Talk to any action sports athlete, and he'll tell you that action sports isn't just something you do, it's the way you live.
No, that doesn't mean you're sleeping with your skateboard or eating in your rally car. Rather, like any artist, it means you're engaging in freedom of individuality and expression through your chosen discipline. But that's not where it ends.
"It's like how you talk, how you act," says skateboarder Pierre-Luc Gagnon, the six-time gold medalist who will be competing in the vert, vert double and big air events at the 2011 X Games, which air from Los Angeles on ABC, ESPN and ESPN2 Thursday through Sunday, July 28-31. "You know, skateboarding is an art form. It's about being original and unique and having your own style. It's about, like, when you're on your board doing something really creative, it's not about copying all the moves that someone else is doing. It's about coming out with your own moves that could be completely different from what the other guy is doing. There are no guidelines or anything like that.
"It's not like you have a coach telling you you need to learn this 540 trick," he continues. "It's basically like, 'I really feel like this variation will be cool and
,' and then you get them styled by other skaters, but you don't want to copy them, so you always want to come out with your own style and put your twist on it."
The 17th edition of the ESPN-created action sports event features more than 200 athletes competing in skateboarding, motocross, BMX and rally car racing at venues in and around Los Angeles, including Staples Center and Nokia Center. New to the Games this year is Enduro X, a cross between motocross racing and traditional Enduro that tests riders' abilities on an all-terrain obstacle course. Additionally, for the first time there will be a rally street circuit running through downtown Los Angeles.
Tanner Foust, a three-time X Games gold medalist in rally car who will compete on that course, doesn't necessarily do any preparations for X Games outside of his usual packed schedule. When he's not hosting "Top Gear" on History or stunt driving in movies such as "The Dukes of Hazzard" and "Iron Man 2," he's racing in rally car and drift series events in the United States and Europe. He's been going flat-out since mid-February.
"I've always considered that all the stuff I do kind of adds up," says Foust, who broke a world record for distance jumping in a four-wheeled vehicle when he completed a 332-foot jump at the Indianapolis 500 in May. "I think all of these types of things all help mentally; even if it's not in the same color car and same type of vehicle you'll race at X Games, it all prepares you for dealing with the pressure of 'You have one shot at it; don't mess it up.' So I think it all helps.
"There's also a little secretive thing I do," he admits, "but doesn't make too much sense is, the video games 'Dirt 2' and 'Dirt 3,' I think playing these games actually helps. I play against a racer friend of mine in Colorado, and the reason it helps is because a driver tends to race differently if they're in first place leading the pack (than) if they're chasing a car in front of them. But in a perfect world, you'd drive the exact same lap regardless of where you were in the race. And so it's actually good practice, I think, to have that muscle memory to just drive your own clean race even when there's all kinds of stuff going on, because those errors come out in the video game."
Both men say they work hard at what they do, but because it's their passion, they don't really consider it work. Foust, in fact, can't imagine doing anything else.
"I love the competition," he says, "but the flip side of that coin is that I'm not home very often. And I love making the television shows, but they take a huge amount of time. So I would like to learn how to -- I don't know how to say it, but maybe say no -- to try to afford a little bit more time at home. You know, this is one of those industries where you kind of have to strike while the iron is hot. If the opportunities are there, the feeling is you really need to take them, and I think that's true. So I'm sure I'll have plenty of time at home wishing that I was out working every day. So right now, I'm going to stick to what I'm doing."
Living the life at the 2011 summer X Games
Pierre-Luc Gagnon competes in the X Games, airing Thursday through Sunday on ABC, ESPN and ESPN2.