BY NATHAN THACHER
It seemed like a reasonable conceit: Head down to Louisville’s Extreme Park and ask some riders what questions they would pose to the pros if they could get a word to them. But it took all of 10 seconds to realize that the stalwart, freshly bruised kids there would just as soon be left alone with their ramps and pipes, and not pestered with questions about skating and biking. They’d rather just go and do it, letting the roaring, screeching wheels and inevitable sickening thuds speak for them.
And so it was quickly obvious that the LEO plan for previewing the second annual Dew Action Sports Tour was riddled with inherent flaws.
So it goes.
The truth is, the riders at Louisville’s renowned Extreme Park were generally happy enough to chat about the Panasonic Open, the Louisville stop of the Tour that kicks off this year’s series. But a certain nervous twitch accompanied their replies. Most fondly recalled last year’s debut of the tour, and said they’d certainly be back this year. But most weren’t that interested in asking any questions.
It is now all but a verifiable fact that aloofness is simply part of the subculture. Hence, the ever-emerging confluence of a historically underground lifestyle with big corporate sponsorship is admittedly weird.
Nevertheless, tomorrow begins the Tour’s four-day return engagement at the Kentucky Fair & Expo Center, bringing an impressive collective pedigree of skateboarding, BMX and FMX professionals to vie for $3.5 million in total prize money. Giving lie to the theory that you can’t sell the underground, the Tour sold 36,774 tickets at its 2005 debut, slightly below the expected turnout. But attendance did grow progressively at its other four stops as more people found out about the events, says Mountain Dew GM Wade Martin.
“Our focus has been much more on the marketing of tour.”
Martin says there’s been more of an effort to make the Tour a community festival in 2006, as Dew has taken steps to further integrate itself into the Louisville scene, showing up, for example, at Thunder Over Louisville to spread the word about the tour in advance.
The extreme sports community is classically remembered as a misunderstood group that exists only in underground circles, slinking into parking lots after dark to trick off speed bumps or handrails or fire escapes or whatever’s climbable. Today, however, many members have surfaced to go pro — and are thriving under the sun — in no small part due to events like the Tour and a general rise in TV popularity.
There will always be some resistance to mainstream approval and mainstream integration into the skate punk culture, and there will be those who will profit from and promote extreme sports by the merit of their talents — and their marketability.
Although I’m certain it was on their minds, the question of “selling out” or emerging from the underground never came up from the kids at the park — the underlying question seemed to be more of an earnest inquiry: How does someone become a paid professional like you?
Ah, the dream. Get paid to do what you love, never grow up, simply become a larger, wealthier, more popular version of that same elated kid playing around at the skate park (for something comparable, see also: Winning the Super Bowl or finding a large sack of unmarked bills). What amateur wouldn’t salivate at the chance to take up sponsors, ride for prize money and soak up the oohs and aahs from the galleries as he or she sailed through the air?
So props to those aloof Extreme Park riders who were game enough to pose a few questions to select Dew competitors, and, of course, to those pros who were cool enough to answer.
Cynthea Mercado, 14, skater for one year: What do you need to do to get noticed?
Ryan Nyquist, BMX rider: I think you need to have something that nobody else does — a trick, a style, an image that makes you stand out from the rest. Just make sure it’s nothing too weird because then you will get noticed in a bad way.
Anthony Furlong, vert skater: Nothing but skate; people will notice.
Allan Cooke, BMX rider: Win some contests and have a good attitude.
Neal Hendrix, vert skater: These days I think the best way to get noticed is by making a banging “sponsor-me” video. If it’s good enough, people will take notice. Also, just traveling, skating different places with different people; if you have the skills, people will notice.
Shawn Cowles, 14, skater for one year: How did you get your first sponsor?
RN: It was a local sponsor, so he just approached me at the trails one day and asked me if I wanted a sponsor. After that it was kinda word-of-mouth and getting a little bit of magazine coverage that got my foot in the door at other companies.
AF: I traveled and sent a video.
AC: I was racing BMX when they started holding dirt-jumping contests at the races. I was good friends with the team manager for Specialized bikes at the time and I started doing good at the dirt jumping contests, so they picked me up.
NH: My favorite company when I was growing up was an old skateboard company called Schmitt Stix, and I met the owner Paul Schmitt at a couple of big amateur contests in the southeast in 1989. I was always riding his boards, and when I met him he was stoked on my skating so he started sending me boards. Soon after he hooked me up with a full sponsorship deal with a new company he was starting called New Deal.
Justin Clark, 23, skater for six years: What kept you going for so long?
RN: Progression and the constant challenge that BMX offers. My friends keep me in it as well. BMX is more than just a sport, it becomes a lifestyle the more you do it. And after about 15 years of riding, it’s become a very big part of my life.
AF: A constant challenge to progress.
AC: I feel the need to progress myself and always continue to ride.
NH: I’m still having fun, traveling and skating, and as long as I feel like my skating is progressing and my body holds up, I’m still going to be going strong.
Shawn Cowles: How do you deal with injuries?
AF: Accept them. They happen and there’s nothing you can do about it.
AC: I get to do all the things at home that normally get overlooked because I am on the road, like paying bills, returning calls and e-mails, planning for the next Local Exposure Tour, etc. That gets old fast, so I usually get back on the bike before I should.
NH: Usually when I am hurt, I will go to the gym or physical therapy and do whatever I have to do to get better and skate again.
Brock Adcock, 18, skater for four years: If you could have a real job, what would you do?
RN: Are you kidding me? I’m living a dream right now. The question should be if I HAD to have another job. I guess at this point I’m not really sure what I’d want to be doing. Maybe a team manager job or something.
AF: I’d work with animals.
AC: Factory motorcycle mechanic. Low pressure and get to ride all the sweetest bikes.
NH: I do have a real job: I am the director of marketing and run the skateboard program at Woodward West Camp.
Eric Jacobs, 13, BMX rider for seven years: How much time do you spend training?
RN: Maybe four hours a day, for 4-5 days a week. It takes a lot out of you.
AF: 4-5 days a week.
AC: I try to ride my bike every day, but I don’t look at it like training.
NH: When I am at home, I usually skate about two hours a day.
Adam Duke, 13, BMX rider for four months: What do you think about the Extreme Park in Louisville?
RN: I think it’s awesome. Great lines throughout the park and it’s open all the time for all the sports. The city of Louisville really did well for themselves on that one.
AF: Great for the community, gives everyone a place to go ride.
AC: Never been there, but it sounds extreme.
NH: I think it’s great. Hopefully more cities can follow Louisville’s lead and build parks like that.
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