We Own The Air
It’s not so much the X Games as it is our games. For a few days every summer, Los Angeles isn’t a town run by starlets fueled with Botox and cocaine, it’s where action sports stars rule the Walk of Fame. In a city of unthinkable traffic jams, dirt crews and ramp builders erect harrowing tracks that will launch the brave, bold, and skilled into glory.
The X Games were indoctrinated in the ’90s as the underground bastard of the Olympics, with the “X” being a nod to Generation X but functioning more as a riff on the marketing buzzword coined by non-Gen Xers: Xtreme. The only people under 33 who use the term extreme sports are the frat boys who cheer each other with crappy beer when Shaun White does his thing in the Olympics. (Speaking of which, it’s time the Olympics ingests a few more of our sports. Nothing personal against male gymnastics, but when’s the last time 100,000-plus showed up to watch a dude work the pommel horse?)
But we’ve already come a long way. The X Games have had a pretty solid run since the inaugural event held in Rhode Island back in 1995. Just imagine what it must have been like back then: a ton of white dudes with bandanna-held dreadlocks and shitty ink pounding lemon-lime Gatorades while getting all stoked to see the street luge nut balls blow a high-speed turn and slam into a wall of hay bales. And they were just killing time until the extreme women’s speed climbing got under way.
Over the years X Games has been host to a plethora of dope and not-so-dope action sports. As a cinematographer in the motocross industry with a general love for all things motorbike, I have got to say that my favorite events usually involve anything with two wheels and a motor, and this year all of the events—from skateboarding and BMX to motocross—were pretty damn inspiring and demanded a healthy dose of respect. That wasn’t always the case; some of the lamest circus tricks I have ever seen were at the X Games, including super-modified snow shovel racing and skysurfing (it was like they took a Dan Cortese MTV Sports segment from the ’90s as the blueprint).
I trip on how some of the original people are still involved and reminisce about how there was free admission before it became so corporate. (And corporate it is; I work for ESPN and still had to buy tickets for my girlfriend and her family at $40 a pop!) Things sure have changed in recent years, but that’s what happens when you have a superior product. And this year the X Games were better than ever. Instead of having multiple venues that spread the love too thin, the action was all at the Los Angeles Staples Center. It amplified the vibe tenfold and effectively corralled the best collection of ink in the action sports world under one roof. It also made the usual cliques even more apparent. There was a ring of old clingers or “bro-brahs” and “yeah-guys” that lingered around the various staging areas, catering lounges, and motorcycle pits. These are dudes who have a friend in the industry who gets them a credential every year, and they love to talk about how “OG” they are. When you compare their tattoos to some of the fresher crowd, it becomes apparent that not only have the X Games progressed, but so has ink in general.
If you chill near one of the tunnels and watch the passersby, you’ll see bodies that are patched with scars or tattoos, and in some unfortunate cases the two collide, resulting in smeared ink. These guys are a different breed. Unlike athletes in other sports that rely on rules and scoring, the majority of action sports disciples are judged on style and creativity. Gold medals aren’t awarded for simply pounding the pavement—you need to have some showmanship. It’s no wonder the winners usually express themselves through tattoos.
Some of the best belong to the MX athletes, like Carey Hart, motocross speed and style competitor and co-owner of the tattoo shop Hart and Huntington. “Tattooing is my business, aside from me being an athlete, so it’s kind of fun on a selfish level that my two passions join forces and sort of align themselves with X Games and action sports,” he told me while prepping his bike as his pop star wife Pink and their newborn kept him company. “I think it’s bitchin’ that athletes in general are into tattooing, and it’s cool that INKED is covering the whole action-sports side of things. I’m psyched on it.”
Another tattooed athlete, Brian Deegan, pioneer of freestyle motocross and Metal Mulisha founder, is hanging out in preparation for a newish endeavor for him: a rally event. “Rally’s sick because I show up and I’m not worried about getting hurt—the worst I can do is crash a half-million-dollar car,” says Deegan, who went on to win gold in rally cross. “I think I’m the only guy in rally with a tattoo. I think guys with tattoos have a different character; they just want to be different and run their own style.” That’s right: We’ve got our own style and our own games. We own this.