by John Gettings
After two years in San Diego, the world's largest "alternative" sports competition is moving north to San Francisco for more biking, blading and boarding under the California sun. From June 25 to July 3, more than 400 athletes are scheduled to compete in nine gravity-defying sports on land, at sea, and in the air.
The street luge is speeding towards a TV near you, as one of nine "alternative" sports to be featured at the fifth Summer X Games.
Introduced to the world by ESPN in 1995, the Summer X Games is celebrating its fifth birthday this summer. And thanks to ESPN/ESPN2 and ABC, television viewers will see almost 30 hours of coverage of the nine-day sports festival.
More than 250,000 spectators, most of them in their teens, attended last summer's games — a fact that hasn't gone unnoticed by corporate America. Sponsorship opportunities have attracted the likes of Adidas, Mountain Dew, and Taco Bell, pushing awards and prize money at stake in San Francisco to nearly $1 million dollars.
The Games' three most hotly contested sports, in-line skating, bicycle stunt riding and skateboarding, all consist of both a women's and men's division, competing separately in Street events that test agility and Vert (short for vertical) events that rate creativity. Street events take place on flat land and require that the athletes negotiate through an urban obstical course made up of iron railings, ramps, and cement walls. The Vert events take place in the more traditional halfpipe, on which each up and down run ends with a gravity-defying acrobatic maneuver off the edge of the pipe's mouth.
Here's a closer look at some of the more unique events:
Agressive In-line Skating
In the Vert Triples event, teams of three, men and/or women, compete together in the halfpipe, scoring points for tricks during a timed routine. This isn't the in-line skating your parents try in vain to do. In the halfpipe, skaters reach menacing speeds and can get up to eight feet over the lip of the ramp on some tricks. Teams must combine athleticism, creativity and some choreography to impress judges and tally high scores for their efforts.
Related Link: Aggressive Skaters Association
Bicycle Stunt Riding
In the Dirt Jumping event, bikers try to wow the crowd and judges with high-flying tricks after launching off a dirt ramp. Also, a crowd favorite is the Flatland event where bikers perform difficult tricks of balance and strength as they slowly roll along flat land during a timed routine. Riders climb all over the frame of their bikes like they were jungle gyms and hop on their back tires like pogo sticks, all to impress the judges and raise the bar for bike tricksters across the country.
Related Link: National Bike League
A demo sport at the 1998 games, Freestyle Moto-X is basically bike tricks done on a dirt bike, the more athletic-looking cousin of the motorcycle. Dirt ramps will be the launching pad for riders who will look to impress judges with aerial moves that blur the rules of gravity.
Related Link: AMA Supercross Series
The Best Vert Trick is a new event this year and it incorporates the Internet into this already new technology-friendly competition. Online voters from around the world will decide the best trick performed on a skateboard in the competition by registering their vote at http://www.espn.go.com/extreme/Xgames. In the Vert Doubles event, teams of two skateboarders will perform tricks in a halfpipe. Judges at the event - not those online – will crown the winner of the event.
Related Link: Skateboard Science Exploratorium
This event is a combination of skydiving and surfing. An athlete uses a "skyboard" similar to the snowboards you see on the ski slopes in the winter to spin, slide, twist and surf through the air while free-falling from an airplane 10,000 feet up in the air. Meanwhile, his or her "cameraflyer" aids the routine and catches all the action on a helmet-mounted camera. The team's entire freefall routine lasts around 50 seconds and is done while moving vertically at about 110-120 mph and horizontally at up to 50 mph.
Related Link: SSI Pro Tour of Skysurfing & Freeflying
In the summer? Yep. The popularity of this sport is just too big to relegate it to just a Winter X Games event. In the Big Air event, boarders are scored on the difficulty, execution and height/length of their jumps off an 11-story high man-made ski jump. Nicknamed "The Margarita" and "Big Snowcone," the jump is made up of 520 tons of shaved ice which is the preferred surface of experienced athletes.
Related Link: International Snowboard Federation
Another new addition in 1999 is the Bouldering event. This is hardcore rock climbing where speed and strength determine the winner. Climbers have to pull themselves up an artificial rock wall without any ropes or harnesses as support. Large gymnastic-style mats are set at the base of the wall to protect climbers when they fall.
Climbers can use any route they would like up the wall in the allotted time, and bonus points are given for a climber reaching the top on the first try. The other climbing event Speed Climbing will be back for a fifth year. And this year's course will be the same as last year, meaning records might be broken.
Related Link: Rock n' Road
Summer X Games Medal Winners (1995-98)|
1999 ESPN Summer X Games: official site
Winter X Games Medal Winners (1997-98)
In the Dual Street Luge event, "pilots" lie on sleds with wheels (and no brakes) and wind down steep asphalt roads lined with hay bales at speeds of up to 60 mph in a head-to-head race format. The sport is a warmer version of the Olympic luge event which is run on icy bobsled courses. As a result the strategy is similar.
Pilots dressed in skin-tight bodysuits use shifts of their body weight to steer the eight-foot long aluminum sled which is usually less than an ear's length off the speeding blacktop. In the Super Mass event, racers compete in groups of six on the course.
Related Link: Road Racers Association for International Luge
This event combines surfing and water skiing. Competitors are rope-towed by a motorboat and use a small surfboard with foot bindings to ride the water behind a boat and use its wake to launch into quick spinning and flipping tricks. Judges award points for tricks completed during a run.
Related Link: Wakeworld