X-Games offer an experience for the free at heart

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    By Seth G. Blaylock

    Last week, three friends and I piled into an SUV and drove west. Past the Salt Flats and through Nevada all the way to the coast and San Francisco. Our goal: ESPN’s X-Games, Mecca of all those who love wheels and flying through the air.

    We came, along with around 200,000 others, to worship at the altar of “X-treme” sports (the prefix “X” will hence replace the “ex” sound in relevant words).

    It was a spiritual experience for me.

    I started skateboarding when I was two on a skinny yellow board with translucent orange polyurethane wheels. When I was 10, I received a Mongoose dirt bike for Christmas. I’ve had in-line skates since high school.

    The athletes at the X-Games are my heroes. They do with ease what I have never been able to do because of skill, or fear, or both. They spin and flip and twist and grind.

    I was not let down in San Francisco.

    At the aggressive in-line park riding finals, I cheered for local boy Jaren Grob, 18, of Orem. He flew through the air. He twisted. His body fluidly rolled up ramps and slid down rails. He won a silver.

    Nearby, I could see the motocross – men on motorcycles using dirt jumps as springboards into the sky.

    I saw skateboarding legend Tony Hawk practicing with Andy Macdonald on the vert before their gold-medal winning performance in the doubles competition.

    Hawk is the Moses of skateboarding. He has led the sport since the early 1980s, and into the promised land of the X-Games. He has skateboarded in “Police Academy IV: Citizens on Patrol.”

    ESPN set up a mini world on the pier. An X-treme world, with the accessory lifestyle. Most of the spectators were young men and women. Parents seemed out of place.

    Punk music was played liberally. Bleached hair was everywhere.

    There is a grassroots feel to this world. Entrance to the games was free. Athletes showed up at various locations to talk with fans.

    This free spirit was interrupted only by rampant advertising.

    Booths took up all empty space. The booths and companies behind them offered free deodorant, shampoo, software, stickers, and temporary tattoos.

    The U.S. Marine Corps persuaded spectators to do pull-ups for prizes. The U.S. Army encouraged push-ups. I was reminded to drink Mountain Dew every five minutes. My collection of stickers could fill a scrap book.

    At times the advertising threatened to overtake the events in prominence, but it was a necessary evil.

    Skateboarders do not sign lucrative multi-million dollar contracts to play on certain teams. They are generally sponsored by companies.

    The prize money at the X-Games is not large – a few thousand dollars for each of the winners, unlike the million or so Tiger Woods pockets every time he wins a major tournament.

    Sponsorship gives the athletes the equipment they need, and allows them to skate, ride, and bike without having to work part time at a fast food joint.

    As long as I can see Tony Hawk fly through the air on a wooden board, the advertising does not matter. Only the air and the sport.

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