This Innovative Skateboarder's Secret Weapon: Skydiving
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because he could be changing the way action athletes train.
By Michelle Bruton
Update: Brusco completed the first 1260 in skateboarding competition history at the X Games on August 3.
It doesn’t matter if he’s dropping in on a 65-foot mega ramp or jumping out of a plane 13,000 feet above the patchwork ground below him — being airborne feels like home for Mitchie Brusco.
The 22-year-old pro skateboarder has never been satisfied just spinning his wheels. Brusco, who competes in skateboarding’s big air and vert disciplines, has a collection of tricks that, were he content to repeat the same line over and over, could earn him a podium spot every time. At 16, he landed the first 1080 (a spin trick featuring three full 360-degree rotations) in X Games competition. In 2018, the trick was part of the run that won him his first X Games gold medal — and it’s one still missing from most pro skaters’ bags. As Tony Hawk showed the world 20 years ago when he landed the first-ever 900, spins are the foundation of skateboarding innovation. Two decades later, only five skateboarders have thrown down a 900 at the X Games, and only Brusco has done the 1080. This year Brusco wants to push it further and become the first to land a 1260.
The Kirkland, Washington, native started skating at age 3 1/2 on a Tasmanian Devil skateboard his mom, Jen, bought at Target. He moved to the skateboarding mecca of Southern California at 13 to train with “the people who are killing it.” That includes the Birdman himself, Hawk, and Bob Burnquist, whose ramps attract skaters from around the world looking to hone their skills. Brusco’s home life sounds like something out of the show Jackass: He lives in a house in Encinitas with six other pro skaters. But far from a party pad, the house is actually a haven where they unwind and practice the runs they hope will win them contests around the world. Think foam rollers, not ragers.
There’s no question that skateboarders are a different breed. But even among these extreme athletes, Brusco’s drive stands out. What, exactly, compels someone to jump out of planes and attempt to claim risky new tricks on the ramp? For Brusco, it’s pretty simple: “I’m competitive in my blood.” And don’t think for a second it’s solely about chasing medals. Skating simply to win is “an empty road to go down.” He wants to bring something new each time.
Indeed, Brusco’s star has risen so quickly precisely because his feel for the physics of tricks seems almost preternatural. Other skaters simply can’t wrap their minds around it.
“That dude has the best aerial awareness of anyone I know,” says skateboarder Clay Kreiner, Brusco’s housemate and friend — and toughest competition, as the runner-up behind Brusco in 2018’s big air contest. “The way he breaks it down just all aligns.”
And not all those skills have been acquired on the ramp. What better place to develop aerial awareness, after all, than in the sky?
There may be a reason three of action sports’ all-time greats seem to exist on a different plane. Sometimes they literally do.
Brusco didn’t start skydiving specifically to improve his skateboarding. In February 2015, when he turned 18, he did a tandem dive, loved the feeling and decided the air was a “genuinely good place to spend my time.” But there may be a reason three of action sports’ all-time greats — Travis Pastrana (motorsports), Mat Hoffman (BMX) and Burnquist — seem to exist on a different plane. Sometimes they literally do.
Sure enough, after a couple of years diving, Brusco noticed a difference in his skating. “My spatial awareness and overall awareness has been challenged so much,” he says. “Getting on a mega ramp or spinning a different way on a vert ramp — those things just started to make sense.” Four years later, Brusco has completed more than 950 jumps — though he’s never taken a skateboard up there — and recently signed with iFLY to compete in bodyflight, a fast-growing sport. When he has a rare free hour, he also streams on Twitch and hopes to soon compete in the EXP Invitational, an esports tournament held at the X Games.
When you spend enough of your time 13,000 feet above sea level, the prospect of hurtling down a 65-foot ramp, over a 65-foot gap and then up a 27-foot quarter-pipe — as skateboarders do in big air — doesn’t seem so daunting. Armed with his exceptional awareness and more than a little courage, Brusco shocked the skateboarding world at X Games Shanghai in June when he attempted a 1260. It was so unexpected that, on the air, play-by-play commentator Brandon Graham didn’t even initially realize the unsuccessful attempt had happened.
“Mitchie is the driver as far as what’s possible off that quarter-pipe,” says Graham, who is confident Brusco could land the groundbreaking trick this weekend in an indoor environment at X Games Minneapolis. “The highest risk in competitive skateboarding is what you can do off that quarter-pipe in big air. I don’t know that anybody is pushing that further than Mitchie Brusco.”
Don’t Brusco’s contemporaries know it. “I don’t even really know how to fathom the adrenaline or whatever he must be feeling prior to trying [a 1260],” says Kreiner. “But he’s super calculated. He trusts himself so much.”
Not that Brusco is the type to call his shot. In fact, a narrative that he’s secretive about his runs has cropped up around him, though he doesn’t agree. He tried the 1260 earlier this year, so the cat is out of the bag on that. But he’s not letting the expectation get to him. “I never keep a run a secret coming from a place of gaining an advantage,” he says. “I just don’t need this black cloud hanging over me on the day and creating this secondary pressure.” What Brusco really cares about? “I always want people to be on the edge of their seats, like, ‘What the fuck is this kid gonna try this time?’”
On Saturday, those seats will hold his mom and dad, as well as Brusco’s four siblings and girlfriend. Brusco is the first to admit that in his chosen profession, peril lurks around every corner. But his parents are rarely rattled. “Over the years I’ve definitely proved there are risks, 100 percent,” Brusco says. To wit: He’s broken each wrist three times. “But they know that I’ll do whatever I can to make sure it’s done properly.”
Outside the scope of skateboarding, Brusco thinks bodyflight has the potential to change the way other action sports athletes train — say, snowboarders who do quadruple corks at the Olympics. “You just get comfortable,” Brusco says. “You don’t touch the ground for five minutes at a time. You live in the air.”
If he could reside there full-time, Brusco just might.
Read more: The skateboarder hoping meditation can net X Games gold.
- Michelle Bruton, OZY Author Contact Michelle Bruton