Twenty firsts: Jake Brown's Mega 720
Australian skateboarder Jake Brown was a Big Air favorite coming into X Games Los Angeles 2007, after winning silver in 2006 behind MegaRamp pioneer Danny Way. He was in silver medal position again after his first few runs in 2007, this time behind Bob Burnquist, and remembers thinking he'd have to take a page out of Way's book to win the gold.
"I was kind of hyped and I'd already skated great in the contest, so I wanted to step it up," he recalls. "I'd been trying 720s over the 70-foot gap leading up to the event, inspired by Danny Way but not really thinking I'd be able to do it. I'd never landed it in practice, so the one I landed in the contest was the first time I made it. Of course, it didn't work out quite the way I'd planned after that."
Most people remember what came next more vividly than the fact that Brown was the first to land a 720 in Big Air competition at X Games.
"It's always weird when you're trying a trick over that gap for the first time because you have that quarterpipe hanging in front of you," Brown says. "You're coming into that pretty fast and you want to be prepared for it, so it's always intimidating to try anything new over the gap."
Landing the 720 just slightly off balance sent Brown into the massive quarterpipe with the trajectory all wrong, launching him out past the transition rather than straight up into the air, before plummeting from 47-feet to the bottom of the ramp. The impact blew his sneakers off his feet and knocked him unconscious for nearly a minute, one of the worst crashes in the history of the X Games. As he lay on the ramp, unmoving and with medical staff rushing to his attention, everyone in the hushed crowd was unprepared to see him standing up on his own power and walking it off with a twisted grin.
The crash left Brown with a broken wrist, broken vertebra, whiplash, a concussion, and contusions to his lung and liver. Walking away from it -- and returning to skate the MegaRamp a few months later -- earned him the honorific "Unbreakable."
The Unbreakable Jake Brown stepped back into the Big Air competition the following year, winning bronze at X Games Los Angeles 2008. He won his first Big Air gold in 2009 and his second in 2010.
Skateboarders fail and fall and pick themselves back up over and over and over again. It's always been a defining thing about being a skateboarder, and Brown is the definitive skateboarder. Still, he says, he was more rattled by the fall and less unbreakable than he'd initially realized.
Brown says he's never gone out of his way to claim any kind of bragging rights for the first 720, because it's a trick he'd seen Way land in private prior to the competition and because of the crash that followed it. The 720 ollie is another matter altogether. Nobody had ever landed the spin without grabbing their board, over the MegaRamp gap or otherwise, before Brown brought it to X Games Foz do Iguaçu 2013.
"If we're talking about historic firsts, I think the focus probably should be on the 720 ollie, since that the was the first time it's been done in the history of skateboarding," he says. "That one I can claim."
Brown won bronze in Brazil, thanks to the 720 ollie. He landed it again at X Games Barcelona 2013, finishing off the podium in fifth place, then was forced to sit out finals in Munich after a head injury in practice. He finished seventh at X Games Los Angeles 2013.
"This year, with only the one X Games event instead of four, I feel like the stakes are higher and I really want to do well," he says. As he's been training for X Games Austin 2014, he's also been filming a new video part for Laced, the clothing brand he co-founded, and says he hopes to bring some new surprises he's been working on to this year's contest. So, what else might be possible on the MegaRamp?
"I'll leave it at that," he says. "I don't like talking about things before they're done."