When it comes the Summer X Games, Bob Burnquist has seen and survived it all. He has competed in every edition of the Games, since their beginning in 1995, taking some lumps and winning lots of medals along the way. Longevity has rewarded him; Burnquist’s 29 medals make him the most decorated X Games athlete ever, but just like the competition itself, the Brazilian skateboarder has improved with age.
Burnquist’s most recent victory at the 2015 X Games encapsulates his entire career. Burnquist broke his arm during a vert practice session the day before the festivities in Austin kicked off
“It’s just an arm,” Burnquist said of the injury before competition began. “If it were a leg or something, that’d be different. I can definitely still ride like this.”
Coming through on his word, Bob won his 28th overall medal in the skateboarding Big Air final on the competition’s second night while wearing a cast. The 38-year-old skateboard legend overcame his injury not only with skill, but also with an intelligence that he doesn’t think he had as a young rider.
“I had tricks that weren’t there because of the arm, my grabs weren’t really there for me. I couldn’t get my regular 720 or my nosegrabs, so I went switch 540 over the gap and an indy 720 forward to fakie [off of the quarterpipe],” Burnquist said after winning the big air competition. “Being able to switch up styles the way I did comes with time, experience and having tricks. Improvise. Don’t get stuck on one thing. You have to be open to doing something different, but when you’re young that can be difficult.”
Doing something different has never been an issue for Bob Burnquist. As an up-and-coming skateboarder in his mid-20s, Burnquist hunted down every possible opportunity to further his career. He’s one of only three athletes to compete in all six skateboarding competitions at X Games. For those keeping score, that’s park, vert, vert doubles, vert best trick, big air and big air rail jam. He had mixed results in the beginning; it took him five years to win his first gold.
“It’s been a long time. Being able to skate all those different phases of my life has made me the rider I am today,” Burnquist said before competing. “When I first came out, they didn’t even have the big air event.”
Bob’s first gold came in 2000 in vert best trick. He had two more, one each in vert doubles and vert best trick, before ever dropping onto the big air jump, where he has won the lion’s share of his gold medals. Naturally, Bob named those two events as his favorites at X Games.
“For the last few years I’ve been putting in a lot of work on the mega ramp; my first experience with it stayed with me, so I built a mega ramp in my backyard. Call it the secret to my success,” Burnquist said after competing. “I was excited to compete in vert as well, but the arm hurt my ability to use my tricks in the half pipe more than on the ramp. Mega and vert are definitely where it’s at.”
Burnquist has been around X Games long enough to see the arc of skateboarding rise from the grassroots all the way to the flagship sport of one of the biggest events in action sports. He believes that the relationship has been mutually beneficial, but thinks that skateboarding has for the most part dictated progression to the competition as opposed to the other way around.
“Skateboarding has changed X Games more than X Games has changed skateboarding. Over the years, things have been adapted and adjusted to fit the rider and what we do out there,” Burnquist says. “By adding the mega ramp, the best trick in park, X Games has brought in a lot of guys who before were staying away because the events didn’t fit their skill sets. X Games’ willingness to change and progress is one of the best things about the competition.”
To win the big air event, Burnquist had to outskate 10 competitors under the age of 25. There is a huge youth movement going on in professional skateboarding right now; the heroes of the previous generation are giving way to the young riders whom they inspired during their careers.
Burnquist is still a contender in any event in which he competes, but he will eventually be pushed from the competition field. He knows that, and he’s spending his remaining time at X marveling at the kids who are coming up and playing the role of mentor to the next generation.
“When you win a certain amount of times, you get to a point where you’re like ‘Ok, is there anything else I can do?’ I always want keep progressing. The youthful energy that these kids bring has given me a jolt to keep at it and riding with these kids,” Burnquist says. “I’m going to keep skating as long as I feel competitive and I feel like I’m giving them a hard time, but I love the energy of skating with these kids. They remind me of myself.”
At X Games 2014, Tom Schaar, all of 14 years old, edged out Burnquist to win his first big air gold. Schaar finished third this time around. The two riders immediately found each other after the event and after the lights, cameras and fans were gone, they remained, just talking skateboarding.
“I’ve ridden with Tom the most out of any of the young guys; he is an awesome rider. He comes to my house to ride. I’ve known him since he was really young,” Burnquist says. “My daughter is his age. I see him almost as a son, maybe a much younger brother.”
Schaar and the other young riders learned a couple of valuable lessons from the old man and his skateboard at the 2015 X Games. First, dedication to your craft, skating smart and balancing injury management with perseverance will win you a lot of medals in this business. Second, Bob Burnquist is still the man to beat on the mega ramp.
“I feel like I have this gold medal because I broke my arm. It gave me more fire. When everything is cool, that’s great, but having to power through it gave me a little extra fire,” Burnquist says. “I guess I ‘m still giving these guys a hard time.”
On the final day of X Games, Burnquist won medal number 29, when he and Morgan Wade won the inaugural skateboard/ BMX big air doubles event. It was Bob’s 14th big air gold medal, his 10th X Games gold overall. He is giving his competition a harder time than ever.