Dear Norm Sonju,
Please don't read this column. Trust me, you don't wanna know.
As a founding father and general manager of the Dallas Mavericks through the mid-1990s, Sonju was, um, a tad conservative. He once, for example, required Reunion Arena employees to take a safety course detailing how to push a broom without getting impaled by the handle. At Mavericks home games he censored Corey Hart's "Sunglasses at Night" because only anti-social malcontents would pull such a stunt, right?
With Sonju devoting his time to a successful Christian youth camp in Upstate New York these days, I couldn't help but wonder how appalled he'd be by his sacred stomping grounds being transformed last weekend into a den of daredevils.
In a scene right out of Sonju's nightmare, there were slackers in baggy jeans and peek-a-boo underwear trying 720s on skateboards and Spicolis in camouflage shorts and crooked hats doing backflips on motorcycles 60 feet in the air. All to the delight of adoring teenage fans sporting Mohawks and tattoos, coloring outside the lines and generally presenting the middle finger to mainstream sports, if not society.
The LG Action Sports World Championships would freak Sonju out. And that's precisely why it's becoming so popular.
"You look at some of these course set-ups and your internal alarms go off," said motocross veteran Jimmy McGuire, who dubbed his trademark trick "Christ Air" for its resemblance to Jesus hanging on the cross. "Pretty much every time we're putting our life on the line. But that's the cool thing. You just turn your mind off and have fun. It's gnarly."
Pretty sure Sonju never unplugged his brain or worked "gnarly" into a Brad Davis press conference. Make no mistake, LG Action Sports athletes are not your kids' fathers.
"I played team sports and chased cheerleaders, but eventually I fell in love with a piece of board with wheels on it," said 35-year-old skateboarder Buster Halterman. "It's cool that our sports are becoming more popular because it opens up a lot of opportunities. But honestly, there are guys out here who don't give a shit whether we're mainstream or not."
Reunion Arena hadn't seen this much high-risk diversity since it was a Katrina shelter.
While the conventional kids were attending Friday night high school football, the Action Sports cult turned the old joint into a treacherous bounce house. A thrill-seeking cousin to ESPN's X Games, the LG Championships crowned world champions in skateboarding, BMX cycling, inline skating and wild-ass motorcycle jumping, all to an eclectic backbeat. On Friday, a predominantly white crowd arrived early to gawk at the skaters and listen to Lynyrd Skynyrd and Rage Against the Machine. By 10 p.m. an influx of black patrons arrived, ballooning the total to around 10,000 for hip-hop megastar Kanye West's post-game concert.
Welcome to 'Hoodstock.
"To a lot of folks we're still just kids riding bikes," said 25-year-old nut job Koji Kraft. "But look at this place. It's great to see the different types of fans we draw. It feels more like a lifestyle festival as much as a sporting event."
It took only 10 minutes to both erase preconceived notions and confirm stereotypes.
Just like you figured, the festival was littered with punks who care about the Trinity toll road only if it includes a half-pipe. Envision those "Do the Dew" commercials, throw in some unmotivated dudes from your school's smoking lounge and add a uniform consisting of blue jeans pulled low enough to reveal the event's unofficial sponsor—Fruit of the Loom.
The whole thing's drenched in a faux aloofness that screams: Look at me! Notice how I don't give a shit about you looking at me!
Which is all a shame, really. Because, beyond the attitude, the thing that slaps you in the face at the LG Championships is how amazingly athletic, courageous and mature—yes, mature—these kids are. Most range from 17 to 30 and travel the globe working as independent contractors without company benefits such as insurance, 401(k)s or per diems.
Televised to 1.2 billion homes in 180 countries beginning Sunday afternoon at 4 on KTVT-Channel 11, the LG Championships capped a year-long, 22-event tour whose roots sprouted from our kindler, gentler days doing the "Hokey Pokey" down at Skateland. On Sunday England's Jamie Bestwick won his fourth LG title in BMX Vert while Brazilian Rodolfo Ramos captured the street skateboarding championship, each snaring a piece of the record $650,000 in prize money. But...
"Guys aren't out here for the money. You just have as much fun as you can and hope it works out at the end of the year," said Kraft. "Beats the hell out of the alternative. Your body gets beat up, but I couldn't handle a 9-to-5 desk job. I've always liked how the world looked upside down."
Though San Diego is considered the epicenter of action sports, Dallas is a burgeoning suburb. Only one local athlete—Plano's 20-year-old Kolby Petrus—qualified for the event, but The Edge in Allen and Eisenberg's in Plano remain state-of-the-art facilities catering to a Generation Now that prefers fast food, HOV lanes and Shaun White over Tony Romo. Oh yeah, and danger.
The second BMX rider breaks his collarbone after an awkward landing from the course's 30-foot descent. The fourth badly sprains an ankle. The motorcycles take off from a 42-inch-wide ramp. The inline skaters drop in from 25 feet. And we thought Tatu was "rad" for taking off his jersey after scoring a goal for the Dallas Sidekicks?
Looking up at the insanity, it's akin to riding Six Flags' Judge Roy Scream on two wheels. And the tricks? Harder than Pinocchio on Viagra.
"The first time you try something big, you feel your guts in your throat," Halterman says. "But without that rush, what's the point?"
Like wrecks in a NASCAR race and fights in the NHL, action sports thrive on both big air and the big err. It's a subjective sport scored by judges but powered by customers who appreciate a faceplant as much as perfection.
At a demonstration in Dallas last year, Kraft suffered a broken palate when his front forks snapped and his face met metal handlebars. He once shattered his ankle so severely doctors distracteWd him with a superfluous shot in his arm while violently twisting the shredded bones, ligaments and tendons back into the general neighborhood of normalcy.
"If they would've told me it was coming," he says, "I would've gone into shock from the pain."
And then there's McGuire. Last weekend he soared his motorcycle 60 feet, letting go with his hands and throwing his arms out, clinging to the machine with only his feet cupping the handlebars—Christ Air.
"Last year in Dallas I ruptured my spleen and lacerated my liver," he says. "Just goofin' off."
Dear Norm Sonju,
Maybe you were right.