Ryan Sheckler was a 13-year-old kid with a mouth full of braces when he made his X Games debut in the Skateboard Park event in 2003, but even his toughest competitors knew to take him seriously.
"The funny thing is, looking back, I wasn't intimidated," Sheckler says, reminiscing during a break from filming in Barcelona for the forthcoming Plan B video. "I didn't know any better. I was just stoked to be there and skating with guys like Eric Koston, who I'd looked up to my whole life."
According to family lore, confirmed by the family photo album, Sheckler first started playing around on his dad's skateboard when he was 18 months old. By that measure he had actually been skating longer than most of his new X Games competitors. He had turned pro earlier in 2003, but had been on industry watchers' radar long before that, ever since he won his first California Amateur Skateboard League championship, when he was 7. Even before getting to X Games, 2003 was shaping up to be an especially good year for the young skater.
"I had already won the Vans Triple Crown and Gravity Games that year, so I was feeling really good about my ability to skate in contests," he says.
Though Sheckler is now known as a strategic skater, with a stack of medals and one of the most successful careers in skateboarding to show for it, back then he was running on pure adolescent ambition.
"My strategy was ... I didn't have a strategy," he said. "What I remember most was going home and going back to school the next day."
Sheckler, now 24, has had recent reminders of what it was like to have that unadulterated passion for the sport that has now been a driving force in his life for as long as he can remember and has become a career. His younger brother Kane, now 15, is coming up fast behind him and has that same gleam in his eye. He gives Kane the same advice that mattered most to him, received from Koston and his other heroes when he was a teenager.
"I tell Kane to have fun," he says. "I trip out when I skate with him and see his progression. I don't know if he has X Games aspirations, but it wouldn't surprise me if he does."
Ryan Sheckler, still the youngest gold medalist in X Games history, has since collected two more golds, two silvers and one bronze at X Games, as well as a long streak of Dew Tour dominance. Even more important to him are the magazine covers, photo shoots and video parts that have helped establish him as more than a contest skater, though that remains a priority, too.
Ankle injuries set him back in 2013, but he remains a podium favorite heading into X Games Austin.
"My approach is a lot different now," he says. "I've been through the trials and tribulations of skateboarding. I've been injured. I now understand the risk and that the injuries are real and don't go away as quickly as you'd like them to."
Eleven years after that first X Games gold, however, Sheckler says one thing hasn't changed.
"No matter what, I love the adrenaline rush that comes from skateboarding and competing."