistening as he posed with local food service workers for yet another cell-phone photo.
Someone asked whether he viewed the next generation as a threat to his reign.
"They're not a threat," he said. "I mean, come on, man. I've won every event, I've done it all. There's a time for everyone and a time for everything. So no. If anything, they just push me to keep going."