The hype is real for X Games California

Southern California is the undeniable mecca for action sports. The region has hosted X Games 15 times since 1997.

Where else can you skateboard to the beach, bike through the suburbs, motocross across deserts, and snowboard freshly covered mountains all in the same week?

From Los Angeles to Orange County and San Diego, top athletes across the globe make SoCal their year-round residency for training and elite competitions. A robust action sports community has grown organically dating back to the 1970s.

Coinciding with the rise of cable TV, ESPN aired the Extreme Games in 1995 from Newport, Rhode Island. The following year re-branding as X Games.

This sparked a new generation of stars, none bigger than Tony Hawk. Competing regularly on national television for cash prizes elevated the profiles of these emerging athletes across America and beyond.

When San Francisco hosted the historic 1999 edition, ‘Birdman’ Tony Hawk captivated the imagination of Gen X with a new arial assault. In the best trick contest, he landed the first-ever 900° on a halfpipe. The rest was history.

Fast forward to 2020, the pandemic disrupts all major contests. In 2022 the X-Games finds new ownership (Hawk is an investor), with broadcast rights remaining on ABC properties. 

The X-Games now returns to Los Angeles in 2023, a full decade after Staples Center played host.

One of the most decorated X-Games athletes on a skateboard

Elliot Sloan, the 34-year-old Hurley pro competes regularly in big air and vert. A seven-time gold medalist, his most recent coming at X-Games Japan for Best Trick.

The Sporting Tribune recently caught up with Elliot during preparation for X-Games California 2023. Now residing in San Diego, the East Coast transplant has perfected his craft utilizing a mega ramp in training.

He reflected on his extensive career, facing fellow competitors, the growth of women’s skating, and looking ahead to the Olympics. (Interview has been edited for length and clarity)

Michael Silver: What does it feel like landing a Heelflip Indy 720?  

Elliot Sloan: It feels great! The first time I landed it was in 2011, but it’s still no easy feat for me, you know? A hard trick I’ve done quite a few times now, but it doesn’t get any easier. Every time I do, it feels amazing.

MS: You’re originally from the East Coast, growing up in New York City. How long were you a street skater before adopting the vert discipline? Were there challenges with winter seasons and not having access to ramps? 

ES: I definitely grew up skating in the streets of NYC, but I was never too serious about it. Around 2001 is when I got more into vert. Shifting my focus, that’s all I wanted to skate. Being outside and skating during the winter would be brutal, wearing as many layers as I could. The two parks I skated were on the West Side Highway (108th St. and Chelsea Piers), pretty freaking cold. I later found a skate park in New Jersey that was indoors called Rexplex with a vert ramp. My mom would take me there and I would skate all the time. It was bigger, wider, and I met guys while skating who were older than me. They took me under their wing and showed me the ropes.  

MS: Being a sponsored pro for Birdhouse Skateboards (owned by Tony Hawk), can you share what it’s like being signed to a prolific brand. Have you leaned on the GOAT for any advice?

ES: It’s been amazing man. Tony Hawk is pretty much the reason I started skating vert and skateboarding in general. One of my favorites, a huge inspiration. I trip out on it all the time, trying to think back to the early days before I knew him. Playing his video games, reading his book, watching demos and trying to get his autograph. Flash forward all these years and I’m going on crazy trips with him, skating together.  

Being on Birdhouse is incredible too. My favorite board company. The video they released, The End (1998), is one of the best to this day. I can watch it over and over. To ride for that brand and have a pro model is an incredible feeling.

MS: Not only is Birdman Tony Hawk a pioneer of the sport, but he is also an advocate using his personal ramp to keep the vert contest scene alive. Most recently, Vert Alert was in Salt Lake City. What was that experience like for you? 

ES: Very cool, especially compared to last year. This time it was held inside (Delta Center) an air-conditioned arena. It was awesome. 

MS: Skateboarding is an individual sport in essence. I can see you’re stoked watching peers at contests land tough tricks. Jimmy Wilkins, Tom Schaar, and Gui Khury for example. How do you balance the competitiveness versus camaraderie aspect? 

ES: That’s a good question. To be honest, that’s why I got into skateboarding because I didn’t like traditional sports and heavy competitiveness. Us verse them. Win or lose. I’ve always gone into contests wanting to do what I can do or set out to do. That’s probably the case for all of us. No one goes in thinking ‘I’m going to beat this person.’ It doesn’t matter where I end up in the contest as long as I do what I have in mind. That’s a win for anybody. 

MS: Can you talk about the progression of skating from your early beginnings to where the sport is today? 

ES: Yeah, skating is at such an insane level right now. It’s a completely new generation of guys. Look at X-Games Japan (May 2023), it’s all new guys doing crazy technical tricks and landing consistently. And in a contest run? Crazy. 

MS: Looking ahead to X-Games California this month. Back in Los Angeles for the first time since 2013. What is your mindset going into contests? 

ES: I naturally put a lot of pressure on myself. This year has been a little different. In November we had a pipe burst under our house and it’s been stressful. This thing has taken all of my mental focus and bandwidth away. 

MS: What are your thoughts on skateboarding being recognized as an Olympic sport? Did you tune in? 

ES: Yeah! It was definitely a bummer not to have vert in there. Talking to friends in the mix it sounded frustrating. There were a million contests, multiple governing bodies. Like which one is the official thing? At the end of the day, despite all that for me it would be an incredible experience to have a chance to compete in the Olympics. There’s talks of vert being part of the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics. I’ll be 40 at that point. I don’t know man, seeing the level of these kids, I can only hope for a chance to be in there. 

It’s awesome that X-Games are bringing women’s vert back. It hasn’t been around for over a decade [Gaby Ponce won Gold, July 2010]. A big thanks to Tony Hawk, I’m pretty sure it was his doing being involved with X-Games and pushing for that. The level of women’s vert is higher than ever. We’re in a whole new era.

Welcome Back to Los Angeles   

X-Games California 2023 returns with fans this weekend (July 21-23) at the Ventura Fairgrounds. Contests will include Skateboarding, BMX, and Moto X.

Southern California residents can ride the Pacific Coastliner for easy commuting.

For tickets and travel info visit Amtrak.