X Games Seek X Factor Down Under

X Games Seek X Factor Down Under

Heimana Reynolds competes in the men's Skateboard Park final during the ESPN X Games at U.S. Bank Stadium on July 21, 2018, in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

SourceSean M. Haffey/Getty

Why you should care

For once, Australian action sports athletes won’t have to travel for a medal. 

In the eight years since he turned pro, freestyle BMX rider Kyle Baldock’s life has been marked by plane rides. Whether it’s Atlanta, Los Angeles, Austin or Minneapolis — or even Barcelona — the Gold Coast, Australia, native has always had to travel to compete in BMX contests at a pro level.

Until this year.

Beginning today, X Games is hosting its first-ever event on Australian soil at X Games Sydney. The annual contest, which debuted in 1995 with a summer competition in Newport, Rhode Island, and a winter competition in Stowe, Vermont, remained stateside for the first three years of its existence. Since expanding internationally to Phuket in 1998, X Games has hosted contests on two other continents — Europe and South America. But this month’s competition marks its first foray into Oceania.

Why is a Sydney-hosted X Games a big deal? Just ask some of the world’s premier BMX, skateboard and motocross athletes, many of whom hail from Australia originally — and have had to relocate to the United States (and secure an athlete visa) to pursue a professional career in action sports. Having a contest come to them for a change gives them an advantage typically enjoyed only by American athletes. If successful, X Games Sydney could allow these athletes to remain in Australia near their family and friends to train, rather than move abroad.

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“If you’re an Australian, all the action sports money is across the pond,” Baldock, 27, says. “For us to beat you [Americans] when it’s in your backyard, we have to work extra hard. That’s our drive. If my competitor gets up at 6 a.m., I will get up at 4 a.m.”

Baldock isn’t the only hometown hero looking to win his first medal on home soil. In total, there are 26 Aussies among the group of 105 invited athletes. Half the BMX Big Air and Moto X Freestyle disciplines are composed of Australian natives. Some, such as veteran BMXer Vince Byron, already own a collection of hardware — including three gold medals. Others, such as 16-year-old skateboarder Hayley Wilson, are looking for their first. Keep an eye on Wilson — the youngest competitor in the women’s skateboard street field — as she looks to become the first Aussie woman to medal in the discipline.

It’s insanely dangerous — which is kind of why we watch.

Aussies are the reigning gold medalists in three of Sydney’s 11 events: Jarryd McNeil in Moto X Step Up and Moto X Best Whip and Brandon Loupos in BMX Dirt. But their competitors from America and elsewhere could steal their opportunity to defend in front of a home crowd.

“It’s kind of crazy to me that it hasn’t happened over here yet with the presence [Australia has] in action sports,” says Mykel Larrin, a Wisconsin-based competitor in BMX Big Air. In that discipline, he’s not worried about the Aussies having a home turf advantage. “Everybody is pretty even,” Larrin says. “My biggest competition is myself, to be honest.”

But the action sports landscape is more than a series of tricks and races. It has its own vibrant subculture, especially in Australia. Locals and viewers alike will be able to get a taste (literally, if we’re talking about the local grub) of that culture at the X Games Village and on the broadcast. The goal is to “bring in different audiences and expose them to action sports and the culture and the lifestyle we’re trying to highlight,” says Tim Reed, X Games vice president.

Music is a huge part of that culture. On Friday, the Avalanches, the electronic music group from Melbourne that boasts several million Spotify streams, headline the musical performance. On Saturday, a fellow Melbourne act, hip-hop artist 360, takes the stage. “The X Games have such a crazy history and tradition in our culture, so it’s an honor to be a part of the 2018 games in Sydney,” 360 says.

When you tune in, make sure to catch the BMX Big Air final on Sunday, where athletes hurl themselves down an 82-foot-tall megaramp, riding up a second kicker ramp and throwing down their biggest tricks midair. It’s insanely dangerous — which is kind of why we watch.

Local Flavor

  • BMXer Logan Martin’s grandmother was the first female tattoo artist in Australia.
  • Skateboarder Hayley Wilson won her first contest when she was 8 years old.
  • BMXer Kyle Baldock has broken 28 bones throughout his career.
  • BMXer Vince Byron competed in gymnastics from age 10 to 14.
  • Moto Xer Rob Adelberg lives on a farm and owns cows.

X Games Sydney is being held at Spotless Stadium at Sydney Olympic Park on Friday, Oct. 19–21, and streamed live on X Games’ Facebook, Twitter and YouTube channels.

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