A fond farewell to L.A.LOS ANGELES -- Ryan Sheckler smiles as he sits atop a parking structure in downtown Los Angeles, looking at the final X Games being set up in the city.
Sheckler became the youngest X Games gold medalist ever at the age of 13 in Skateboard Park at the first X Games held in L.A. in 2003. Fast-forward a decade and Sheckler and the city are almost unrecognizable when the highlights of that event are shown on a big screen behind him.
"It's amazing how much has changed," he said. "It's only been 10 years, but it seems longer." Sheckler's braces, mop top and oversized helmet have been replaced by tattoos, earrings and a backwards hat. The parking lot where Sheckler made his name a decade ago is now L.A. Live, a 27-acre entertainment complex across the street from Staples Center.
"The reason why the X Games have become so massive is because it's been in L.A.," Sheckler said. "All of these pro skateboarders here have either lived in L.A. at some point in their lives or are trying to get to L.A. It's just a massive skate scene. The X Games being in L.A. changed the face of competitive skateboarding."
Sunday, however, marked the end of the X Games' 11-year run in Los Angeles. Austin, Texas, was chosen as one of six stops on the global X Games circuit for the next four years and will serve as a host along with Aspen, Colo.; Tignes, France; Foz do Iguaçu, Brazil; Barcelona, Spain; and Munich, Germany.
It's a move that marked the end of an era in the eyes of Sheckler, who is from San Clemente, Calif., which is 60 miles south of L.A., and many others who grew up with the X Games in their backyard.
"I'm really bummed that it's leaving L.A.," Sheckler said. "I enjoy it here and my family enjoys being able to come out. A lot of other skaters feel the same way. L.A. is the epicenter of skateboarding."
X Games and Los Angeles might be synonymous with each other now, but the event actually began in 1995 and was held in four different cities during its first eight years. Newport, R.I., San Diego, San Francisco and Philadelphia held it for two years apiece before it finally came to Los Angeles.
It's no surprise that the event found a long-term home after landing in L.A.
"It's the home of the majority of the athletes and home of a lot of the industry," said Tim Reed, senior director of X Games content strategy. "A lot of the builders and a lot of the people that work on it are from this area. It felt like it was kind of a home game for us. It was nice to come home and be where a lot of the people lived and where the action was."
When the X Games first began in Los Angeles in 2003, downtown L.A. was just beginning its renaissance. Staples Center, which helped kick-start the revitalization, opened a little less than four years earlier while old warehouses were being converted into high-end lofts. The X Games were held inside Staples Center and at the massive parking lot across the street. That lot, however, became L.A. Live about four years ago, with a 54-story hotel and condominium tower going where the MegaRamp used to be and the Nokia Theatre going where the street course was once was built.
Adjacent lots have been purchased and plans have been made to turn those into more hotels, apartments, bars and restaurants as property values in the area have doubled over the past 15 years, according to the Downtown Center Business Improvement District. Even the iconic banks on the Downtown Car Wash, which have been ridden by nearly every professional skateboarder alive, will soon be gone to make way for another new development.
The shrinking space available and rising costs of rent in the area pushed some events to the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif., and the Long Beach Marine Stadium in the past and this year pushed several events to the Irwindale Events Center. It's a reality that has contributed to pushing the X Games out of Los Angeles.
"I think the two of them kind of outgrew each other," said Kevin Robinson, the 41-year-old BMX veteran who competed at the inaugural X Games and made his final X Games appearance Friday night in Irwindale. "It's like two people trying to share a bedroom. It works when you're little kids but as they grow and become teenagers they have to get their own rooms. It just gets to a point where it doesn't work and that's what happened here. There's no space for it anymore."
When the X Games originally landed in Los Angeles, Tim Leiweke, who was the president and CEO of Anschutz Entertainment Group, which owns and manages Staples Center, L.A. Live and the Home Depot Center, among other properties, said, "Los Angeles is the birthplace of extreme sports, and we feel it's important for the X Games to come back."
Leiweke, who left AEG earlier this year, had always brought up the X Games when talking about Farmers Field, a proposed football stadium that would be built where the original hall of the Los Angeles Convention Center is now. It would not only house an NFL team but X Games events such as Big Air and RallyCross, which are now held off-site.
The stadium might be a pipe dream but more than a few careers have started on the steps and rails outside of the convention center, affectionately called the "Convention Center Hubba" by skaters as an homage to the longtime, iconic San Francisco skate spot, "Hubba Hideout."
"You have all these crazy iconic spots," Sheckler said. "You have the Convention Center Hubba, the manual pads in front of the Staples Center ... you can skate everywhere down here. It's amazing."
While action sports continue to grow around the country and around the world, it's a part of the fabric of Los Angeles and a part of the architecture of the city. There's not a professional skater or BMXer who doesn't know the location and angle of every prominent staircase, gap or ledge in the city.
As Paul Rodriguez makes his way from the Skateboard Street course, which has been shoehorned along with the vert ramp on top of a parking lot next to the Staples Center, he smiles as he walks toward the banks of the Downtown Car Wash, across the street from the hotel where he's staying.
Downtown L.A. hasn't just served as the home of the X Games for the past 11 years, but it has been the backdrop of countless videos skaters and BMX riders have made over the years.
"I fell in love with skateboarding through L.A. skateboarders and the videos that they made in L.A.," Rodriguez said. "I was a little kid watching guys skate the schoolyard picnic tables that they only have here in L.A. I haven't seen them like that anywhere else. You have the car wash, the DWP, the library gap. This is the mecca of skateboarding."
Tony Hawk is more than familiar with the library gap on Flower Street, the rails at Belmont High and the countless stairs that line Wilshire Boulevard.
"Los Angeles is definitely the birthplace of skateboarding," Hawk said. "In the '70s, surfers tried to emulate waves and surfboards and the whole things started with them dismantling roller skates and putting them on two-by-fours. Through the '80s this is where the industry was centered. In the early days when skating was relatively dead, the only footage you would really see would be coming from L.A. and places like the car wash and Wilshire. That's where a lot of the movement started."
The growth of the movement, however, has enabled X Games to expand globally and allowed the games to move from its home to other parts of the world.
"It's established here in Southern California but it has spread so far across the U.S. and internationally," Hawk said. "That's a big reason why the X Games is moving and growing, I think. It doesn't have to be in that hometown environment anymore to be successful."
The X Games might be leaving Los Angeles but it will no doubt live on in the city through the ramps, slopes and ledges that line the streets, continuing to serve as a giant playground for the next generation of athletes that will compete.