The largest skateboard ramp in the world can be found on a 4.9-hectare farm north of San Diego among the green foothills of the San Marcos Mountains.
Pilots routinely adjust their flight paths for a closer look, which is as good a way as any to sum up the scale of the Mega Ramp. The wooden structure is longer than a football field, as tall as an eight-story building, with a creek bed running through a 21m breach.
On a recent sunny afternoon, the ramp's owner, Bob Burnquist, a renowned 30-year-old professional skateboarder from Brazil, peered over the side to treetops below and said: "I'm not afraid of falling. I'm afraid I might jump."
That mind-set helps on the Mega Ramp, where skaters reach speeds of up to 88kph and soar like stuntmen.
Approximately 110m long, the ramp is 23m high at its apex. That is where riders begin their run, speeding down a 55m-long roll-in to a ramp that launches them across a 21m gap with trapeze netting below. Landing on an 8m sloped section, they then boost up to 15m above the ground from a 9m quarterpipe. A shorter route begins with a 17m-tall platform leading to a 15m gap, and the 9m quarterpipe.
For Burnquist, who stands out in a crowd of iconoclasts, the ramp has become the latest step in a journey to create what he called an exponential progression in an otherwise mostly streetbound, terrestrial sport.
Completed in September after more than a year of construction, Burnquist's Mega Ramp cost US$280,000, part of which was covered by his apparel sponsors Oakley and Hurley. Although not the first — the X Games builds one each year — it is the world's only permanent Mega Ramp, and Burnquist said having it at his home allows him to explore all the possibilities of the sport's most daring discipline.
"Bob has this ability that transcends traditional vert skating," Tony Hawk, the sport's biggest icon, said of ramp skateboarding. "He can spin like no one else spins. He's comfortable upside down. He's the only one that can actually start backwards on the Mega Ramp."
A winner of 12 medals at the X Games, Burnquist performs moves no one else dares try: he has rolled upside down through a Hot Wheels-style loop — backward. And in March he built a 12m-tall ramp on the rim of the Grand Canyon, from which he launched himself and his skateboard onto a makeshift metal rail, and then BASE jumped 487m to the canyon floor below. BASE is the acronym for using a parachute to jump from fixed objects of a building, antenna, span, earth.
"When I'm risk-taking I feel like I'm alive," said Burnquist, who is also a farmer, pilot, skydiver, musician and restaurateur.
"I trip out on how his mind works," said his partner Jen O'Brien, a professional skateboarder herself. "The wheels are always turning."
Building a structure of the Mega Ramp's size in an agricultural district required a creative twist typical of Burnquist.
"I've done some organic farming and I plan on doing some more," he said, explaining how he skirted zoning restrictions. "In the conservation plan, the ramps are the agricultural buildings. I'll put some plastic on the side and build a greenhouse underneath. That way it is proven it's an ag building and I happen to skate on the roof."
The only visitor to ride so far has been professional skater and Mega Ramp pioneer Danny Way, Burnquist's lifelong muse.