Words by Stuart Kenny and James Renhard
The X Games debut in Minneapolis has finally arrived, and here at Mpora towers we’re seriously excited.
For over 20 years, the contest has beamed the biggest names in action sports around the globe. From breathtaking tricks to blistering progression, the X Games is the place where records are broken, gravity defied and legends born. Put simply, it’s the biggest showcase in action sports.
The inaugural X Games were way back in 1995 - a time when there were only five terrestrial TV channels here in the UK. In today’s connected world of social media, smartphones and live streaming, it feels alien that an entire generation of British action sports fans, and even athletes, got their first taste of the sports they love by taping the X Games on VCR and watching it back the next day.
Friends would gather around the TV to watch a 16 year old Travis Pastrana taking on the might of Brian Deegan and the Metal Mulisha in Moto X and see BMX legends Dennis McCoy, Jamie Bestwick, Simon Tabron and the late Dave Mirra go head-to-head on the Vert ramp.
The memory of Tony Hawk landing the 900 in 1999 still, to this day, has the power to send shivers down the spine of anybody who watched it live.
22 years later, the VCR’s have gone, but the heart-stopping action remains.
Watching the X Games live couldn’t be easier now. It’s on mainstream television. Parts of the Games are streaming live on social media. And anyone with a Samsung device can now stream the games live completely free of charge - and Samsung are even streaming the Skateboard Vert, BMX Street and Skateboard Street Amateurs in virtual reality in 48 countries. FYI. You'll need a Samsung VR for this.
The progression of the contest itself has very much kept up with the progression of the riding that made it the monster it is today, and many of the riders who brought such acclaim to the X Games will be back in action this year, from both the old guard and new generation.
Dennis McCoy, Ryan Nyquist and Garrett Reynolds are back in the saddles, Nyjah Huston and Bob Burnquist have brought their skateboards and FMX stars Josh Sheehan and Tom Pages will be fighting it out for the big prizes in moto once again.
There are few people who know the contest better than British BMX legend Simon Tabron though, a man who has competed in the X Games every year bar-one since 1998.
What sets the contest apart from the rest of the BMX calendar? “The enormity of the thing," he tells us. “It’s the larger scale with the most exposure, the most importance and therefore the most pressure.
"It’s great to have such a fun atmosphere."
Tabron has a comprehensive 14 X Games medals, though he’s still chasing that elusive gold with six silvers (including second place in both 2014 and 2016) and eight bronze medals to his name.
The 43 year old is a BMX Vert expert, a discipline which challenges riders to lay down the best possible run on an enormous half-pipe surrounded by crowds as far as the eye can see. It’s the discipline in which Mat Hoffman and Dave Mirra re-wrote the history books and one Simon has watched change vastly over the past 19 years.
Is there anything he misses from the old days? “Some of the faces, the characters; there used to be a deeper field in vert and some incredible legends like Hoffman, Mirra and [Jay] Miron. I miss those days, the epic battles."
We don’t blame him. We spoke to Hoffman himself about the X Games a couple of years back and his tales of debauchery (he got kicked out of the X Games twice) and his iconic successes could make anyone pine for a time machine.
“[But] the general standard has picked up," continues Tabron. “Everything has to be dialed in, no sketchiness, no filler. It’s quality not quantity.
"For the most part, I like where the riding has got to - as long as people are trying to be original rather than just tailwhip-barspin-flair-repeat - but I feel that way about all of BMX."
“Personally, I'm just excited to ride," Simon tells us. “I have a ton of stuff that I feel good about and am excited to put it out there. And do lots of tabletops!
“I used to feel pressure to do certain tricks but I liberated myself from that a long time ago. I just try to be myself and do the things that I want to - just try to be as original and smooth as I can."
Tabron competed in the X Games BMX Vert on Thursday, missing out on a medal with a seventh place finish (Vince Byron took the gold). To find out who can bag themselves X Games glory this weekend, be sure to tune in. Oh, and no need to record it all on VCR hey? Unless you want to, that is.