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CATCHING SOME AIR.

Byline: KEVIN MODESTI

We have put our hands together for the X Games. We occasionally have given it up for the X Games. Every so often, we have felt compelled to admit the X Games skaters, boarders and bikers are laying down some pretty insane sessions.

But, at least to begin with, we have not been totally stoked about the X Games, the ESPN-created combination of cutting-edge competition and street fair.

We in Southern California can be tough almonds to crack when it comes to new sports attractions. Witness the many empty seats for the Manchester United exhibition at the Coliseum last month and the indifference that greeted the women's tennis tour-championship tournament at Staples Center last winter.

And so it is that despite loud encouragement by the play-by-play-men- slash-cheerleaders in the arena, despite good pre-event publicity and despite the component sports' local roots, the X Games did not exactly captivate Los Angeles when they began their first visit here Thursday. Attendance for the events in and about Staples Center totaled 20,188 Thursday and 23,635 Friday. Those numbers were down 35 percent from last year in that skateboarding hotbed Philadelphia.

``We don't go to Philadelphia so much,'' said Bob Burnquist of Carlsbad, who teamed with Bucky Lasek to win the Skateboard Vert Doubles in Staples late Saturday afternoon. ``In Southern California, most of the pros are from here. So it's like, `Tony Hawk's skating? OK, we've seen him before.' ''

Maybe Burnquist has the right explanation, that L.A. is jaded about X Games sports. Or maybe the trouble is the area's saturation in championship sports events, the region's variety of entertainment choices, its relative lack of mass transit, or the 95-degree sun.

Whatever it was, just as X Games officials were being forced to deny disappointment at the early reception, the weekend arrived and the crowds swelled. By mid-afternoon Saturday, more than 22,000 X Philes had paid the $5 price of admission at the Staples site, and once the fans at the evening's Moto X Freestyle contest at the Coliseum were added in, attendance figured to blow past the 46,242 that took in the Saturday action on the streets and halfpipes of Philadelphia.

One of the Staples announcers at the morning's Aggressive In-Line Vert preliminaries, in a sage analysis of the level of performance, noted, ``It keeps getting gnarlier.''

He was later to remark: ``Waaaaaagh''

Although, as his sidekick pointed out, ``Ooooooohhh''

Whether the popularity of the X Games themselves, and of the so-called ``action sports'' in general, is achieving greater and greater gnarliness is harder to judge.

Will the X Games and events like them remain on a back shelf in the pro sports market?

Or will motocross star Mike Metzger be proven correct when he said this week, ''Action sports are, sooner or later, going to consume America's traditional sports''?

No sport is going to consume any other in a nation that has no single pastime any more, only dozens of pastimes each with its own devoted audience.

But football, basketball and baseball would be making a mistake if they looked at Thursday and Friday's light crowds here and think the X Games sports are no factor.

The little children, teenagers and parents who made up Saturday's crowd were not typical sports fans. At any one time, more were enjoying the T-shirt booths and equipment displays outside than were watching the in-line skating and skateboarding competitions inside. It was like a pro golf tournament, where many in the gallery are more interested in testing out the new putters in the manufacturers' tents than in watching Jim Furyk. The point is that almost all of these kids are skaters, skateboarders and bike riders, part of an enormous talent pool feeding the pro ranks.

If specific sports rise and fall in popularity based on the quality of the athletes and their contests, the X Games sports can't help but get bigger.

Among the ``traditional sports,'' the smart ones will try to tap this audience, which is why the Indy Racing League is advertising itself with a booth in the Staples Center parking lot.

Sometimes, the whole X Games thing seem to be a contradiction in terms. It's a grassroots cultural movement - sponsored by AT&T. It's free expression - in the shadows of the merchandise booths. It's individuality - dressed up as conformity.

The big difference between one adolescent ``individual'' and the next appears to be that one points the bill of his cap at a 45-degree angle while the next opts for 46 percent.

What seemed clear is that the kids were having a good time Saturday as the sun beat down, the music and the announcers roared and the crowds grew.

There's a place for the X Games, especially - or even - in L.A.

CAPTION(S):

photo, box

Photo:

(color) Skateboard Vert Doubles winners Bob Burnquist, top, and Bucky Lasek performed for a big crowd.

Andy Holzman/Staff Photographer

Box:

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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Aug 17, 2003
Words:826
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