When the X Games editors set out to name the 50 most influential people in action sports, the task became both lengthy and contentious. First was the question: How do you define influential?
Are those the people who are the most well known, the athletes with large personalities and lots of fans? Or are they the faces working behind the scenes, the photographers, filmers, event organizers, agents, judges and others shaping the sports and culture of surfing, snowboarding, skateboarding, freeskiing, motocross and BMX? And are they the people influencing action sports now? Or have they been instrumental to a sport's history and evolution?
In short, yes, to all of the above. The 50 names on this list cover a broad spectrum, from athletes to product manufacturers to image makers and more, but all of them share one major characteristic: They are leaving the biggest mark on action sports today. These are the people transcending their sports by making lasting impressions on the action sports industry and beyond.
An even bigger challenge presented itself in determining No. 1 on a list full of powerful and bright people. How do you decide who is the most influential of all?
We looked to gold-medal winners and behind-the-scenes activists, and eventually settled on some names we all know and some you might never have heard of. The elder statesmen on the list (Tony Hawk is 44, and Rob Dyrdek is 38) have done huge things for action sports. The young up-and-comers have potential beyond anyone's imagination. The cross-sport pioneers like Travis Pastrana won't settle for winning everything on two wheels. The product masterminds, entrepreneurs and media mavens have helped put action sports on the world map.
But a few editors in corner offices aren't the end-all for action-influence arbitration, right? So, for help, we decided to ask a group of high school students in South Lake Tahoe, Calif., who on this list was the most influential to them. Consistently, a few names cropped up near the top: Hawk, Dyrdek, Shaun White, Pastrana, Kelly Slater and Nyjah Huston, among others.
David Rodriguez, age 16, said, "I'm a big fan of Rob Dyrdek because he is influential, he helps people out, he's funny, and he's just living the dream. He's an entrepreneur and he's smart."
Dyrdek, with his oft-watched MTV shows, good deeds through his nonprofit foundation, and bringing skateboarding to the masses through the Street League, would have been a good choice for No. 1. But what about the young skateboarders truly pushing the limits of what's possible?
"Nyjah Huston is influential to me because he was really young when he became a pro," added Jareth Olvera, 16. "That proves that no matter how old you are you can accomplish your dream. He's been winning comps and winning cars before he could even drive them. Shout-out to a young guy."
Or, of course, there is White, the one action sports star known around the globe who continues to dominate in both skateboarding and snowboarding. "Shaun White has been a inspiration to my snowboarding," said Kimberly Sanchez-Marquez, 16. "I have looked up to him since I started snowboarding, and now I have snowboarded for about six years and I want to do crazy tricks like he does."
Perhaps No. 1 should be the person or athlete who's done the most charitable good for action sports? "Tony Hawk has done so much not only for him, but for others as well," said Celina Robinson, age 15. "He helps kids in need and helps out charities, and that's what makes him so influential. He doesn't use his fame and fortune for only himself. It's amazing that he's so dedicated to his sport, and that influences me to not give up. He makes me want to be a better person."
Therein lies perhaps the most important quality of our top influencers and the deciding factor in determining who was No. 1. This had to be someone who is inspiring the rest of us to live fuller, better lives. It had to be someone who embodies athleticism, forward-thinking, bright ideas, humanitarian efforts, game-changing moves and more.
After much debate, the No. 1 spot was awarded to surfer Kelly Slater, the youngest and oldest world champion in ASP history. Though he fell just short of winning a 12th ASP World Tour title when Australian Joel Parkinson earned the coveted award in the second-to-last heat of the season at the Billabong Pipeline Masters in December, Slater still has 11 world titles to his name, which is a full seven more than the next-closest surfer, Mark Richards. Slater has the most event wins in ASP history (51), and in 2012 alone, he notched three tour stop victories. The ASP lists his career winnings at $3,425,705. Not bad for an action sports athlete.
On top of that, Slater is involved with international efforts to conserve ocean ecosystems, and he's donated time and money to help poverty-stricken communities around the world. Slater's list of competitive accolades is innumerable, but perhaps most poignant, at one month shy of his 41st birthday, he shows zero signs of slowing down. He continues to dominate at the highest level of surfing and proves year in and year out that age really is just a couple of digits.
Slater may not be world champ this year, and even amid rumors that he's retiring, his influence over surfing and the broader action sports industry is undeniable. Visit a beach, a surf shop or a high school in Southern California, Florida or Brazil, and you'll see hints of Slater's reach. Long after he's done competing -- if that ever happens -- Slater will still be the one people are talking about, the one setting the benchmark for others to follow.
You may not agree with everyone on this list. And certainly, there are names we are missing. But hopefully, we can all agree on this: Action sports would not be the same without the presence of these 50 talented and inspiring people.