Skateboarder Tom Schaar practices for the Big Air skateboard competition… (Patrick T. Fallon / Los Angeles…)
At the Summer X Games in 2006, the fiery-haired action sports superstar Shaun White tried 21 times to land the most elusive trick in skateboarding, a holy grail of a maneuver that no human had yet to achieve: "The 1080."
That's three complete midair revolutions on the board, which requires both considerable air time and skill.
White failed all 21 times, just as he had failed in all 29 of his tries at the Summer X Games in 2005.
A 6-year-old sandy-haired boy from Malibu watched those 21 failures from the stands.
Six years later, that same boy landed that elusive move. It took him only four failures; he nailed it on his fifth try.
And this week, 12-year-old Tom Schaar, who is the only skateboarder to ever land a 1080, will be back at the Summer X Games in downtown Los Angeles. Only, he won't be a spectator. He'll be competing.
"I'm really excited," says Schaar, who just completed the sixth grade.
Schaar will participate in the Skateboard Big Air event on the MegaRamp on Friday against riders three times his age who have been competing in the X Games since well before he was born in 1999.
That includes 35-year-old Bob Burnquist, who has been competing at the X Games since the event began in 1995.
In Skateboard Big Air, skaters will drop down an 80-foot roll-in to gain speed, then jump across a 70-foot gap into a 27-foot-tall quarter-pipe.
But Schaar is not just in the event as a novelty. If he nails a 1080 when he's airborne above the quarter-pipe, he has a strong shot at winning.
Not that he feels any pressure in his fledgling professional skateboarding career.
"I'm just skating, having fun," Schaar says. "I don't want to take it so seriously that it's my main priority in life."
Yet, Schaar, who his father, Nick, says has seven sponsors, is an extraordinarily accomplished skateboarder for his age. He even won a gold medal in the Mini Mega skateboarding event in X Games Asia this year by landing a 1080 in a field that included legends Burnquist, Andy McDonald and Pierre-Luc Gagnon.
"Tom is a great young skater," said Gagnon, who will be competing against Schaar in the Skateboard Vert event. "He's probably the best."
Schaar doesn't have the experience of his X Games opponents, but one of his main advantages is his smaller size, because his 5-foot, 90-pound body makes it easier for him to spin while airborne, he says.
"If I was bigger, I'd go a lot higher, but it would be harder for me to spin," he says.
Spinning is one aspect of skateboarding he has always done well. He landed his first 540 (one and a half revolutions) at age 9, his first 720 (two full revolutions) a year later, then nailed a 900 (two and a half revolutions) last year shortly after he turned 12.
It was after that one that the pint-sized whirling dervish thought about trying a 1080. "It was very scary the first time I tried," he says. "It got less and less scary the more I tried it."
On his fifth try, in March at a MegaRamp at Woodward West in Tehachapi, Calif., Schaar landed it.
His accomplishment didn't sink in then, but it did in the following days when a barrage of media descended, skateboarding legend Tony Hawk tweeted congratulations and Schaar was asked to appear on the talk show "Ellen."
"I think we always knew he would progress and be really good, but he's really excelled in the last year," says Schaar's mom, Regan.
His mom was asked whether she was concerned about his safety considering the moves her son attempted. She said she wasn't really worried. "All these little kids grew up going to skate camps," she says. "The first thing they learned to do was fall."
She added that her son, like the other young skaters he skates with, are kind of "like cats" in that they always seem to bounce right back up.
Says his father: "I try to picture what it would be like to be 12 and to get to do what Tom gets to do, and I can't. It seems surreal."
Schaar's small build isn't the only reason he was able to land a 1080.
"For as small as he is, he's got so much power. That's not common," says Bucky Lasek, a professional skateboarder who has mentored Schaar for a few years. "He's like a little Bamm-Bamm," Lasek added, referring to the abnormally strong infant from "The Flintstones."
Schaar works out on a trampoline with a gymnastics coach. "It strengthens my legs a lot because I have to bounce 12 feet in the air to be able to spin that high," Schaar says. "And it really helps just knowing where I am in midair so I don't get lost."
Schaar picked up skateboarding from his older brother, John. It wasn't long before natural talent began to show. "To think that I was better than him at one point, that's kind of my claim to fame," says John, 15.
Eventually, his family had a vertical half-pipe ramp built in the backyard of its Malibu home.
What's next for him? A 1260, maybe? He's thought about it, but that's down the road.
For now, his focus is only on the Summer X Games, and on possibly pulling off a trick that he saw one of the biggest names in his sport fail to do time and again just six years ago.
Now Schaar wants to be the one to succeed.