I STILL Think The X-Games Is Awesome

x-games sloan big airTwo years ago I wrote a post about how I thought the X-Games is awesome. I still agree with everything I wrote there, but have found a completely new and different reason to love these games: inspiration. I find it amazing how men and women can devote themselves to any particular activity, hone themselves into machines and perform that activity to the best of their ability. I appreciate that level of skill in everything from football and film to singing and skateboarding. Plus, what better expression of independence is there than rocketing down a ramp and doing flips in the air?

When I watch the X-Games, as I did this past weekend when the now-touring event hit Munich, I was constantly amazed at the level of skill these people achieved to do amazing things, conquering previously held rules in the process. Humans aren’t supposed to launch themselves dozens of feet in the air and land safely. They’re even less likely to do the same thing, not land correctly and walk away alive. These are people who see a challenge and attack it with everything they have until they either conquer it or, well, break.

I’ve done my best to catch the last few X-Games contests and the event that I love the most is called Big Air. This is when a skateboarder or BMX rider comes down a gigantic slope, hits one of three ramps, flies over a big gap while doing a trick, lands on another ramp and then hits a half pipe that’s also gigantic only to throw a second trick. Above you can see Chad Kagy’s Gold Medal-winning run from this year’s BMX Big Air contest (for a first person POV view of the whole thing go here). But, the guy who’s really captured my imagination during the past two games has been skateboarder Bob Burnquist, who’s 36 and not only still winning Gold Medals, but also beating kids, half and two-thirds his age (Munich Bronze winner Tom Schaar is 14 while fourth place winner Jagger Eaton is only 12!).

The fact that Burnquist has stayed healthy enough to keep competing consistently in a sport he loves is inspiring to me as is just about everything I saw everyone do during Big Air. It’s basically humanity saying, “Forget you, nature, I’m going to figure out a way to fly.” I love that spirit and have tried using it as a way of driving me to do the things I love. I currently have the image at the top of this post as my desktop wallpaper because it makes me think, “If this dude can do something crazy like that, I can write a few pages today.” Sure, it’s a little cheesy, but it’s better than one of those “Hang in there” posters with a cat, right?

Doc Double Feature: Waiting For Lightning (2012) & 30 For 30 The Birth Of Big Air (2012)

waiting for lightning I’m a sucker for skateboarding documentaries, you guys. So, when I was flipping through Netflix Instant options and came across Waiting For Lightning, which focuses on Danny Way and his attempt to jump over the Great Wall of China on his skateboard, I was definitely interested. In addition to sounding pretty interesting in and of itself, I was very, very vaguely familiar with Way thanks to his inclusion in the Skate series of video games. Director Jacob Rosenberg takes the opportunity of using Way’s record breaking skate stunt as a springboard to dive into the man’s incredibly interesting past.

Way’s early days were pretty rough. His mom and dad got married and had two kids, but after moving back to California his dad got locked up in prison where he was murdered. His mom wound up marrying a guy who sounded pretty great, but she never really dealt with her husband’s death and it wound up eating away at her and that relationship which lead to a split and a series of crummy fill-in dads. All of that, mixed with what sounds like an inborn desire to prove himself and an older brother whose friends were all into skating all lead to Way trying his damnedest to nail every trick he saw and could think of.

He quickly rose through the ranks of skating where he latched on to several other people who filled the father role for him — some of which who were tragically taken from his life — but it wasn’t enough. Way was one of the guys who really got behind the idea of building giant ramps for big air competitions. That all lead into the idea of jumping the Great Wall which was equal parts terrifying and inspiring.

Actually, I found this entire movie inspiring. You’ve not only got Way’s burning desire to continually top himself, but also this story of a kid whose support system was ripped away from him and yet found a way to survive and thrive. This film also finds ways to present some incredible skateboarding tricks in ways that make them look as graceful and complicated as profesional dancers. That ability to train and twist the body into doing things above and beyond normal human abilities is just fascinating to me.

Finally, I was drawn to this movie as a father. Every father, no every man, needs to watch this film to see what kind of impact a father/male role model can have on a person. I don’t believe that a male or female influence is more important than the other, but it’s monumentally important to have a balance in all things in life. Danny Way had to search for his balance and he eventually found it in the fathers and men who encouraged him to follow his passion of skateboarding. He used that drive to achieve things that, literally, no other person on the planet has achieved. That’s a testament not only to his skill, but also to the men and women who were there for him in his formative years.

30 for 30 the birth of big air The experience of watching Waiting For Lightning reminded me of a mini-documentary I saw on ESPN a few months back and was similarly captivated by, The Birth Of Big Air part of the network’s 30 For 30 line-up. This film, directed by Jackass creator Jeff Tremaine, shines the spotlight on Mat Hoffman, a BMX rider whose desire to ride higher and harder than anyone else has earned him a place in sports history.

Hoffman and Way actually share quite a few similarities, which shouldn’t be too surprising considering they did very similar things on different man-powered vehicles. Both were driven by a desire to learn and top themselves, which included flying through the air to death defying heights. Both invented numerous tricks. Both have suffered serious injuries in the process (Hoffman’s doctor says he’s broken every extremity available). Both were also fueled by the deaths of loved ones, in Hoffman’s case it was his mother.

While Waiting For Lightning documents Way’s desire to jump the grand canyon, Birth Of Big Air shows Hoffman’s struggles to achieve world records and get recognition for the work he was doing. It’s an intense journey that has resulted in recognition, but also plenty of worrisome injuries.

The problem I have with guys like Danny and Mat is that they’re both dads who feel the need to push themselves as hard as possible in order to prove their abilities or even show how great they are to their kids. This bothers me because you’re directly risking your life to impress your kids whereas I believe you need to have a longer view of life that includes sticking around and taking care of your children. But hey, that’s why I’m sitting on my couch blogging about guys soaring through the air and not doing it myself.

The X-Games Is Awesome

Yesterday I was looking on my TV’s guide channel, looking for something to watch when I saw a familiar event that made me smile: The X-Games. Of course, I had to tune in. If you’re unfamiliar, the X-Games is essentially the Olympics of what used to be called extreme sports. We’re talking skateboarding, BMX bike riding, motocross and formerly rollerblading. Seventeen years ago, I was 11 and somewhat obsessed with extreme sports. Airborne was–and still is–one of my favorite movies. I was always impressed with how people could do such amazing tricks on bikes, boards and blades. So, when I first heard about the X-Games, I was stoked to use the parlance of the day.

As taken as I was with the thrilling exploits, I never really tried them myself for one simple reason: my desire to not get physically hurt outweighs pretty much any other one in my head. I’m not a thrill seeker or much of a risk taker. I still kinda sorta tried to be extreme in my own way, though. I got a pair of rollerblades that had a space for rail grinds. I rarely left the ground, though I still have those skates. I also owned a BMX bike which I saved up for. I think it was a Diamondback. It was important for me to get one with a Gyro (a piece that allowed you to spin the body of the bike around the handle area without twisting up your brake lines) and also some pegs. I was a little more fearless when it came to the bike. I’d ride through the woods near my house and even hit a few jumps. I was also pretty adept at wheelies for prolonged periods of time, but without access to any really courses or whatever, my interest soon moved to driving a car and the bike has sat in my parents’ shed ever since (actually, they might have given it away to someone now that I think about it). I would actually consider picking the bike back up, but don’t really live in an area conducive to such things.

See, that was always one of the problems I had with the extreme sports. I wanted to experiment (or thought I did) but didn’t really have the freedom or the access to test myself. A lot of that might have been self imposed. I also was scared of the law. In high school I hung out with a dude who was really into skateboarding. He’d tell me all kinds of stories about going downtown and finding places to skate. It sounded amazing, but not something that I felt I could or really wanted to do.

Speaking of skating, it never seemed like an option for one simple reason: I can’t make the damn board go. I’ve got pretty good balance and all that, but I’ve just absolutely never been able to get my coordination down to stand on a skateboard and push myself forward. It’s ridiculous. I don’t get it.

I think my personal inability (and fear) is what really attracted me to the X-Games in the first place. Dudes flying through the air doing all these insane tricks and seemingly having a great time with it. That’s where it’s at. I have a lot of the same admiration watching it today, 17 years later (yes, that makes me feel OOOOOOLD). My older, possibly keener eye also notices just how amazing some of these tricks are. I’m watching the skateboarding vert ramp heats right now and am just amazed at the skill level involved (it was the same way with the street course yesterday). The ability to rocket yourself up and down a cert ramp while also rolling on a board while also keeping track of where you’re taking off and landing while also doing tricks that sometimes involve spinning the board with a flick of your toe and catching it with your hand while not breaking your neck is AMAZING. Even if you’re not into the sport, you’ve at least got to give it to these guys for being dedicated, putting their bodies on the line and recreating some seriously intricate tricks.

Because I’ve never done any of this stuff myself and I haven’t really read up on it since I was in high school–and that was mostly BMX stuff when figuring out which bike to get–I don’t really have much of a gauge for what’s impressive and what’s not. I’ve watched a few of these heats and every time I’m just like “Holy crap, he did that and didn’t die, give him a million points!” But that’s not really how it goes. That’s okay though, it’s fun to watch. Now, when are they bringing back the rollerblading competitions? Maybe I can dust the ol’ blades off…

Wintuk: Where The X-Games Meet Ice Monsters

I’m going to try something a little different for this review and that’s a rating system. I figured I would break the theater going experience down into ten categories, then assign 1-10 points for each category and give this brand new blog category a score out of 100. Maybe that will be helpful for other folks and hopefully it will be fun to write.

So, we decided to head to Cirque du Soleil’s winter-themed show Wintuk at Madison Square Garden as I mentioned yesterday. Thanks to the fact that Broadway shows apparently don’t run on Thursdays, we hasically had to decide between seeing this and the Rockettes and Cirque won out. I had never seen a Cirque show before, but I watched that behind-the-scenes show they did a while back and thought it looked pretty rad with all those flips and whatnot. This particular performance was…odd.

STORY 2/10
Wintuk’s story is total bullshit. I just need to say that right off the bat. There’s some kind of witch who is from Wintuk (it’s a winter place), a kid who wants winter, a girl he chases around, a bunch of extreme sports-loving people, a few robbers, some dogs and then a trip to Wintuk with giant ice monsters, huge storks and some natives. There’s no real point to the whole thing except for there to be snow at the end. All the going-to-Wintuk stuff happens after intermission and, at the intermission break, we all kind of looked at each other confusedly and no one really had any clue what was happening. The general consensus both then and after the show was that the story wasn’t important, just the flips and whatnot. However, being a story-driven person, I can’t accept that. If you’re going to have a story, have one that isn’t mind-numbingly confusing (and mostly in other languages, possibly made-up ones) or just get rid of it all together and just do crazy stuff.

ACTING 6/10
This is a tough one. How do you judge the acting of a bunch of people who don’t really have much of a script? I gave them a 6 because they seemed to do well with what they were given, but, again, these aren’t particularly complex characters. Plus, there was a lot of range in performances. There was the guy who, for some reason, wore a garbage can for half the show. I have no idea what he was doing or why, so he wasn’t very good. The main kid was alright and so was the winter witch. My personal favorites were the people in the dog suits. They really nailed the animal-like movements. So, I guess overall they get an above average rating because I’m feeling a little generous.

MUSIC 7/10
For the purposes of this review, music covers both the instrumental stuff and the songs themselves, while the actors’ performance of those songs will be covered in the singing category. I actually dug the music a lot. It mixed between rock, your basic instrumental theater stuff and that fun thing they do in cartoons when the music interacts with the actions of the people on stage. Instead of having a traditional pit with an orchestra, the theater had some small, fairly visible rooms running along the top of both sides of the room so you could see what they were doing. From what I can remember, there were drums, a guitar, a violin and maybe a few other instruments. It was fun to watch them rock out a little bit at times. Overall the songs themselves were confusing because they were often in another language and made little sense as a result.

SINGING 4/10
Again, the songs were mostly incomprehensible. When that happens, you usually rely on the singer to relay the emotions of the song and the weather witch didn’t really do such a good job of that. I think she was the only one to actually sing. She didn’t sing poorly, just not very effectively.

CHOREOGRAPHY 10/10
As you might expect, the moves were sick. I mentioned the extreme sports characters earlier, that’s because the first half of the show involves people on bikes, skateboards and skates rolling around and doing all kinds of cool tricks off of the set, which had a high ramp leading from offstage onto the stage, a ramp leading offstage on the other side and an arch-like ramp in the middle. You also got a few traditional circus acts that kind of reminded me of my trip to the country fair earlier this year like tightrope walkers and juggling. The first act ended with a rad sequence with several robbers being chased and the floor spreading out to reveal a long strip of trampoline floor. It was very cool. Then, once they made the trip to Wintuk you got some of the crazier stuff you expect from Cirque with hoolahooping, that rope dancing thing and this wild thing where two guys held two long poles and bounced their brother up and down on it. I wish I knew what these things were called, but I don’t even know how to Google it, but it was all crazy. Considering the show is basically one big carnival and all the stunts looked spectacular (and dangerous) Wintuk definitely earned a 10 in this field.

THEATER 7/10
I had never been to Madison Square Garden before and I guess technically, I still haven’t as this show was in the smaller Washington Mutual Theater. It wasn’t a very big place, and according to the Wiki page for MSG, the stage ceiling is only 20 feet tall, which is probably why I felt nervous any time someone was launched into space. I did get the feeling that the show could have been a lot bigger given a larger stage, so that made it feel a bit cramped. However, I did appreciate how they tried to give the whole event more of a carnival feel. Not only could you get cotton candy and popcorn, but also snowcones, which we did and I regretted as I got a killer freeze chest pain right before the show started and felt like I was going to explode. But, hey, that’s my bad, not theirs. The seats themselves were very comfortable though, which is good because we were there for a while.

SET 5/10
I described the set above with all the ramps and whatnot. It didn’t really change much with the exception of some smaller items like trash cans and clotheslines for tricks. If it wasn’t for the cool aspects of the show, like the ramps and the floor that moved away to reveal the trampoline, the set would be pretty bland and boring. I can’t tell if I like the simplicity of it or if it just felt kind of lazy. I know, I know, common thought will say that the set doesn’t matter as much, but, again, I disagree.

COSTUMES 5/10
Oh, the costumes. Remember those extreme sports kids I keep mentioning? They look like they stepped out of a Saturday morning teen drama from NBC with all kinds of crazy neon stuff. The cops sport uncomfortably tight unitards that look like something out of Idiocracy. The main kid and the girl who is pretty much just an object of affection and serves no real purpose both wear okay costumes. The costumes only get really interesting later in the second half when they’re on Wintuk.

SPECIAL EFFECTS 5/10
Hey spoiler warning, but the whole show is built around snow, so it should come as no surprise that you get paper snowflakes blasted at you at the very end. This was spoiled a little bit when I sat down and saw some already in my chair, but overall they did a helluva job cleaning up a metric butt ton of paper snow. Aside from that, there aren’t a ton of special effects. The ice monsters and storks both tower over everyone and look great and they project a face on the curtain in the very beginning but that’s about it. The 5/10 doesn’t mean it wasn’t good, just that there wasn’t a whole lot of it, but what was there was good for the most part.

VALUE 4/10
With tickets ranging from $55-$220, the cost/benefit will be different for everyone depending on both their available income and their enjoyment of the show (of course). Our tickets were in the $75 dollar range which granted us great seats along the far side. The only downside of those seats were that we couldn’t see the orchestra members playing above us. I’m not sure what standard Cirque tickets cost, but I walked away more disapointed than thrilled after the show. It just didn’t live up to what I had expected in my head, and the whole not making sense thing just didn’t sit well with me. There were plenty of fun moments, but I wouldn’t go back. I would however check out another Cirque show, though probably not at the WaMu mini theater. For that amount of money you could probably score tickets at the TKTS booth and check out a real life Broadway show with a star or two in it and some songs you can understand.

OVERALL SCORE 50/100
Well, if you’ve read this whole review, it should come as no surprise that the overall score is so low. While I enjoyed a lot of parts of this experience and even got somewhat emotionally involved when I was worried that some of the performers would injure themselves, my overall enjoyment was pretty low. At times in the first act I dozed off for short periods of time because there was nothing to keep my interest. I’ve seen a dude juggle on a tightrope and it was in a shitty circus at a county fair, which made it more impressive to me. So, if you can handle a lot of stunts with no story (honestly, it had less than any stunt show you’ll see at Disney World) and some outdated costumes, Wintuk is for you. I don’t regret going, but I certainly wouldn’t recommend it to many people without giving them a list of my problems with it. But, if it sounds like something you’d dig, the show’s playing in NYC through January 4th and you can check out information and tickets here.