The Dew Tour gave a sign of what’s really hot when it hit Salt Lake City. It outdrew the highly popular college football game between Utah State and Utah by some 6,000 fans, setting an attendance record for the second year in a row.
In other words, the new school of action sports can now outdraw the old school of football and baseball. Take note, Sports Illustrated.
The stars of the Dew are magicians of the air. In FMX, or freestyle motocross, they go high on a motor bike. In BMX Dirt, they do big double black flips. In BMX and skateboard vert, they trick out of a high walled halfpipe; in park, they do it off quarter and half pipes and tabletops. These athletes are not teenagers. Many are in their mid 30’s, some are over 40.
The first day, Thursday was all preliminaries, with lesser athletes winnowed out to allow only the best in the semis and finals. Friday, the crowds waiting to get in when the gates opened stood in a line that wound almost around an entire block.
Friday’s finals were BMX vert and dirt. Vert stands for ‘vertical’, which describes the high walls of the halfpipe out of which riders pop to do tricks. Chad Kagy got so high that the crowd went crazy. Jamie Bestwick, 37, won; but it cost him. He fell hard just as his buzzer went off, signaling the end of his routine, then slid down the wall and lay motionless in the tranny (halfpipe bottom), face white. Best bud Ryan Schlecker came over to check out Bestwick’s condition and was pushed aside by medical aides, who removed Bestwick’s bike and offered him a stretcher, which he declined. There was shocked silence for minutes—then cheers as Bestwick was slowly helped up. He walked off with medical holding him under his shoulders, his hands on his lower back.
Because the fall came as the buzzer went off, it didn’t cause a big deduction, so Bestwick squeaked by Kagy, with Simon Tabron third. When the winners were announced, Bestwick was a no show. Finally he came limping out, a bag of ice taped to his back. It took effort for him to mount the podium.
He gave props to Tabron, saying, “I did what I could tonight, but Simon was the best I’ve seen him all season.”
While in Salt Lake, Kagy filled his need for speed. “Some of us went out to Miller Motorsports Park and did the motorbike driving school. Ogio sent us. And we got invited to go train with the pros in early December, so we’re going to go motorbike racing. I don’t want to do any tricks on the motorbike, I just want to go fast,” he said.
The BMX dirt finals were dramatic, not only because they were held at night under a full moon, but because of the presence of Steven Murray, who last year was paralyzed from the neck down in BMX dirt at the Dew Tour’s first stop in Baltimore. He had designed the course with the help of renowned track builder Fuzzy Hall, using every inch of space available (read the full story in this week’s issue).
This comp was the first sign that there is a changing of the guard in action sports. Local rider Mike Aitken got a wildcard into the event. Coming out of nowhere, not even a pro yet, his suicides, no-handers and newly invented tricks won, to the deafening screams of the mostly local crowd.
It was live TV on NBC, and hopefully they had a few seconds of tape delay, because when Corey Bohan fell on one of his runs, he shouted out an F-bomb that could be heard by all. Still, tricks like an opposite 360 tailwhip gave him second place. Third place went to Cameron White, who linked tricks like a bar spin, back flip to tailwhip into a double whip without a wobble. That gives White the current top spot on the tour.
Anthony Neopolitan, who has previously won this event, lost a pedal and went down. If he cussed about it, no one could hear, because he competed with a broken jaw that was wired shut. Cory Nastazio put on a show, even if it wasn’t on the track, where he came in third from last. Then he took off his shirt and rode along the fence, grabbing outstretched hands. His jeans were pulled down below his butt, showing off his tighty blues.
In Saturday’s FMX finals, Adam Jones won, with Robbie Maddison second and Jeremy Lusk third. Jones said, “I wanted to do the best I possibly can do. I’m completely satisfied.”
Many of the riders complained that the track was too easy, but not Robbie Maddison. “With the elevation here (5,500 feet), our bikes run really bad. So an easy course is kind of good here, because you’re not struggling just to make it over the jumps.
Ronnie Faisst was sixth, but he won many fans as he walked along the fence handing out posters of himself doing a backflip no hander.
The event many had waited for, BMX Supercross, continued the changing of the established guard at the only supercross event in this year’s Tour. Everyone figured Olympic medalists Mike Day and Donny Robinson, along with riders like Kyle Bennett and and Steven Cisar, would be the ones duking it out. Instead, another total unknown, not-yet-pro, was the winner.
Before the race, Nic Long was ecstatic at just making the main. He said, “Wow, this is my first one! I’m pretty pumped! The course is tight, but you’ve just got to push through it. It’s pretty tough.”
When he won, Long seemed to go into another dimension. He walked around in a daze. “I came here just praying to make the main. I’ve never even made it out of quarters before,” he said. He walked around the podium, took off his ski goggles, took off his helmet and neck brace, kept looking around at the podium and at Day (second), and Robinson (third), like his eyes were recording the moment forever.
When asked if he was rested from Beijing, Day, the Olympic silver medalist, said, “I think I rested up too much. I haven’t done any training or anything at all about bikes since we raced in China.” Then, giving props, he added, “Long is an amazing rider and a great kid. I’m psyched for him. It’s just a tough comp, every race is.”
The changing of the Dew stars guard continued in skateboard park. It was a good park, with a florescent fire hydrant on a tabletop that only a few could use for spins and hits. No surprise that Ryan Scheckler and Paul Rodriguez could manage it. But who expected this little kid, only 14 years old, to come out of pretty much nowhere—he won the amateur Free Flow tour in 2007—but this year Chaz Ortiz is kicking it with the big boys. In Salt Lake, Ortiz beat both Schlecker and Rodriguez for his first Dew Tour win. Now he’s closing in on Sheckler for the Tour’s title, only eight points away with just the finals in Orlando, Florida, remaining.
Ortiz is truly a phenom. Even in practice, he nailed every trick he tried; plus he had that flowing-water style that marks only the best athletes, the ones who become legends. He seemed to linger in the air, as if he wasn’t influenced that much by gravity. The line painted on his board, “Skate of mind,” may actually be what propels him.
His dad, Mark, says, “Chaz started skating at six. He’s the youngest pro now, at 14. He’s making money from the sport, but it all goes back to him, it doesn’t come to us. We’re so proud of him and support him.”
Gretchen Sheckler is proud of her son as well. “I think that as humble as he is, he deserves everything he’s got. He’s worked really hard for it. People don’t understand what’s gone into where he’s got today. And it’s a short career.”
The 18-year-old Ryan’s arms bear out her comment. One elbow is swollen and deformed. He skated with the other bandaged up in a kind of sling that prevented him from straightening the arm. Pointing to the bumpy elbow, Shecker said, “This is an old injury,” then pointing to the bandaged elbow, “The ligament inside the elbow is torn in half, so if I fall and push my arm down, my elbow pops out, so I got to keep it wrapped up till the end of the season.”
After the Orlando Dew finals, he will have surgery on both elbows. And though he tries to hide it, Sheckler skates in pain. His elbows always hurt.
Though Sheckler gets a lot of crap for being good looking, the star of his own reality show, and a top skater, he really is the humble and kind kid his mother describes. He hung out with Ortiz during practice, perhaps knowing what it feels like to be that good that young. Sheckler was only 13 when he won his first X Games gold medal. When Ortiz was announced as the winner of skate park, Sheckler ran past the TV cameras to grab Chaz in a big hug, excited and glad for him, even though the 14-year-old’s victory dropped him to second place. Paul Rodriguez was third, but it’s obvious he is getting tired.
Ortiz may have won with a trick no one else is using in competition, a kickflip-boardside-kickflip, where the board seems to whirl under his feet. He and his board have a magnetic attraction few skaters can equal. Perhaps that’s why the young star won the ‘Most Valuable Athlete’ award, which is $10,000. Between that and the event winner’s purse of $3,000, it was a good haul for the week.
Sunday’s hot temperature and glaring sun took its toll on the BMX park riders as well as the fans. This event was much more popular than skateboard park, even though skateboard was indoors. Every seat was taken. Daniel Dhers owned the park from the start. He jumped from one quarterpipe to another, did a 720 with handlebars backward, and stuffed his routine with tricks like double whip, tailwhip and 360 transfers. No surprise that he won.
“I’m focused and I really wanted it. (But) the heat was a big problem. My first run, I rode with full sleeves. Everyone said to take them off, but I said no. Then as I was finishing my run, I couldn’t keep up,” Dhers said. He rode sleeveless for the rest of the comp.
Mike Spinner, who took second, did 1080’s. Still, he said, “I’m a little disappointed in myself, I didn’t win.” Spinner was notable because, unlike the loud rap used by all the other riders, he rode to Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire.” The droll, slow cadence of Cash’s deep voice made his tricks stand out.
Sunday’s final event, skateboard vert, showed how fast that element of skating is advancing. Tricks that would have been impossible just last year were so common this year that the riders doing them barely made it into the finals. Each skater who made the finals had fingers and hands that were too quick to be seen by the naked eye as they grabbed and turned their boards and tucked them back under their feet in a sheer defiance of gravity.
Still, nearly every skater fell in their first heat, which may be due to the sport’s higher levels of competition. Skaters were trying to land tricks they had never done in a comp, trying to get bigger air and show more style.
There was some muted contention when the winners were announced. Andy MacDonald topped Pierre-Luc Gagnon, and Gagnon was not happy about it. Standing on the tranny, where the podium had been placed, he said in an angry whisper to a friend, “I beat him by four spots, he was 15 and—-” The friend said soothingly, “But he made it up.” “Four spots was only ten?” Gagnon asked with a hiss. “I got it off the computer. You can go look, I got it off the computer,” the friend said. “Really,” Gagnon replied an a scathingly sarcastic tone.
Yet his placing was not surprising. His tricks lacked flair, he seemed competent, but didn’t skate as stylish as MacDonald. MacDonald said, “You never expect to win, you expect to pull of the run that you planned.” He did the run that he planned. Bob Burnquist took third.
Bucky Lasec smiled, despite only coming in fifth. But watch out for him in Orlando, he and Free Flow Tour second place park skater Zach Miller are going out to Woodward (a legendary skate park) together and work on some new tricks. Miller will come back to the 2009 Dew as a pro.
The Tour finals will be in Orlando Oct. 18-21, and will be televised live on NBC.