Yesterday evening, 12-year-old Tom Schaar landed a monster 900 on the MegaRamp's 27-foot quarterpipe (see video below), mere moments after Mitchie Brusco nailed one. In the blink of an eye, the Big Air contest at the X Games surpassed another milestone.
Since skateboarding's inception nearly 50 years ago, one of its distinguishing characteristic has been its need to get away from itself. Progression has fueled the sport’s mutating nature ever since the first surfers (or was it roller-skaters?) nailed skates to 2x4s (or did they de-handlebar their scooters?) to roll down the hills of Southern California. We can’t say what’s next, but maybe a look back at the above-ground history of the sport can offer a glimpse into the future.
In 1976, a Hollywood, Florida, middle-schooler realized he could pop his board up ledges and steps if he did a half-jump on the back wheels at impact. Alan “Ollie” Gelfand adapted the trick the following year to a bowl at his local skatepark, thrusting into turns at the top of the transition to get a second of hangtime above the coping. The “Ollie Air” was born, and would soon be adapted to flat ground by a young obsessive in nearby Gainesville named Rodney Mullen.
Pool skating has been part of the culture since the early 1960s, but it wasn’t until the '70s that riders first began leaving the transition to sail over the coping. Air 180s were common, and more of a quick turn than an actual air. But it wasn’t until the mass exodus from insurance-heavy skateparks into the backyards of whichever kid had a ramp that skating truly took to the air.
Whoever landed the first 360 or even 540 is up for grabs. Vert masters of the time were Kevin Staab, Eddie Elguera, Christian Hosoi and a 6-foot-1, 135-pound ninth grader named Tony Hawk. Hosoi’s 540s were the most famous, held sideways and impossibly high over the ramp, though it was Mike McGill who first worked a flip into the 540 (McTwist) during lunch at the famed Stockholm camp in 1984. It was the same summer Hawk nailed the 720 and he says it was then that he first thought about one day getting a 900.
Fifteen years later -- on July 27, 1999 -- he did it. Time had run out at the vert contest at the fifth Summer X Games in San Francisco, but the skaters had yielded the ramp to Hawk, who after 10 unsuccessfully painful attempts took what then was considered the biggest step in the history of skateboarding. The writer Brett Anthony Johnston tells it best.
Questions about a 1080 on a skateboard soon surfaced, and because it had been done on snow, for a while the likeliest candidate was Shaun White, who attempted the move at Summer X Games 11 in 2005, then kept trying after time ran out.
On March 30, 2012, at 4:11 pm, 12-year-old Schaar landed the first 1080 in the history of skateboarding and put another “impossible” feat into skateboarding’s past. And then came yesterday's feat at the X Games. With the Big Air finals coming up tonight at 6:00 p.m., we can only wonder what’s next...
Cole Louison is the author of "The Impossible: Rodney Mullen, Ryan Sheckler, and the Fantastic History of Skateboarding."