Skateboarding is what happens between the fails. If you watch a skateboarding compilation video on YouTube, all you get are the highlights. Here's a guy ollying (i.e. kicking the tail of the board down while jumping so the board pops up) over a gnarly concrete gap. Here's another dude rail sliding down the world's longest staircase. What you don't see -- unless you've clicked on a fail compilation, of course -- are the endless attempts, near misses and bone-bruising wipeouts that came first.
Skateboarding is hard enough when your dream trick is a backside rail slide on the curb of the local 7-Eleven. But what if you want to be the fastest skateboarder on earth? Or jump over a moving car? Or skate off of the Grand Canyon? Now you've crossed the line from "extreme" to "extremely crazy."
The following 10 skateboarding feats are crazy in every sense of the word: crazy hard, crazy beautiful, and of course, crazy dangerous.
The World's First 1080
Records are made to be broken. Before skating legend Tony Hawk pulled the first 900 (two and a half rotations) in competition in 1999, fans thought it was impossible. Hawk proved that nothing is impossible on a skateboard if you are skilled enough and crazy enough to try it.
Tom Schaar wasn't even born in 1999, but the Malibu, California native practically grew up on a skateboard, always trying to keep up with his older brother and thrasher friends. Schaar quickly grew a reputation as a masterful spinner off the half-pipe and pool wall. Not content with 360s, he moved on to 720s, and then Hawk's record-breaking 900, all before he hit puberty.
Then, on March 26, 2012, Schaar — still only 12 years old — rolled down a mega ramp in Tehachapi, California with his eyes set on the impossible: a 1080 spin. Three full rotations in the air. After warming up with a couple of 720s and a 900, he went for it on the fifth try. One rotation, two rotations, three rotations ... landed! Schaar was in the record books.
A month later, Schaar pulled his second 1080 to win the gold in an X Games Asia competition. Father Nick Schaar says a 1260 is just a few years away, maybe by the time Tom gets his driver's license [source: Hamm].
Fastest Skater on Earth
Mischo Erban is legendary in the tiny world of "gravity sports." The two main gravity sports, as sanctioned by the International Gravity Sports Association, are street luge racing and downhill skateboard racing. Erban is a champion downhiller, a sport that requires fearlessness in the face of dangerous speeds, hairpin turns and skull-cracking asphalt.
The stunt that Erban pulled off on September 31, 2010, required a whole different level of fearlessness. Protected by nothing more than a leather bodysuit and helmet, Erban rocketed down a steep Canadian mountain road to set a new world record for skateboarding speed: 80.74 mph (130 kph). Other skaters have broken 90 mph (144.8 kph) when pulled by another vehicle, but Erban was the first to achieve such speeds unassisted, using nothing but gravity and four well-greased wheels [source: Hamm].
Erban has his sights set on the Holy Grail of downhill: 100 mph (161 kph). Believing he has reached the limits of road racing, Erban is looking for a generous benefactor who will build a special downhill course precisely for reaching maximum speeds.
Biggest Ollie Ever
Aaron "Jaws" Homoki didn't earn his bone-crunching nickname from a ferocious temperament. Blame the braces he wore as a gangly kid in Arizona. Homoki is better known for his laid-back, ultra-smooth style combined with some of the most insane gap jumps in the history of YouTube. Check out Homoki's video entry into the Real Street 2012 portion of the X Games competition and watch the smiling skater ollie off the top of a two-story balcony, a bridge and staircase after staircase.
Homoki made the July 2011 cover of Thrasher magazine with a headline shouting "Biggest Ollie Ever." A couple of months earlier, Homoki needed little prodding to soar over a flight of 20 concrete stairs, and it was all captured on video. After nailing the landing, Homoki quickly ran back to the top and ollied over the stair's supporting wall. Jaws makes crazy look easy.
Taming El Toro
The "El Toro 20" is an infamous flight of 20 concrete stairs at El Toro High School in Lake Forest, Calif. The steep, straight staircase has been featured in skateboard videos for years, mostly for its long rail slides. But on Feb. 4, 2006, 18-year-old skater Dave Bachinsky made skating history by sticking a monumental kickflip from the top of El Toro.
A kickflip is hard enough on flat ground. The rider has to pop an ollie, then use the front foot to "tap" the board into 360-degree horizontal spin. The real trick is landing the thing, which requires the rider to "catch" the spinning board in mid air. Bachinsky did all of this while cruising at breakneck speeds 10 feet (3 meters) above concrete steps. Even more incredible, it took him 12 tries to nail it [source: Bachinsky]. That's 12 separate leaps and 11 separate ankle-twisting, bone-rattling crash landings.
As crazy as Bachinsky's stunt was, the blue ribbon for insanity at El Toro goes to Wes Verdugo, who rode down the steps in a grocery cart and shattered his hip.
The Loop of Death
Bob Burnquist is a pro skater and daredevilish genius who delights in building and riding some of the world's most extreme skate ramps. Burnquist has a permanent MegaRamp in his backyard -- at one time the largest on earth -- and invites buddies like Tony Hawk and Ryan Sheckler over for playdates [source: Higgins].
But Burnquist's most famous creation is his Loop of Death. The ramp looks like a classic roller coaster loop-the-loop, with riders entering on one end, rolling into an upside down ramp, and exiting on the other side. As simple as it looks, riding the loop takes tremendous balance and control, and has earned its lethal nickname with a pile of broken bones and yards of stitches. Skating god Tony Hawk suffered one of his worst wipeouts trying to run the loop in a monkey suit. Hawk took home a fractured skull for his consolation prize.
As if surviving the Loop of Death wasn't enough, Burnquist decided to take it one step further by removing the very top section of the loop. This created a huge gap in the ramp that would have to be "jumped" upside down. After several failed attempts, but no broken neck, Burnquist nailed the landing in front of a cheering home crowd. Don't wait for Tony Hawk to repeat the stunt anytime soon.
Shaun White Crushes It
There are skateboarding stunts that are crazy dangerous, and then there are moments that are crazy beautiful. Shaun White's final run in the X Games Skateboard Vert competition in 2011 was the latter. The Olympic champion snowboarder and part-time professional skateboarder beat out his vert ramp rival Pierre-Luc Gagnon with a near-perfect procession of tricks that left the announcer tongue-tied as he tried to spit out the grand finale, a "heelflip body varial frontside 540," aka the "armadillo" [source: AP].
The move involves several spins while in a near full-body tuck. View it on YouTube and bask in its impossibility.
'Jumping' the Grand Canyon
The Grand Canyon is the Moby Dick of American daredevils. Motorcycle jumper Evel Knievel dreamed of jumping the canyon, but had to settle for an aborted rocket launch over the Snake River. Evel's son Robbie jumped a stretch of the Grand Canyon in 1999 and broke his leg during a choppy landing. But jumping the canyon in a rocket or a motorcycle is a cinch compared with riding a skateboard over it. That's why Bob Burnquist's plan was never to jump over the canyon, but to jump into it.
Yes, this is the same Bob Burnquist that brought us the Loop of Death. This time, the multiple X Games champion decided to invent a stunt that combined skateboarding and BASE jumping (jumping from a fixed object like a bridge or a cliff and using a parachute to break the fall). With help from his ramp-making team, he designed and built a huge launch ramp with a twist. At the end of the ramp, where the rider usually lifts off into space, was a long curved rail. Here's the idea -- Burnquist would gather lots of speed on the ramp, then slide across the rail to ensure a safe distance from the rocky cliffs before beginning his BASE jump to the canyon floor.
On his first attempt, Burnquist missed the rail and fell into a chaotic descent that almost ended in tragedy before Burnquist righted himself and pulled his shoot at the last second. Not one to be thwarted by a near-death experience, Burnquist and his ramp designer made some adjustments to the lip of the launch ramp, then went for it again. This time, he nailed the rail slide and sailed safely off the cliff wall for a smooth 1,500-foot (457 meter) descent.
Great Wall of Way
Danny Way and Bob Burnquist are cut from the same crazy cloth. Both men are big-air vert veterans and multiple X Games medalists, and both are irrepressible showmen. Way capitalizes on his mainstream success to live out childhood fantasies and stretch the definition of possible by leaping out of helicopters and jumping over the unjumpable.
Way singlehandedly invented the MegaRamp, once considered insanity and now a staple of big air competitions worldwide. In 2005, he built the world's biggest skateboard ramp around a 70-foot-wide (21.3 meter) section of the Great Wall of China. If he cleared the wall, he hoped to break both of his existing world records for farthest jump (79 feet, or 24 meters) and highest jump (23 feet, or 7 meters) on a skateboard. But first, he almost broke his ankle.
The day before the Great Wall jump, Way decided to try a practice run. The second he left the launch ramp, he lost his board and lost control. Instead of sliding to safety on his knees, he landed flat on top of the landing ramp with a terrifying thud, then went tumbling end over end to the bottom of the slope. Way could barely walk, but refused an X-ray that would determine if his ankle was broken [source: Yen]. Instead, buoyed by painkillers and athletic tape, he nailed the historic jump the next day, even doing some 360 encores for the crowd.
Vegas Bomb Drop
We told you Danny Way is a showman, and there's no better venue for a showman than Las Vegas, USA. In 2006, a year after his Great Wall jump, Way was at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Vegas attempting to break the world record for the highest bomb drop.
A bomb drop, in skateboarding terminology, is a flashy way of mounting the board by swinging it into the air and jumping down hard on it. Vert riders often bomb drop into the halfpipe or bowl for added speed and style points. At the Hard Rock, Way wanted to pull off the bomb drop to end all bomb drops.
The previous world record holder had dropped 12 feet (3.6 meters) into a halfpipe. Way was looking to double the distance. To do so, he built a 56-foot-high (17 meter) landing ramp directly under the mammoth guitar that sticks out of the roof of the Hard Rock. Way built a small scaffold on the end of the guitar a full 78 feet (23.7 meters) in the air [source: Skateboarding Magazine]. By launching off the scaffold, Way would freefall more than 20 feet (6.1 meters) into the bowl below, crushing the world record.
The huge crowd assembled for the stunt gasped with terror as Way bailed on his first few attempts. It was like watching someone jump from a 10-story building without a net. Finally, Way managed to stay on his board, dropping a total of 28 feet (8.5 meters) and cruising to a triumphant slide up the huge quarter pipe on the other side.
Water Tower Gap
Jeremy Wray is not a household name like Hawk, Way or Burnquist, but he will forever be legendary among skate video fans for his epic ollie that made the cover of Thrasher magazine in November 1997. The location was Rowland Heights, Calif., where two round water towers sit 40 feet (12 meters) off the ground and exactly 18 feet (5.5 meters) apart [source: Skately]. Wray had the audacity to attempt a jump over the gap without the aid of a launch ramp.
To set the scene, these are two perfectly flat concrete surfaces that are exactly the same height. The only way Wray would survive the jump is by building enough ground speed and ollying with enough lift to carry him 18 feet (5.5 meters) to safety. He warmed up for the stunt by leaping across the gap without his board, just to give him the confidence that it was even possible. After that, it was a matter of getting the cameras in place and letting it fly.
Unlike other big jumps, where you can see how the rider might bail out safely, there is no room for error in the water tower gap. If Wray falls short, he smacks face first into a concrete wall, then falls 40 feet (12.2 meters) to the ground. Thank God he didn't. The footage is undeniably crazy, earning Wray our top spot in the 10 craziest skateboarding stunts.
Mountains are definitely not the only thing worth climbing. Learn more about the urban climbers scrambling up cranes, skyscrapers and even Corcovado.
Author's Note: 10 Craziest Skateboarding Feats
I have insane respect for skateboarders. What they do should not be possible. Even something as "simple" as an ollie. Watch a clip in slow motion. The board appears to stick to the rider's feet, even though you know there's nothing between them but a pair of worn-down Etnies. What I don't respect -- and this might be my inner old man talking -- is the outright refusal by professional street skaters to wear helmets. The vert guys have the sense to protect their skulls from high-flying brain damage, but the street guys must not want to mess up their hair. While researching crazy stunts for this article, I saw skater after skater smack their heads off the concrete. Can't we just agree that protecting our brains is a fashion statement worth making?
- Associated Press. "Armadillo move carries Shaun White to vert title in Dew Tour event." September 15, 2010 http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/sports/action/2010-08-15-shaun-white-dew-tour_N.htm
- Bachinsky, Dave. Classic Clips. "El Toro Kickflip." (accessed October 23, 2012) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z_tQ5nAKjoE
- Hamm, Keith. ESPN.com. "12-year-old Tom Schaar lands 1080." March 30, 2012 http://espn.go.com/los-angeles/story/_/id/7755456/12-year-old-tom-schaar-lands-skateboarding-first-1080
- Hamm, Keith. ESPN.com. "A new downhill record." June 26, 2012 http://espn.go.com/action/skateboarding/story/_/id/8098465/mischo-erban-breaks-world-record-fastest-skateboard-speed
- Higgins, Matt. The New York Times. "A Skateboarding Ramp Reaches for the Sky." November 1, 2006 http://travel.nytimes.com/2006/11/01/sports/othersports/01ramp.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0
- Skateboarding Magazine. "Radically Extreme the Danny Way." July 11, 2008 http://dannyway.com/press/radically-extreme-the-danny-way/
- Skately. "Jeremy Wray Water Towers" (accessed October 23, 2012) http://skately.com/library/spots/jeremy-wray-water-towers
- Yen, Yi-Wyn. Sports Illustrated. "My Sportsman Choice: Danny Way." November 21, 2005 http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2005/magazine/specials/sportsman/2005/11/18/danny.way/index.html