Lasek is extremely satisfied with career as skateboarder

Former Baltimorean, 29, balances family, sport, sees self as `a normal guy'

X Games

August 16, 2002|By Kevin Van Valkenburg | Kevin Van Valkenburg,SUN STAFF

PHILADELPHIA - If you believe Bucky Lasek, the best way to turn a 12-year-old kid into a world-class skateboarder is to go out and steal his bike.

After all, it worked pretty well for him. Growing up in Baltimore, Lasek and his friends weren't all that interested in skateboarding. They were too busy riding their BMX bikes off ramps or jumping them over rails or whatever else they could find in Dundalk.

It became a daily routine. Until, of course, someone rode off with Lasek's bike in the middle of the night.

"I had it at my aunt's house in Parkville," Lasek says. "Somebody took off with it and I was so mad. I'm still mad about it. But that Christmas I decided to ask for a skateboard instead of a new bike. I'd never really skated much before then, but I pretty much took to it right away."

The year was 1984. Just two years later, Lasek started competing, and he has hardly slowed down since. Now 29, he's one of the best skateboarders in the world and one of more than 300 hundred athletes competing at this week's Summer X Games. The ESPN-sponsored games, in their eighth year, are generally regarded as the Olympics of extreme sports.

Lasek acknowledges that some people might have trouble believing he takes his life seriously. After all, how many dads do you know - Lasek and his wife, Jen, have two girls, Devin (5) and Paris (2) - who still ride the rails on their backyard halfpipe just a few months shy of their 30th birthday?

"I take all my responsibilities seriously when I'm not skating," Lasek says. "I'm the total family man the minute I come home. I just see myself as a normal guy who still has to go off to work every day."

Well, OK, not totally normal, but close enough. He still shakes his head when he thinks about how it all worked out. At first, Lasek didn't give much thought to becoming a pro skater. He just wanted to find more air, taller jumps, bigger thrills.

Then Tony Hawk came along and changed everything.

"I just wanted to be him," Lasek says of Hawk, the Michael Jordan of skateboarding in terms of influence and creativity. "He just seemed so cool."

It wasn't long before Lasek was competing against Hawk, and the two became fast friends.

Hawk was a superstar in the sport by the time he was 16, but at that age Lasek was still just barely tapping into his potential. He quickly became one of the sport's most creative vert ramp skaters, an event in which competitors "drop in" to a halfpipe with an 11 1/2 -foot wall and perform tricks that would leave a novice either dizzy, in traction, or both.

"Despite the danger, my parents really weren't against it," Lasek says. "I would ride all day and then come home. I think they figured as long as I was out of their hair, it was cool."

As the sport changed, so did Lasek's approach. After graduating from Dundalk High, he turned pro instead of heading off to college. Skateboarding, thanks mostly to Hawk, was becoming profitable, and soon enough sponsors came calling. Soon, he was making decent money.

The X Games, however, helped take skating to a new level in terms of media attention and marketability. Lasek has been competing since 1997, and he won gold medals in the vert competition in 1999 and 2000.

His only setback was having to undergo arthroscopic surgery on both knees two years ago after thousands of crashes.

There is no doubt, however, that the X Games corporate sponsorship has rubbed some skaters the wrong way, skaters who look at Lasek, Hawk and others and see them as sellouts.

Besides ESPN, the X Games often look like a living, breathing commercial for major sponsors. Some see the event as overly commercialized, and that doesn't exactly fit with skateboarding's alternative image.

"I know people feel that way, but I'm into skateboarding for the competition," Lasek says. "There are a lot of talented guys who don't want to take part because of [the commercialism], and that's fine. It's too bad because some of them can do stuff that's twice as gnarly as what we can do."

As it is, Lasek is happy to compete and win money. He makes his home in Carlsbad, Calif., now like many of the world's top skaters, and he has few complaints. And even though he's getting older, he doesn't foresee giving up the sport any time soon.

"I just really enjoy doing it," Lasek says. "As long as my body holds up, I'm going to be out there. What can I say? I love it."

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