Considering that this entry in the countdown deals with extreme sports athletes, I would like to take this opportunity to express my sympathies to the friends and family of the deceased Caleb Moore. Despite the lack of deaths, extreme sports remain a constant danger to the safety and lives of the athletes who participate in them. Hopefully, with Caleb in mind, athletes and officials can work to find ways to continue to produce a highly entertaining product while going the extra mile to help make these sports as safe as possible. No one wants to see an athlete killed on the playing field. Hopefully this tragic incident is not forgotten by the world of sports.
And then what? Where does the story of skateboarding go from Tony Hawk?
Jason Ellis, in the video clip above, described Hawk as his “idol, savior, and god.” In skateboarding terms, that was the truth. His brand, his games, his aura, his legend. He was skateboarding, in a way that no other athlete has owned a sport. No other.
A serviceman that I met told me a story about a time when he was accompanying an overseas flight. He noticed a man sitting in the back of the plane. It was Tony Hawk. He turned to the men sitting next to him and said, “Guys! That’s Tony Hawk!” to which they replied, “You mean like the guy in the video games?”
“No fool! That’s Tony freaking Hawk! That guy’s my hero man!”
But the strange thing is that Tony Hawk still is the god of skateboarding. Despite the fact that he no longer competes, Tony Hawk is, to the general public, the skateboarder. Some of his former rivals, like Bob Burnquist and Bucky Lasek, are still competing and still doing very well, but are they celebrities? No. Shaun White is a terrific skateboarder, but his dual sportsmanship, along with his overall celebrity status as “The Flying Tomato,” keep him from representing the sport and taking it forward in the way that Tony Hawk did. PLG, nice abbreviated nickname and all, is about as famous as the backup quarterback on most NFL teams.
Sal Masekela, the voice of extreme sports, said at last summer’s games that he believed X Games had arrived. I believe it was in reference to a some tweets from celebrities about the events. True, the X Games are gaining popularity, but I’ll give you one guess as to why those people care about extreme sports in the first place.
Why hasn’t someone else continued where Tony Hawk left off? Why isn’t there the skateboarder? In the way that David Beckham, Michael Phelps, and Tiger Woods have become mainstream icons in sports that are slightly off the beaten path, why has no skateboarder since Hawk joined that company?
Maybe it’s just a matter of time, since some of the biggest names in skateboarding don’t have their driver’s license yet.
Tom Schaar (13) and Mitchie Brusco (15) were among a number of very young participants in last summer’s X Games. And at their very young age, they are capable of tricks that very few other competitors, even ones much more experienced than them, are able to complete. Granted, when Brusco set the skating world on fire with his 900, it was in Big Air, and not on a halfpipe like Hawk’s, but there are still only a handful of competitors who can land one. Then there’s Schaar, who amazingly has taken the trick a step (or rather a turn) further and landed a 1080. He was not able to land it in X Games, but the accomplishment is still plenty remarkable. Neither of them can quite keep up with the old guys (Bucky Lasek is a little more than three times as old as Schaar) because of a lack of experience and weight, but the things they are doing is something to watch. With extreme sports continuously going to new heights (as they are still in their early stages of creation), prodigies like Schaar and Brusco could end up being household names.
But then there’s this guy named Nyjah Huston. He’s a different breed from Schaar and Brusco, and even Tony Hawk. He’s a street skater (not to say Hawk (or Schaar or Brusco) can’t street skate), which is significantly different from doing tricks on a halfpipe. A layman like me can appreciate what Shaun White and PLG do on a halfpipe; I do not understand the intricate art of what Nyjah Huston does. It’s a shame, really, because Nyjah Huston, in a way, is as close to “the cool kid” as you will find in the world of sports. If you prefer cowboy hats and sleeveless shirts, that’s cool, but snapbacks and hoodies are kind of in right now. The combination of punk rock/skater and hip-hop cultures is one that could really find favor with a lot of people. And, oh yeah, he dominates his sport. En route to another Street League competition win, I vaguely remember hearing the commentator say something like “Nyjah Huston is insane! He’s out of this world!” We all know skateboarders get stoked and like to exaggerate, but that’s saying something.
So it’s a shame because Nyjah Huston could be an icon for what is right now a sect of a sport. And maybe that’s just the nature of street skating. The chill, laid-back attitude of the skateboarding culture doesn’t demand the attention of ESPN. There’s also the fact lots of skateboard hobbyists hate Nyjah Huston. To add to this list of quotes in this post, I remember someone saying on Facebook, “Nyjah Huston is a @#$#@#%@#$@#%@#$@#$” (or something like that). It makes sense, really. Amateur boarders go skating every day and struggle to learn rudimentary tricks while this kid deftly accomplishes the most advanced tricks, then is presented with a six-digit check and a trophy while standing next to a few really hot women. Young men tend to be covetous of those sorts of things. They think, “I could be Nyjah Huston, I could do what he does. I could make mixtapes and make tons of money.” But they can’t, because they’re not Nyjah Huston.
And he will never be Tony Hawk.
I believe extreme sports still have a part to play in the sports world. I don’t think they can ever be a national event or a relevant small-talk subject, but awareness for the various sports, including skateboarding, is going to rise. What it needs is another clear leader, someone who not only dominates the sport, but defines it. It needs a Tony Hawk.
Alas, those types of athletes don’t grow on trees. This turn may last a while.
It’s Still Your Turn Countdown
10. John Wall
9. Tim Tebow
8. Carmelo Anthony
7. Derrick Rose
5. Coming Soon
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Soli Deo Gloria