Anyone who enjoys riding a skateboard, flying down a hill on a snowboard or mountain bike or even simply watching the X-Games on TV should give a big Thank You to Generation X for creating the entire category of “extreme sports.”
In the 70s Gen Xers living in Southern California took the existing subcultures of surfing and motorcycle racing and morphed them into skateboarding, in the early days known as sidewalk surfing, and bicycle motorcross racing-BMX, when kids tricked out their Schwinn Stingrays to mimic their favorite motocross stars. As each sport evolved from sneaking rides in empty backyard swimming pools (skating) or building jumps on vacant dirt lots (BMXing) into organized competitions and then full-on sponsored events they motivated thousands of kids to buy bikes or boards and start building jumps or ramps in their own neighborhood.
Thankfully these sports evolved when they did before the world became overly litigious. It’s not a stretch to say that the carefree attitude of Gen Xers who thought nothing of risking their necks to catch the ‘high’ of flying through the air is not easily replicated by today’s kids who have helicopter parents hovering over them offering every protection to keep their precious offspring safe from insult or injury.
In the 80s when I was in jr high and high school I remember many afternoons with my friends searching out the hot ramp or jumping spot. We would sometimes have over 20 kids gathered to throw down off a launch ramp or bust air off a fresh set of dirt jumps. Once we got our driver’s licenses it meant that we were free to roam to other cities in search of cool, new places to ride. In fact my first traffic ticket came 1 month after I got my license because a buddy and I ignored the “no cars” sign to drive through the field to the abandoned Lansdowne skatepark in Baltimore.
At some point in the mid-80s Jake Burton developed the snowboard which would forever change the way people went sliding down a snow-covered mountain. Around roughly the same time Gary Fisher and a group of guys in Nor Cal converted their multi-speed road bikes into off-road rides and started bombing down Mt. Tam north of San Francisco. And the sports of snowboarding and mountain biking were born.
How many of you remember the controversies when ski resorts first started opening up to snowboarders in the late 80s? Or in the early 90s when the resorts started opening in the summer and running the lifts to ferry mountain bikers up the hill to risk life and limb on the way down? Now these same resorts feature gnarly jump parks for snowboarders in the winter and mountain bikers in the summer.
All of this to say that now that I’m in my 40s when I feel the need for an adrenaline rush instead of getting on a 20″ BMX bike I hop on my full suspension Ellsworth mountain bike and head to one of 2 sweet trail systems minutes away from my house in San Diego. The cool thing is that more and more I notice that I’m not the only 40-something out there still looking to catch air. Look around at the skate parks, snow slopes, waves or off-road trails and you will notice a number of us “gray-hairs” out there doing their thing.
Now that they own their own homes some of my high school friends in the DC area have SWEET skate ramps in their yards or have gotten involved with local parks departments to help design and build skate parks for the entire community. We’re not the only ones, a few months ago the Wall Street Journal ran this story about guys our age forming private clubs to build limited access skateparks so they could ride without the hassle of younger grommets getting in the way.
For those of use who came of age during the rise of extreme sports the only things that have changed between the 80s and now is that we can afford better equipment and access to sweeter riding spots, and, maybe, we don’t push the envelope as often as we did because it takes longer to heal each time we have a hard slam. One other thing has changed: I now wear a helmet every. time. I. am. on. my. bike. When I was 16 I NEVER wore a helmet when hitting the local jumps or launch ramp, now I recognize the fact that in the battle of ground v. head, ground will win every time and a helmet only gives me a slight edge. I’m sure I’m not the only one; being older means that we’re (a little) wiser and while we’re still taking risks, we’re limiting those risks by wearing the proper safety gear.
Now that I’m in my 40′s I workout so that I have the strength, stamina and fitness to hit the trail and have an amazing ride when I can get the time to fit it in. That’s why I train, I need the strength to support my adrenaline addiction. I gave up the dream of being an underwear model or bodybuilder long, long ago. For me exercise isn’t about how I look in the mirror, it’s about having the energy to do what I want to do when I want to do it. When I have time to ride I want to throw my gear in the car and hit the trails knowing that I have the strength to get maximal enjoyment from my time on the trail.
Human physiology starts slowing down and the body starts changing when we hit our 30s; there are two options: 1) accept it and let nature take it’s course or 2) fight it and continue staying as active as possible as long as possible. The cool thing is that high intensity activity like extreme sports will elevate testosterone levels which start dropping in men sometime in the mid-30s. Aging happens, there is only one way to stop it; but as we get older we can minimize the effects of aging by staying active and NEVER stopping our favorite activity.
Those of us in Gen X who grew up on two (bikes) or four (skateboards) wheels know the secret to staying young: it’s looking for that sweet new spot to ride.