X Games Austin: Finding a permanent home for the event of the summer

Monday June 8th, 2015

The Moto Step Up event, which officially opened the 2015 Summer X Games, took over downtown Austin in a way not often seen in the downtown area of a major city. Thousands of people filled the street and hundreds more lined the buildings adjacent to the dirt jump that sat at the intersection of 10th Street and Congress Avenue, in the shadow of the State Capitol Building.

“The atmosphere here is wild tonight,” said Austin resident Amy Adams, 23, from her spot in the crowd. “This might even be better than last year with the bikes. I hope this becomes an X Games tradition.”

For that to happen, the event has to stay here long enough to establish said tradition.

The 2015 Summer X Games in Austin, the second iteration of the competition in the Texas capital, has come to an end. The competition itself was always likely to be a successfully executed venture, and it was, but if there is one element of uncertainty about the Summer X Games, it’s been the location. That uncertainty could (and should) come to and end soon, as Austin, Texas seems to be an ideal location for the weekend of action sports competition, with a good amount of backing from the locals.

Extreme Exposure: Highlights from an action-packed X Games in Austin

The Winter X Games have been held in Aspen since 2002. According to ESPN, the competition will stay at the base of Buttermilk Mountain until at least 2019. When the venue is consistent it allows media, fans and the athletes alike to better plan for and attend the competitions regularly.

The Summer X Games had a home in the greater Los Angeles area from 2003-2012, but since it’s inception in 1995, the event has been held in ten locations across six U.S. cities (New Port, San Diego, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and Austin) and five countries (Brazil, Spain, France, Mexico City and Germany). The Winter X Games, established in 1997, has been held in five locations in three states, and internationally in France.

Some of the athletes, including young riders like Tom Schaar or older legends like Jamie Bestwick, still think back on the international tours fondly, but several athletes mentioned that the biggest improvement that could be made to the summer competition was consistency in location.

“When you’re running around the world like that, it’s harder to stay disciplined and take care of yourself,” street skateboarder Paul Rodriguez tells SI.com. “I can’t focus and practice skating the way I like to under those circumstances, so I’m fine if the international tours don’t come back.”

Ryan Wallerson for Sports Illustrated

The continuity that the summer games had in the L.A. area between 2003-2012 made it a popular favorite among athletes, many who come from areas in and around the City of Angels. There are some, such as two-time defending gold medalist Nyjah Huston, that would love to see the competition return to its first true home.

“L.A. will always be my favorite location for sure. It’s more or less my hometown, where I made my X Games debut,” Huston said before defending his street skate gold medal on the final day of this year's event. “It’d be cool to be able to go back there so that I can bring all of my homies out to the competition. “

This is the second year of X Games Austin, and the early returns have been tremendous. Local interest is a forgone conclusion at this point; massive crowds came out for every day of the four-day festival. That’s no surprise, given that the city of Austin itself is one that's on the rise.

Among the 25 largest cities in the country, Austin, Texas, is growing the fastest, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The Texas capitol experienced a 12% population surge between 2010 and 2013; the population was estimated at approximately 843,000 in 2014. Austin was also rated the No. 2 city in the U.S for young adults, a fact that ESPN is likely aware of as it actively works to get attendance up at the X Games. The attendance for the X Games over the four days in Austin topped out at 136,845, according to X Games VP Tim Reed. 

Nyjah Huston Q&A: Talking X Games, shredding with Paul Rodriguez, more

Before the weekend's festivities began, mayor Steve Adler, who presented the medal for Friday’s Skateboard Big Air event, said he thinks the Games offer a positive impact for the city.

“A study by the organizers estimated an impact of $70 million for the event last year,” Adler said in an email to the The Daily Texan. “I think we’ll see that grow this year. The X Games brings a lot of visitors to Austin, and they stay in hotels, rent cars and eat out a lot. All of those things benefit our community.”

The city is just big enough to properly host the X Games, yet not big enough for the games to get lost in it. Austin’s local economy is anchored by a state government, a massive university and a booming tech scene. It will only continue to grow, and could serve as a perfect venue for the X Games to embed itself in and grow with. The X Games tended to get lost in the chaos that engulfs larger cities like L.A. or San Francisco. 

Bestwick, the BMX legend whose nine-year reign in vert ended this weekend, won the last of those nine consecutive BMX Vert finals in the downtown area where Moto X was set this year. He was a huge fan of the international tour, explaining that the memories of riding along Brazil’s Iguacu Falls and Barcelona’s skyline will stay with him forever, but named Austin as the best location of all for X Games.

“I remember riding into the area, almost being pushed by the noise of the crowd. I could hear every single one of the people,” the 43-year-old Englishman says. “The people of Austin are tremendous. They are my favorite thing about having the X Games here. I knew I had to come back to experience that again.”

For all of the athletes who had kind words for why the X Games should stay in Austin, Travis Pastrana may have said it best:

“Austin has a personality that really fits in with the action sports culture," explains Pastrana. "Collecting the best of the best here and really being able to take over a city like nowhere else makes Austin a really awesome venue.”

The end of the X Games Austin 2015 marks two successful competitions that provided epic experiences for fans both on-site and for those at home watching on TV. With that, this generally nomadic competition may have finally found a place to call home. Only time will tell.

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