Their Styles Clash, but Top Skaters Refuse To

Greg Lutzka, above, doing a rail slide in front of the Sydney Opera House in March, often pulls off tough tricks that push rival Ryan Sheckler.
Greg Lutzka, above, doing a rail slide in front of the Sydney Opera House in March, often pulls off tough tricks that push rival Ryan Sheckler. (By Cameron Spencer -- Getty Images)
By Katie Carrera
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 22, 2008

BALTIMORE, June 21 -- Glance at Ryan Sheckler and Greg Lutzka -- last year's first- and second-place finishers in skateboard park, respectively -- and the two look like polar opposites.

Sheckler is a Californian, tanned with an athletic build. The 18-year-old sports bright T-shirts and a backward, flat-brimmed baseball cap. Lutzka, a wiry Milwaukee native, wears skinny, washed-out jeans and often is recognized by his signature black fedora.

Put the pair on a skate park course, like in yesterday's Saturday's finals at the AST Dew Tour's Panasonic Open at the Camden Yards Sports Complex, and the physical differences seem to melt away. Neither one is significantly more talented than the other, but rather, each reached the top of the sport thanks to his individuality.

"We all have different personalities," Sheckler said. "Our personal lives are very different, and we like different styles of skateboarding. But at the end of the day we're both skateboarders and when you're at a course there's not much you can do to make a trick different. It's the personal style that makes it fun and unique."

Sheckler's a pop icon who stars in his own MTV reality show, owns a rock-star worthy tour bus and travels with an entourage to protect him from the hoards of screaming teenage fans that follow him.

Lutzka, on the other hand, is easily approachable with a mellow demeanor and lives a much lower-profile life, although he has his own laundry list of prominent endorsement deals and skating notoriety.

While Sheckler began skating in his driveway as a 4-year-old, Lutzka, 23, started out playing hockey in the Midwest and switched to skateboarding at 13 when he grew tired of team sports. But the pair have skated together since Lutzka moved to the West Coast, almost 10 years ago.

They feed off each other -- like many skaters often do -- experimenting with new tricks and wondering what the other might come up with next. And the first thing Lutzka did after trying out the course during practice Saturday was to skate over and give an unsuspecting Sheckler a bear hug to congratulate him for landing a difficult flip trick.

"Honestly, I'm just out here to have fun," said Lutzka, who finished fourth in the finals. "I'm never trying to stress out or to be a jock about all of this and worry about beating someone -- especially Ryan. I just come out here to have fun and hope everyone else can too."

Sheckler skates with a smoother, faster style than any other street skateboarder and displays a consistency that's helped him win the first three Dew Cups, along with a slew of medals at the X Games and other competitions. But while Sheckler may be the best competitor, able to mesh pure skill and execution perfectly, Lutzka is as talented and more technically oriented, although he may not be as fluid of a contest skater.

Lutzka, who was ranked the No. 1 street skater by World Cup Skateboarding in 2006 and has won his share of X Games medals, usually shoots for intricate flips and difficult tricks down the rail -- such as his favorite 270 noseblunt -- instead of the high-flying jumps and flips off boxes that Sheckler does. But then Sheckler throws a trick Lutzka is known for and Lutzka stretches out on one of the longer jumps, proving that skill can bridge gaps between styles.

In 2007, Lutzka was the only skater other than Sheckler to claim first at any Dew Tour stop. When the phenom faltered in Portland, Ore., and Orlando, Lutzka claimed victories that helped him finish second in the season-ending standings.

"Lutzka's just as good of a skateboarder, if not better than Ryan Sheckler," said NBC analyst and former skateboarder Paul Zitzer. "He's not that polished of a contest skater though and that's where the big difference is. If he stays on, he can beat Sheckler. They can go trick for trick."

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