X Games set for final Austin stop after embracing local culture

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Photo Credit: Amy Zhang | Daily Texan Staff

Twelve thousand people packed the courtyard in front of the Capitol building as skateboard legend Tony Hawk lowered himself onto the half-pipe.

The mob shrieked each time the extreme-sports icon picked up speed and spiraled through the air. Every twist and flip signaled the start of the 2014 X Games, and the city wasn’t holding back its excitement to host the event for the first time.

“I was blown away,” X Games host Brandon Graham said. “I had never seen a crowd like that. It really set the tone for the X Games in Austin, and it carried over to the next year.”

It’s been almost two years since Hawk kicked off the inaugural Austin X Games before a sea of fans in June 2014. But the enthusiasm is still sky-high as the city prepares for its third and final edition of the competition, which commences Thursday night at the Circuit of the Americas.

“There’s a lot of energy [in Austin],” professional skateboarder Bob Burnquist said. “When you’re riding, there seems to be that energy behind you … [the city] has just got that excitement for sports.”

The X Games will exit Austin indefinitely for scheduling reasons after this weekend, but not without leaving a major impact on the city. Over 298,000 people attended the competition over the past two years, bringing in around $263 million to the metro area. X Games Vice President Tim Reed said he isn’t surprised that the X Games excel in Austin; he believes the action sports lifestyle meshes well with the city’s cultural make-up.

“Action sports are made up of lifestyle elements like film, photography, art, music — those are all really prevalent in Austin,” Reed said. “It makes sense that when you drop the sports out of [the X Games], all the lifestyle elements are already here. It’s a seamless fit.”

Reed said he hopes to capture those lifestyle elements through the X Games’ venue. An artistically designed tent will shade fans from the sun while giving a nod to city’s appreciation for the arts. Visitors can enjoy local flavors, like Torchy’s Tacos, in their food selection. Additionally, the event will feature several live music performances — an Austin staple — including sets from Logic, G-Eazy and Blink-182.

Rich Biggie, who designs the sports setup as the event’s director of sports and competition, said he used lessons from the past two years to upgrade the experience. His biggest changes include replacing rally and truck events with motocross freestyle and making the venue more compact to improve fans’ accessibility to each competition.

“We don’t want to send people all over the venue — it’s a big place,” Biggie said. “The setup opens up viewing more … there isn’t a bad seat in the house.”

The event begins Thursday night and continues through Sunday afternoon. It features big air and vertical contests in BMX, motocross and skateboarding. Participants will also show off their top moves in freestyle, best tricks, park and street competitions. Several defending champions will return to defend their titles, including Daniel Sandoval (BMX park), Tom Pages (motocross quarter-pipe) and Burnquist (skateboard big air).

Biggie and Reed hope the venue changes and improved layout feed into Austin’s already strong appreciation for action sports. Most of all, they seek to leave Austin with its best X Games show to date.

“We’re definitely going out with a bang,” Reed said.