Summer X Big Air Wrap-Up|
ESPN Returns to San Diego for snowboarding at the beach.
By Alison Berkey
"Hi, I'm the media icon for street luge. Don't you recognize me?" The voice and exaggerated smile, combined with his yellow-lens glasses and false sense of confidence were hard not to laugh at. He wore no shirt and a sleeveless cut-off jean jacket covered with X-Games embroidered logos,
his own nickname "Lugenstien" printed in big black letters with a permanent marker on the front and no shirt underneath. "I'm a media icon," he repeated.
A Big Jump
Undoubtedly, Lugenstien's career has been enhanced‹or even created‹by the phenomenon (or rather, facade) created by ESPN's X Games. Over the past few years this made-for-TV "alternative sports" production has gained momentum, with action pre-packaged for American youth consumption. It's a scenario all too familiar to the world of snowboarding, but if they can bring us a big air jump by a San Diego beach in June, then who are we to judge?
For the second year in a row, ESPN pulled it Hollywood style in San Diego: a massive big air jump that looked like a cross between a rock concert stage and an amusement park ride. Its height and steepness magnified by its isolation in a flat, grassy, tropical setting. "Mount X" as it is formally known, was covered with snow and ready for the cameras on Saturday. The thousands of people who showed up at Mariner's Point and clogged Mission Bay like a backed-up toilet were ready for it, too. Cloned in a colorful variety of skate and surf inspired sunglasses and boardshorts, the masses turned out to see their heroes "shred the gnar," as Kevin Jones so eloquently put it.
Kevin Jones spins nine.
Thankfully, the snowboarding action exceeded the expectations such a spectacle would suggest. The usual slew of big air specialists, namely Jim Rippey, Kevin Jones, Peter Line, Brian Hinkley, Jason Borgstede, Tina Basich and others busted out with some serious skills. Everyone seemed to step it up a notch. The women have made some serious progress since the days of pretty methods, getting more inverted and spinning bigger. The men pushing the number of flips and spins possible in that one jump beyond what anyone imagined possible.
The practice session on Friday was cancelled due to concern as to whether enough snow could be made to adequately cover the take-off and landing for two whole days in the sun. "Its the same thing that happened last year," said Jason Borgstede, who explained that despite all his experience with
contests like these, he still gets nervous about hitting the jump for the first time. "I can't even eat before these things sometimes," he said.
Janet Matthews and her famous flip.
Luckily, Saturday morning provided the riders with enough time to get used to the jump, each round pushing the degree of difficulty that much further.
In the men's competition, more tricks and styles were demonstrated than ever before with Rippey's signature flips, Kevin Jones's smooth spins and Peter Line's mysty flips. Hinkley, a former gymnast, not only floated clean double front flips, but also stuck a 1080. It's hard to say why he didn't earn enough points to win, since 900s were Kevin Jones trick of the day. Rippey's flips are always a crowd pleaser, but his double-back flips with a sketchy landing scored just as high as Hinkley's stomped double fronts? And what about Borgstede's backflip 360 held forever tailgrabs? Does one flip, one rotation, and a grab get the same number of points as two flips, or three rotations, or even four? Apparently, the judges weren't quite sure, so they doled out the same scores to all four riders making for a dramatic four-way tie for first. "It's a set-up," said one crowd member. "They just want to get a few more jumps on video for the TV show."
What ensued was a "jump-off" between the top four finishers. Hinkley stuck his double front cleanly and the crowd went wild. KJ floated another 9 and earned a higher score than Hinkley, snatching first place. The entire crowd booed with disapproval. Rippey snaked the podium in third with a clean 360 backflip when Borgstede blew it with a sketched landing.
Tina Dixon palms a bronze.
The women's competition wasn't quite as dramatic, or at least ESPN didn't let it play out that way. Janet Matthew's stole the show with clean back flips. In fact, she got props for the day for actually attempting a double back. If she had landed it Janet, the 32-year-old Washington based rider would have been the first woman to do a double back. Unfortunately, she came up short and drilled the nose of her board right into the landing. On the other hand, Tina Basich has made impressive progress this past season, consistently sticking 720s, and riding with more of a snowboard-inspired style than the riders with acrobatic/gymnastic backgrounds. Tina's landings weren't clean enough to get her that seven-tenths of a point that bumped her out of first. Tina Dixon was also throwing back flips, but not landing them as clean as Matthew's, putting her in third place.
Despite the made-for-TV setting and high cheese factor of the Summer X, the big air jumpers did put on a good show. "It's one of the best big air jumps I've done this year," Kevin Jones said after the contest. "Shred the gnar." Is KJ snowboarding's own Lugenstein? I don't think so.
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