The Summer X Games: extreme and green

Feature story - 11 August, 2004
The X Games are the punk rock of sports, and if you can land a Twirly-bird varial to a tweaked out kickflip Indy, then you might get to play with the big boys. This year the X Games are green as well as extreme. In addition to the use of Forest Stewardship Council™ (FSC®) certified skateboard ramps, there are numerous subversive eco-actions taking place during the event. Are you going to call any of these guys wimped out tree-huggers? I don't think so.

A skateboarder practises on the ramps at the X Games. For the first time FSC® wood was used during the games. FSC® stands for Forest Stewardship Council™: the wood is from a forest which is well managed according to strict environmental social and economic standards.

What, no badminton?

It's August and the sun is shining mercilessly on downtown Los Angeles. The temperature in the parking lot is nearly 100° F; thousands of people are packing the venues; and the music is loud enough to discourage all but the briefest shouted conversations. Extreme heat, extreme crowds,and extreme noise- everything one would expect at X Games, the tenth instalment of this annual alternative Olympics.

But don't look for archery and badminton here. The X Games are for skateboarders, bike stunts, aggressive in-line skaters, and Moto X.

This is not, however, the place for grass roots environmentalists and organic farmers. Or is it? Bob Burnquist is both, and he's also one of the top skateboarders in the world. He sees the X Games as the perfect opportunity to mould young minds. "I think it's super important to get informed and make environmentally sound decisions. An event like this lets us educate kids about environmental issues that affect their sports and their lives."

Greening the Games

Burnquist and his wife, Jen O'Brien, also a professional skateboarder, are founding members of the Action Sports Environmental Coalition (ASEC), the group that is responsible for greening the X Games. They've teamed up with Frank Scura, CEO of Eco resolutions, to incorporate an unprecedented degree of sustainability into this year's event.

Among the changes: the use of Forest Stewardship Council™(FSC®) certified wood for the competition ramps. The FSC®, an international organisation founded in 1993, is dedicated to promoting environmentally and socially responsible management of the world's forests. The FSC® logo helps consumers to distinguish products coming from responsible forest management.

As Scura is quick to mention: "The ramps turned out great. It's the same wood you buy in the store- the only difference is the forest is properly managed. It's not old growth; they're not spraying pesticides on it; and they're not clear-cutting."

Before you spit out your gum and say "Big deal," take a look around. The events at the Staples Center depend entirely on the size and quality of the ramps. Inside the arena, skateboarders, BMX bike riders and in-line skaters compete on a smooth wooden surface shaped like a deep kidney bean-shaped swimming pool with one end missing. The curves are flawless and the seams are nearly invisible. Outside, the huge BMX stunt park consists of myriad ramps and landings that flow like the lines of an M.C. Escher woodcut.

But the pièce de résistance is surely the immense spectacle duly dubbed the Mega Ramp. One look at the thing will impress even the most hardened adrenaline junkie and will likely cause the first-time spectator to stop dead in his tracks, eyes popped and jaw dropped, pointing skyward and raising a question that undoubtedly features a curse word.

During the X Games' first ever Big Air competition, skateboarders drop into the 50-foot ramp and take flight over an equally wide gap to land (hopefully) on a quarter pipe that sends them another 20 feet into the air where they try to keep it together long enough to perform a trick and land on the near-vertical ramp that promises to deliver them safely to the earth.

If you're Danny Way, the man who conceived the Mega Ramp, you launch from nine stories up and manage a Christ Air (like a horizontal spread eagle with a skateboard in one hand) over a 70-foot gap on your way to winning a gold medal. Think: ski jump at Lake Placid without the bindings or soft, fresh snow. Said Way, "I was confident coming in, but I was also concerned with getting hurt before the event started." Really?

Tree huggers need not apply

So how did FSC® wood end up at the X Games anyway? As Scura recounts, it all started when Burnquist and O'Brien joined Greenpeace in the Amazon two years ago to increase awareness of the threat to ancient forests and to promote sustainable forestry. They rode the first ever FSC® certified half-pipe at the Ecosystem Festival in Burnquist's native Brazil, and they were hooked, on FSC® wood and on Greenpeace: "Greenpeace is one of the best things that has happened in the world society. Especially their campaigns that help safeguard our forests."

The X Games are more than just a spectator sport, they are truly interactive, and if an athlete is concerned about his or her impact on the environment, then an event like this presents a golden opportunity to make a real difference. That is precisely the opportunity being seized by ASEC. Scura and his friends have a strong presence at this year's games.

At the ASEC booth, they are giving away trading cards printed on 100percent recycled paper and processed without chlorine. The cards feature environmental quotes from top competitors along with an assortment of eco-facts. As Scura says, "You've got strong images of these athletes jumping 70 feet through the air and landing on a handrail at 40 mph and then doing 25 foot airs. Are you going to call any of them a wimped-out tree hugger? I don't think so." Scura's Pied Piper personality draws in everyone within earshot, and question and answer sessions frequently have to be stopped for crowd control.

"I think Greenpeace is cool"

Another cool initiative of these Games is the near-constant flow of celebrity athletes coming through to sign autographs. Throughout the day kids can meet their action sports idols and have their picture taken. Lines extend around the block when people like Matt Hoffman, Bob Burnquist, Jen O'Brien, John Parker, Bucky Lasek, and Lyn-Z Adams Hawkins are in the tent, and each of these athletes expresses a sincere interest in getting the word out about environmental responsibility.

At 14, gold medallist Hawkins is younger than some of her fans, and she stumbles on the word sustainable, but she knows what it means, and she's stoked that the ramps at X Games are made from FSC® wood. She praises the quality of the ramps and adds, "I think Greenpeace is cool."

The huge speakers at the nearby Tascam DJ stage are designed for efficiency, and the whole sound system is powered by a solar bus with 24 deep cycle batteries supplied by US Battery, a company owned by Scura's brother-in-law. He is quick to point out all of the technical features of both the big white bus and the music platform.

The final bit of greenness at X Games might be found in the waste management logo located on all the cardboard trash bins at the Staples Center. Scura says that the company plans to sort all the garbage into recyclables and non-recyclables in order to cut down on the amount of material destined for landfills.

So why did ESPN, the owner of the X Games, agree to go green? Home Depot was able to acquire the FSC® wood at a competitive price, and ESPN saw sufficient value in supporting the athletes' efforts to promote social consciousness. But Scura adds "We're definitely looking to do more next year."

Inspiration and improvement

It's a good thing too, because there's room for improvement. Disposable, non-biodegradable plastic is everywhere- plates, utensils, bags, cups, packaging, and freebies. There is nowhere any indication of Waste Management's intent to recycle. Information about FSC® certification is not prominent, and the solar bus is hidden behind a fence. Lastly, ESPN turned down an offer by Off The Grid Consulting to provide recycled vegetable oil to power the remote generators - they ended up using 10,000 gallons of diesel fuel instead.

Even so, ASEC's progress is inspiring, especially Scura's dedication. He displays a comprehensive knowledge of environmental issues, and he blends idealism and compassion with realistic expectations. He is clearly a man who lives what he believes: "The bottom line is, we all gotta live here."

Environmentalism as a personal philosophy has earned the support of top athletes in the world of action sports. O'Brien, even more empowered by parenthood, faithfully espouses conservation of natural resources: "Environmental issues are important to me because I really love the planet. I love nature. I enjoy it, and I respect it. It's in my heart so I don't want it to get ruined."

Another top athlete, Andy Macdonald, is a champion skateboarder with "Regime Change in the USA" written on his board's grip tape. He took the bronze in Sunday's Big Air competition as well as in Thursday's Vert contest, and he said during an interview, "If I can set a good example by getting the word out about being environmentally conscious, I'm going to do it."

Resolutionaries not revolutionaries

It turns out there is a green rebellion going on at the X Games, and why not? Most of these sports were started by rebels, by social outcasts looking for something fun and meaningful to do, something that didn't require the approval of parents or teachers or other authority figures.

As Scura declares, "It takes strength and consciousness to be a rebel. Wait. You know what? This isn't a revolution. We're tired of turning around in circles. This is a resolution. We're resolutionaries. Resolving the issues of the world."

Read more

FSC logo

What is the Forest Stewardship Council™anyway? Actually, it's their 10th anniversary in September. Find out more or check out their website.

There might be room for improvement at the X Games, but compared to Athens it is streets ahead.

Take action

Next time you're building a skateboard ramp, or more likely, buying any wood product always look for the FSC® logo. Can't find it in your local store - then ask why they don't stock FSC® products!

This article was written by Greenpeace cyberactivist Marnee Benson.

Join Marnee and thousands of others as a cyberactivist or join Greenpeace.

Marnee Benson is a Greenpeace cyberactivist and was the winner of our Iceland Whales pledge earlier this year. She took on the challenge of filing this report for us straight from California. Read more about Marnee .