Legendary skateboarding champion Steve Steadham catches some air at the Skate Pro Legends event at the X Games. (Photo by Jason Lewis)
One of the most thrilling competitions at the X Games was the BMX Freestyle Vert. Bikers flew well over 20 feet high in the air. There were not any black participants in the competition, but that could change soon with better guidance and facilities. (Photo by Jason Lewis)
Many young blacks participate in sports such as skateboarding and BMX biking, but not many of them competed in what is considered Olympics extreme sports. Efforts are being made to change that.
By Jason LewisSentinel Sports Editor
Over 135,000 people came out to the Los Angeles Coliseum, Staple Center, and LA Live this past weekend to watch some of the best extreme sports athletes compete in what they consider their Olympics. There were a number of black faces in the crowd, but not very many participating in the competition.
The issue certainly is not that blacks do not participate in the sport on some level. Drive through black areas of Los Angeles and you will always see black teenagers on their skateboards and bikes performing all kinds of cool tricks.
It appears that many young blacks are not on the proper course to lead them to an extremely financially rewarding career.
Fifteen-year-old Brazilian Pedro Barros won the gold medal at the X Games Skateboard Park. 14-year-old Curren Caples from Ventura, Ca., took fourth place in the event. Just to get to the X Games Barros and Caples had to win numerous competitions. Some events have prize money of up to half a million dollars. Along the way Barros and Caples have picked up numerous sponsors who pay for their equipment, traveling fees, and pay them simply to wear their gear.
There is a lot of money to be made in extreme sports, and the participants are making that money at a very young age. They have taken a hobby and made it into a career.
There were not many blacks competing at the X Games, but there are some who are knocking on the door.
Akeem Haynes of North Hollywood was one of the few blacks out there with his skateboard. Haynes just missed qualifying for the competition, but he was at the X Games making sure his face was seen.
"I can see a pro career," Haynes said. "I'm working really hard towards it. I've only been in the game for 2-3 years, and I'm sponsored."
That's the key to launching a career, getting sponsored. Haynes started skateboarding when he was 16, and now at age 20 he is well on his way.
"When I was in high school I saw people jumping off stairs," Haynes said. "I was just like 'wow,' that's amazing how the board just magnetizes to their feet after they just landed a trick. I had to try that."
Through long hours of work, Haynes learned numerous tricks and became good enough to enter contests, where the sponsors are. Getting noticed is the key, and if a skater is at enough events to get noticed by the sponsors, he can get signed. Akeem also points out that making videos of yourself and sending them to the sponsors can really help in getting noticed, and can launch a pro career.
"When your sponsors say that you've been in a lot of events, you've put in a lot of work in the streets, you've been skating and filming, they see a lot of potential in you," Akeem said. "When you're winning contests, that's when the money starts flowing."
Akeem uses the Internet to his advantage. He searches for local events, and he has videos of himself up on youtube.com.
Akeem is an up and comer, but there have been legendary black skaters over the years. Steve Steadham, 47, is one of them, and he can still flow from one jump to another with ease at the skate park. He competed in the Skate Park Pro Legends event at the X Games.
After graduating from Las Vegas High School in the early 1980s, Steadham moved to Los Angeles to start his skateboarding career. Not too long afterwards Powell Peralta, the largest skateboarding company at the time, sponsored him. Powell Peralta also sponsored Tony Hawk, who is regarded as the greatest skateboarder of all time.
Steadham echoes the sentiments of Akeem.
"The best way for young blacks to get into skating is to get really good and then you have to skate all the big events," Steadham said. "You have to skate against the best there is. Once you start beating those guys then you get more respect, and that's what opens the door to the bigger events. Because once you beat people the sponsors will give you more legitimate respect."
Steadham is known for skating pools and bowls, but he points out that street skating is really taking over, which works in the favor of many young blacks.
Access to pools and large skate parks that have bowl skating is limited today, so there has been a shift in skateboarding to street skating, where there is a street course. Many skaters are limited to their environment, so the competitions have shifted to that.
The type of skate boarding that young blacks are doing in the streets around their neighborhood is the same type of skating that is popular at the biggest competitions, such as the X Games.
Steadham's advice is to practice as much as possible, and then search online for events. Get connected with good sponsors, such as Element (www.elementskateboards.com) and Flip (www.flipskateboards.com), to find out about upcoming events. There is also the Mountain Dew Amateur Series.
Steadham believes that we will see more blacks skating on a pro level in the future.
"I think there's going to be a lot more coming in because now they have skaters that they can relate too," Steadham said. "I saw a lot of black skaters at the amateur event yesterday. That was good to see. Hopefully they keep going."
Steadham has made a good career through skateboarding. He still competes and he has his own company, which sells skateboards and appeal (www.stevesteadham.com).
In Los Angeles there are numerous places where blacks can learn skateboarding and other extreme sports in a more organized fashion. One of those places is black owned Planet Maple Board Shop (4657 W. Washington Blvd. www.pmsk8nsurf.com). Co owner William Lee Lamar has worked with numerous kids over the years.
"Right now a lot of our kids in the neighborhood are skating," Lamar said. "They're skating, they're riding BMX bikes. But as far as the X Games, that level of sponsorship, that level of competing, the talent is there, but them being backed financially is where the problem comes in."
Lamar does point out that there have, and are, numerous blacks who have been financially backed and have had great careers.
"You have James "Bubba" Steward, who is one of the baddest brothers in motor cross," Lamar said. "He was riding for Kawasaki for years. He's the best. Killing them."
Lamar's business partner at Planet Maple said that just because there were not very many black participants at the X Games does not mean that there are not very many blacks in extreme sports.
"Not everybody goes for that level," Cedric Bell said. "Like, the X Games level. Some people's fame is in the streets. Just a straight street board skater, and he can have huge fame. You may not see him in the X Games but you'll hear about him. They'll get the skater of the year award from Skateboarding Magazine or Thrasher. They'll get the skater of the year award because they're out there really doing it."
Bell continues to say that skaters are making money through different avenues.
"The X Games is what you call the Olympics of skateboarding, some people go for it, some people don't," Bell said.
Planet Maple is working with the Rob Dyrdek Foundation and Councilman Herb Wesson to build a skate plaza at Rancho Cienge Park, which should open before the end of this year.
"That's going to make a huge difference," Lamar said. "That's going to give the kids a place to come, instead of skating all over people's properties. Getting hit by cars. It gives them a focal point. Where they can go and work on their tricks so they can go pro."
The skate plaza will be similar to the street course at the X Games.
Planet Maple is planning to give away 500 skateboards to children in the area of the park, and they offer skate lessons.
With proper guidance and access to better facilities in the near future, young blacks will have a much better chance at a professional extreme sports career and a shot at the X Games.