Mon, Aug 08, 2005 - Page 16 News List

Skaters flout vertigo

Veterans of "vert" skateboarding are encouraging the next generation to take to the dizzyingly steep ramps

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , LOS ANGELES

Sandro Dias, 30, won the bronze medal in the skateboard vert in the 2005 Summer X Games.

PHOTOS: NY TIMES

Shaun White, 18, had won the silver medal in the skateboard vert event at the X Games, and he was describing what it is like to ride against competitors who are mostly 10 years older. "It will get you a little hazing, for sure," he said.

White, who is a professional snowboarder with seven Winter X Games medals, won his first Summer X Games medal Friday night with a hard-charging opening run that included a body varial front side 540, a new trick that only he has executed.

But White is a board-sports prodigy able to excel against more experienced competition. The average age of the other competitors in the skateboard vert event was 29. The gold-medal winner, Pierre Luc Gagnon, at 25, is closest to White in age, and the bronze medalist, Sandro Dias, is 30.

It was a similar situation in the BMX freestyle vert event Thursday night, where the average age was 31. The winner, Jamie Bestwick, is 34, and the bronze medalist, Kevin Robinson, is 33.

By comparison, the average skateboard street competitor is 24.

One of the main reasons the vert -- short for vertical -- riders tend to be older is because of the level of experience required on the large ramps used at major contests. Yet other factors are at play, including a lack of younger skaters and bikers to challenge the established athletes.

"About 95 percent of skateboarders worldwide are not vert riders," said Dave Duncan, a former professional skater and an announcer at the X Games. "They don't have vert ramps around. It's easier to ride the streets."

"To be a vert guy, you have to train and put on your gear," Duncan added. "It's physically demanding."

During the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s, vert riding ruled skateboarding and BMX. Tony Hawk epitomizes the vert discipline for skateboarding. But a trend toward street riding began to take hold around 1990, and most children abandoned ramps.

"As an organizer it concerns me," said Steve Swope, a former professional BMX rider, and the president of the US BMX Freestyle Federation, a new national governing body for the sport. "I remember the days in the 1980s when there were 50 pros on the deck and 80 amateurs. In the latest contests, there have been seven amateurs -- that's normal."

Vert remains a viewer-friendly format for television, however. And although those featured on ESPN's telecasts are at the top of their game, they are mostly the same athletes who began during the ramp-riding boom of 20 years ago.

White is the exception. He skates regularly on a halfpipe at the YMCA in Encinitas, California, and said that he seldom saw younger skaters there. Still, he does not worry about succession. "There's always going to be somebody to come up and take the throne," he said.

Swope, too, described succession in BMX as organic. "Once the older guys retire, newer guys will move up to take their place," he said.

Still, he and others are not waiting for it to happen. Instead, they are implementing measures to enable more youngsters to get involved in vert riding.

Gary Ream is the co-owner of Camp Woodward, an action sports training center and summer camp near State College, Pennsylvania. He is also the vice president of the BMX federation and the president of USA Skateboarding. Through his work at Woodward, Ream is probably responsible more than anyone else for nurturing up-and-coming rippers.

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