The Summer X Games are a Roman circus of skateboarding, BMX, and motocross—a four-day orgy of sports that don’t require teams or uniforms. Balls, however, are a must. Deep into the parking lot of L.A.’s Home Depot Center sits Carey Hart’s encampment, a brigade that includes three massive tour buses emblazoned with sponsor logos and the words Hart & Huntington in flowing tattoo-style script.
Hart—the motocross racer, reality TV star, and sometimes-husband of pop songstress Pink—is pivotal to the X Games. He is a motocross godfather and the first freestyle motocross (FMX) rider to land a backflip on a dirt bike in competition, a trick that’s now an expected component of any freestyle rider’s arsenal.
Outside, he’s signing posters and posing for photographs with fans waiting six deep for the privilege. A steady crowd of nearly a hundred people wave their arms, snap cell phone photos, and scream continuously as a member of Hart’s entourage eggs them on, periodically tossing them a T-shirt or bandanna. An hour later, Hart’s still signing autographs and there are still a hundred people screaming for him.
“This is how it always goes,” Hart says later, while relaxing on one of the buses. “We’re very professional and by the book, but at the same time we create a hype and a value—bring some brand awareness, bring the party to the event.”
As soon as he speaks, the image of the reality TV stereotype starts to fade. He’s smart. He’s insightful. And he has impressive mastery of marketing-speak: Talk of brand synergy rolls off his tongue with the smoothness of a well-executed no-footed can-can. “I guess I’m not your typical athlete,” he says by way of explanation. “I had the talent, sponsors gave me the money, and I didn’t just cash the check and go buy a Bentley. I learned. Why are these companies paying me so much money to ride for them? It’s because I’m the face of their brand and I bring their brand cool factor. So over the course of the years, I talked with my team managers and found out how they controlled and built their brands, and that’s what I’ve been doing with Hart & Huntington. I might not be the most accounting-, P and L’s-, business-savvy person, but I know how to build a brand.” Hart’s use of the term P and L’s (profit and losses) belies any idea that he lacks business know-how.
The invited athletes and X Games Skate Park Legends competitors—including ex-members of Stacy Peralta’s Bones Brigade and ’80s skateboard stars like Christian Hosoi—provide a peek into the path of many other extreme sports icons. Tony Hawk sits in an air-conditioned broadcast booth awaiting royalties from the upcoming 12th title in his video game franchise; Duane Peters—the ’80s skateboard legend and punk rock singer who has struggled with drug addiction—mugs for cameras in 90-degree heat with pads and helmet on. Time has not been kind to Peters. His face looks tired, his snaggletoothed grin stained. “I’ve been doing this since I was 14—now I’m 48,” he tells me later that day, popping a cigarette into his mouth. His shirt is wet with sweat, his nicotine-ravaged voice hoarse and strained. “I’ve been doing this all my life, before there was contests. I’ve watched it go full circle too many times. But it’s better to have kids get paid to do this shit than not get paid.”
Carey Hart has placed a premium on getting paid. The Hart & Huntington brand, of which he is the sole owner, encompasses three tattoo shops, two reality TV shows (Inked and the upcoming Hart Luck Life), a nightclub (Wasted Space at the Hard Rock Hotel), and a motocross team. Of course, there’s also Hart’s personal exploits, including his FMX career, motocross racing, a stint on VH1’s The Surreal Life, and a book of tattoos also called Inked.
Inked, the TV show, was the first of its kind.
“We were just trying to do a show that spotlights tattooing in a crazy environment—a hotel in Las Vegas—and all the personalities and trials and tribulations that go along with it,” Hart says. “I came up with the idea, so we shot a pilot, shopped it to A&E and Discovery. A&E jumped on it, and Discovery went and did Miami Ink. I think our two shows did a lot for tattooing. They took all the bad perspective away and brought [tattooing] to the foreground, and now everyone’s making good money and tattooing is a huge craze. It did a lot for tattooing in general worldwide. I think it’s great for all artists.”
Hart has no tolerance for backlash. “I never got into tattooing to get rich,” he says. “I got into tattooing because it’s a fucking passion of mine. I can’t draw to save my life, so the next best thing is I’ll hang out in a tattoo shop where there’s amazing art going down. Kat Von D will sit there and talk shit about me, but I’m creating jobs. I’ve got 43 tattoo artists, probably another 30 shop help, and another 30 receptionists who all have a job because of these stupid TV shows that we did. What is she doing for the industry other than buying fucking Range Rovers and having a big house in the Hills?”