On the first day of summer, blue skies, sparkling water and 30,000 wild and crazy fans formed the backdrop of a production here that is on the verge of becoming this generation’s Olympics. It is called the X Games, ESPN’s three-year-old invention for those twenty-somethings known as Generation X. “We are already bigger than most athletes in the Olympics,” said Tony Hawk, a 29-year-old skateboarder and owner of Birdhouse, a skateboard company in Huntington Beach, Calif. “We already have the integrity.”
The only difference is the regimen, said Andy Macdonald, Hawk’s partner in a doubles skateboarding competition.
“Olympic athletes have six days on and one day off,” said Macdonald, 23. “They swim and run and lift weights or whatever. We ride with our friends and have a good time. It has never been a sport to have a coach and a trainer.”
A small percentage of these alternative athletes make more money than most Olympians - as entrepreneurs. Hawk’s company is leading the industry that caters to the 9 million Americans who buy skateboards and the clothing that goes with the sport, such as baggy shorts, jeans, T-shirts and hats. For others, such as Macdonald, the life is a simple one: living close to the beach, but with enough money from sponsors to get by. Many of the 450 athletes competing in 27 disciplines in 11 sport categories at the X Games are carpenters, teachers, writers, models, bartenders and doctors.
For many, their sports are as serious as they want them to be.
“If it became an Olympic sport, I wouldn’t compete,” said Chris Edwards, 23, an in-line skater who finished third in the men’s aggressive vert, a competition in which skaters perform their best routines inside a large half-pipe. “I’d just ride, even if there was a messload of money.
“My generation used to love team sports,” said Edwards, who owns a skating clothing and equipment company in Minneapolis. “But now it’s about bikes and in-line skating and rolling and going fast. Team sports are a thing of the past. Baseball is at an all-time low, and people don’t care. We’re growing, and they are declining.”
The animated and enthusiastic crowds that have come to this beach area called Mariner’s Point for free seem to back up Edwards’ claim. The organizers of the X Games say the games attract more men from 12 to 34 years old than any other sporting event on television. Indeed, on a Saturday, it was mostly hip and shirtless men who took in the live action on giant television screens while the music of Sublime and Ska blasted through loudspeakers (the public could buy the official X Games CD), and sponsor booths did swift business (even the Marine Corps showed up).
Teenage girls in braces giggled and asked skaters for autographs. Young women with tattoos and bikini tops maneuvered past security guards to be up close and personal with the new stars.
“It’s a male-dominated sport,” said Mary Nelson, a 26-year-old college graduate who has been competing in the women’s street skating event for two years. “We have an older female competitor who wears a G-string under her baggy shorts so that when she does her flips the judges see the string. It’s female sexual objectification.”
Seventy-nine of the X Games athletes are women. One of those is 14-year-old Katie Brown, from Jacksonville, Fla., the only American who competed in the women’s in-line vert competition. She came in last. Brown, who has already had surgery for a torn anterior cruciate ligament and ripped cartilage, is closely guarded by her brother and manager, 22-year-old Beau Brown. She will skate in her stronger division, street skate, on Wednesday.
“It’s getting better for the women,” Beau Brown said. “The level of competition has stepped up. The women are gaining respect from the men. Not equals yet, but getting respect from the guys. The girls stick together. It’s pretty healthy out here. And, sure, there are some wild parties.”
Wild seems to be the operative word for the X Games, which opened Friday and continue through Saturday. Whether the extreme edge of these athletes, with names such as Beauty, Rat, Pistol Pipe, the Glide and Jedi Knight, will ever make it past the opening ceremony of the Olympics is anyone’s guess.
“Like, it’s so big, it should be Olympian,” Katie Brown said.