Tom Schaar, 12, of Malibu, Calif., practices for the X Games at Woodward… (Ariana van den Akker / Los…)
TEHACHAPI, Calif. — The trio of preteen skateboarders edges near the lip of the vertical half-pipe ramp, then takes turns plunging in for practice runs inside a facility called "the Hangar."
The aforementioned is a 60,000-square-foot utopia for skateboarders and BMX riders, with vertical walls, foam pits, bowls, ramps, ledges and handrails. It's part of Woodward West's 16-acre complex here and on a recent afternoon, it buzzed with commotion.
But of the dozens of preteens, teens and 20-and-up skaters and BMX-ers who zipped around the building's every obstacle, the young trio stood out, if only because of what the three were practicing for — the X Games — and of what they represent — their sport's future.
That load of expectations wasn't present in the faces of Jagger Eaton, 11, Tom Schaar, 12, and Trey Wood, 11. There were only smiles. They were just best friends having fun, preparing to compete in the Summer X Games, which begin Thursday in Los Angeles.
Schaar competed in X Games Asia in China earlier this year. Wood and Eaton will be competing in their first X Games.
All three will be competing on the MegaRamp in the Skateboard Big Air event, which has its elimination round Thursday and its final Friday.
"It's a great opportunity and all my friends are going to be there," said Eaton, who will be 11 years 4 months and 7 days old on the first day of competition, making him the youngest competitor in X Games history. "And I get to skate with all the guys I've looked up to and all the guys who told me to keep trying," the Mesa, Ariz., native added.
They'll also be competing against much bigger and older skaters, including 35-year-old Bob Burnquist, who has 20 X Games medals.
"I've asked for autographs from them and now I get to compete against them," said Wood, who is from Queen Creek, Ariz.
But they're not there just as a novelty.
"The impressive part is they didn't just earn a spot at X Games," said Eaton's father, Geoff, who has been working with Eaton and Wood for years at the grass-roots skateboarding program he founded in Arizona. "It's that they're competitive at this age."
Schaar, of Malibu, is a prime candidate in the Big Air event. He landed skateboarding's first 1080 — a three-revolution midair spin — in March on a MegaRamp at Woodward West and won a gold medal in the Mini Mega competition at X Games Asia.
If he feels pressure, Schaar doesn't show it, but he is excited to compete with his friends, who have been skating for about half their lives and together for about five years. Schaar is also scheduled to compete in Skateboard Vert.
Said Wood: "It's almost like Tom and Jagger are brothers to me. We've known each other for so long and we push each other and motivate each other to try stuff that we're not comfortable with."
They also represent their sport's youngest wave of elite skateboarding talent, a pool that goes about 10 to 15 skaters deep.
"It's a huge youth explosion," said Jeff Jewett, who coaches Schaar, Eaton and Wood. "I'm not saying the older guys are going away. Now, they have something to defend their titles against, instead of just beating each other."
You won't hear many complaints from the sport's elder statesmen.
"It's good to have a new wave of talent," said 15-time X Games medalist Pierre-Luc Gagnon, who will be competing in Skateboard Vert against Schaar. "It secures the future of the sport."
For now, Eaton, Schaar and Wood see only the immediate future, the one that begins this week as they debut in the Olympics of action sports, where the lights are brightest and the stakes highest.
They'll be competing against their idols, and they'll have each other, best friends as close as brothers, right there, as they take turns plunging in.