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He's so inclined

Skateboarder Bob Burnquist owns the world's only permanent mega-ramp, giving him serious advantage

August 01, 2007|Pete Thomas | Times Staff Writer

VISTA, Calif. -- It's an ordinary afternoon at the Burnquist residence, nestled in the hills of this North San Diego County neighborhood.

Friends come and go. A worker clears a field to make room for a horse that Bob Burnquist bought for his 7-year-old daughter, Lotus. She picks strawberries in the garden while he slips into his "suit of armor."

Moments later, while Lotus and others watch, Burnquist careens down a steep and narrow wood ramp and flings himself high and far across the rugged landscape, then goes back for more.

And with each precarious flight, followed by an equally precarious landing and yet another airborne sojourn, it becomes increasingly clear that while this may be an ordinary afternoon, Burnquist is no ordinary man.

And his is no ordinary backyard.

Burnquist, 30, is a professional skateboarder who has made a career out of taking risks, and last fall he became the proud owner of the world's only permanent mega-ramp.

It's a ridiculously scary-looking contraption on which elite skateboarders hurl themselves across a 55- or 70-foot gap, land going downhill at about 35 mph and attempt difficult tricks after soaring anew 20-plus feet above a 28-foot quarterpipe wall.

The X Games, which begin a four-day run Thursday at Staples Center and the Home Depot Center, have for three years used a similar model for big-air competitions.

Danny Way, who designed and pioneered the apparatus and helped finance Burnquist's $300,000 backyard version, won the gold medal all three years.

Burnquist, however, will enter Thursday's competition as the powerful favorite, in part because Way recently had knee surgery and will not compete, but also because Burnquist has put in the most practice since the ramp was completed last fall.

"The bar has definitely been raised again, and it's going to keep getting raised," says Way, who will be sidelined for six months. "It's still in the infancy stages of what can be done, but it's on the right track."

Recently in Burnquist's backyard, Way performed the same fully extended "rocket" back flip that helped win him the gold medal in last year's X Games -- but he landed it in a switched stance, or with his unnatural foot forward.

The same day, Burnquist performed a switch ollie 540 over the gap, which essentially is one-and-a-half spins without grabs. He somehow used the relative wind and gravity to keep the skateboard attached to his feet.

"We never thought it was possible," says Burnquist, who lives with Jen O'Brien, a vert-ramp specialist who also will compete at the X Games.

Theirs is a modest home on 12 acres in an upscale San Marcos Mountains neighborhood, 10 miles east of Oceanside and flanked to the west by farmland. But there is nothing modest about their yard.

Out front are a series of wooden pools for vert skating. Performing tricks above vert-ramp walls has been Burnquist's passion since he was a wheezing asthmatic growing up in smoggy Sao Paolo, Brazil.

He turned pro at 14 and moved to the U.S. at 17, when Way and Tony Hawk were already stars, and began a meteoric rise.

Creativity and a persistence became his trademarks. A spiritualistic outlook and passion for organic living and healthy environment further set him apart.

"Bob is more grounded than most X Games athletes," says Chris Stiepock, general manager of the annual action sports showcase, which is in its 13th year. "He's comfortable with his lifestyle and surrounds himself with really good people who believe in him."

Burnquist has a long list of noteworthy athletic accomplishments, among them 12 X Games medals, four of them gold.

He's a pilot and sky-diver, and in March 2006 he performed a 50-50 rail-grind on an arched apparatus extending over the Grand Canyon. After sliding off the rail, he tracked like a missile away from the canyon wall, then opened his parachute and floated 1,600 feet to Earth.

He has wanted a mega-ramp since he skated Way's creation -- since dismantled -- five years ago at a remote desert outpost called Point X, east of Temecula.

He purchased a 7.6-acre parcel adjacent to his home property and envisioned the ramp blending with the slope of the hillside. He held "a neighbor day" to assure them that the massive structure would not obscure views, which it does not.

Trespassing has always been an issue, even though he allows the neighborhood kids to skate his vert ramps. But the mega-ramp carries far heavier potential consequences. Visitors, even friends, must sign a waiver before going near it.

"I chase people out all the time," says Tim Tice, a caretaker whose duties include chauffeuring Burnquist, in a 4-WD Yamaha Rhino, to the top of the roll-in ramp after each of his jumps.

Only a select group of skateboarders and BMX riders are qualified to ride the mega-ramp.

Burnquist once made 89 jumps in a day. He practices two days a week when he's not traveling and averages 50 jumps each session.

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