A Process of Trial and Air

By Dan Steinberg
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 21, 2006

The downside of launching a motorcycle off a quarterpipe? If something goes wrong during reentry, more than 150 pounds of machinery will join your unpleasant descent into concrete. If your front wheel nicks the top of the ramp, you will tumble into a heavy metal somersault; "kind of like falling out of a tree with your bike and getting slammed on the pavement," Brandon Landers helpfully pointed out.

There are no competitions. There are no instructional videos. There are no record books. There are plenty of crashes. "We've been knocked out a couple times; not any severe injuries yet," Brandon's brother, Preston, said.

In other words, it's the perfect sport for the Landers brothers.

"We're definitely a team that is pushing the envelope; we're always trying to do something new every year," Preston said. "I don't like watching the same TV shows all the time. You know, you don't like seeing all the same tricks all the time."

Whether the Landers's motorcycle quarterpipe will become the next action sport fad is tough to predict. "It depends on how crazy the kids are," Preston said. But the brothers already tell stories of young riders taking motorcycles into concrete skate parks or dirt quarterpipes and attempting to mimic BMX moves. And the Landers's pursuit seems to embody many of the themes mentioned by previous pioneers, who were at once inspired by existing action sports and motivated by the fear of stagnation.

"There's cliches, right, like necessity breeds innovation," said Cory Roeseler, the father of American kiteboarding. "Also boredom. When surfers got bored they figured out windsurfing. When windsurfers got bored they went to kiting [kiteboarding]. And the next thing to come out of kiting will likely stem from boredom."

Roeseler was not trying to pioneer a new sport 20 years ago; he and his father were merely trying to make their sailboats faster by attaching them to massive kites. Even when they hooked the kites up to surfboards, they thought the appeal would be speed, not the sort of aerial tricks that kiteboarders came to embrace.

But Roeseler's example was a typical marriage from within the action sports family. The best extreme athletes sample from an adrenaline buffet, going from one sport to another and almost unintentionally creating new disciplines along the way. Freestyle motocross riders embraced BMX tricks -- the can can, the back flip, the saran wrap, the candy bar -- and the Landers brothers are doing the same thing on their quarterpipe.

"Kids growing up these days, they're skateboarding, they're riding BMX, they have a dirt bike," said Andy Bell, vice president of promotions for action sports merchandiser Ogio and a former professional motocross rider. "They skateboard in the summer, they snowboard in the winter, they ride their BMX after school. That's where these hybrids come about."

Take Thomas Horrell. He grew up a skateboarder, spent 10 years as a professional wakeboarder and then said he "just got tired of wakeboarding." So about six years ago, he took the trucks and wheels off a skateboard and jumped behind a boat to see what he could do. For several weeks, Horrell couldn't pull off any tricks on his primitive "wakeskate." Instead, he was content merely to carve the water and learn how to control the board beneath his feet.

Friends told him that he was wasting his time or, worse, that he was wasting his talent. He didn't care.

"I've never liked doing the same thing for a long time my entire life," said Horrell, 28. "I was like, 'This is something no one has ever explored.' It was just kind of uncharted territory for our industry. That was my main motivation, and I just wanted to see how far I could take it."

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