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Youthful Exuberance

The stars seem aligned for 16-year-old Ryan Sheckler, who rises to fame just as skateboarding and action sports soar in status

October 14, 2006|Pete Thomas | Times Staff Writer

As the oldest of three Sheckler children, Ryan is clearly the junior man of the house.

He drives home from high school, where he is a junior, in a gleaming black Range Rover, which he paid for with pocket change compared with what he has earned as a professional skateboarder.

"That truck is mine too. I won that at the Dew Tour," he says of the Toyota Tacoma parked curbside, after reaching into a garage cooler full of Red Bull, supplied by one of his many sponsors.

Sheckler, 16, might still live with his parents, Randy and Gretchen, and brothers Shane and Kane, in a gated neighborhood on a San Clemente hillside, but it's becoming increasingly evident that this bushy-haired kid is going places, thanks in large part to the Dew Action Sports Tour, which concludes its second season this weekend with the Playstation Pro in Orlando, Fla.

While managing to fit homework into his busy schedule, Sheckler has used the five-city Dew Tour -- the only true professional action sports series -- as a launching pad to stardom.

Competing as a street skater in the popular park discipline, Sheckler was trying to defend his Dew Cup and athlete-of-the-year titles, which were worth $162,000, plus the truck, last year.

This year the tour's most successful athlete has won three of four events -- each worth $15,000 -- and is well-positioned to ollie, kick-flip and grind his way to another Dew Cup title, worth $75,000.

He might have been undefeated, were it not for a painful hotfoot he endured before the second event. Sheckler was celebrating the Fourth of July on the beach when he stepped barefoot onto a sizzling barbecue grill.

He suffered severe burns on the top and bottom of his left foot, and between the toes, which went through the grill, and was rushed to the hospital.

Remarkably, two weeks later, after the Dew Tour medical staff had cleaned and rebandaged his wounds, he skated to a fourth-place finish in the Right Guard Open to remain in the championship hunt.

Sheckler's chance to defend his athlete-of-the-year title was thwarted Friday when BMX vert rider Jamie Bestwick won his event at Orlando to clinch his Dew Tour series title. Sheckler needed Bestwick to finish second or worse to have a shot.

Also Friday, Anthony Napolitan won the BMX dirt competition to clinch that title.

Bestwick, 35, who now has four wins and a second, is among many aging action sports veterans trying to milk new opportunities while they can.

Sheckler, on the other hand, is at the top of the class of extreme athletes born at an opportune time.

His rise has occurred parallel to that of action sports, and to street skating in particular.

Skateboarding has become a worldwide phenomenon, with participation in the millions, and Sheckler has become its poster boy, at the top of his game, never without his skateboard and in constant demand.

"If I did everything people want me to do I'd live out of my suitcase for probably a whole year straight," he says, sinking deep into a sofa. "I don't even look at my calendar anymore. I can't. It gives me nightmares."

During a Dew Tour summer intermission he placed second to Chris Cole at the X Games in Los Angeles. During the most recent break, he toured Canada, Mississippi and Hawaii with Tony Hawk and a cast of stars. He also has made numerous guest appearances and autograph-signing sessions.

"Ryan is more relevant to the mainstream than most street skaters because of a variety of factors," says Circe Wallace, his agent. "Not only is he cute, but he's smart, a virtual celebrity and by far one of the best skaters in the world."

The night Sheckler arrived home from Hawaii, he stayed up until 4 a.m. doing homework, and in the morning he went to class at Halstrom High, which specializes in one-on-one instruction for students with scheduling requirements.

A day later, a reporter is waiting when he returns from English and Spanish classes. His father, Randy, a mechanical engineer, is at work. Gretchen, his mother and Ryan's personal manager, is due home soon.

Ryan will soon set out with friends and a photographer to find suitable -- though not necessarily legal -- locations to skate for an Etnies shoe ad.

Through his primary sponsors, Sheckler is paid a combined six-figure salary, plus photo incentives.

"I think about it, but I don't really care," he says of the money. "It's not that important. It's something I didn't ask for that just came to me, so whatever I do get I'm going to be grateful for."

His success is no fluke. He has been obsessed with skateboarding since he was a young child.

He was tiny but tenacious, a quality required in a sport in which extremely difficult tricks -- the flipping of boards underfoot, and grinding artfully along rails -- are made to look easy only after months of practice.

Bob Burnquist, 30, a longtime vert-ramp specialist, recalls Sheckler as an undersized kid with oversized pads showing up at the Encinitas skate park and performing tricks many of the veterans couldn't do.

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