Even while Skateboard Big Air was the only competition happening at X Games Minneapolis, many of the spectators inside U.S. Bank Stadium opted for seats away from that action.
Rather than watch daredevils hurtle through the air after dropping in from about eight stories above, people wanted to get a good spot for something more mundane: street skateboarding warmups. About 50 of them were Alec Majerus’ friends and family, and they watched the Rochester native win silver, his second X Games medal.
But a Minnesota athlete’s presence alone doesn’t explain the largest turnout for any event this weekend.
Gargantuan proportions help make X Games a made-for-TV event, but street skating remains organic in a way Big Air never could be. Skaters do not learn their trade by executing tricks while flying high after dropping into a mega ramp. They find their way into the sport by doing some of the same tricks gold medal winner Kelvin Hoefler did on Saturday night: rail grinds and kickflips over a set of stairs.
Samarria Brevard, who won a women’s Skateboard Street silver medal Friday, said most spectators still couldn’t take on a course like the one at X Games, which features taller ledges and longer rails than at most skate parks. But the tricks feel attainable to the common skater.
“They love to see it because it almost feels like they could do it,” Brevard said.
Pro skaters aren’t just better technicians. They see the course differently, and how well they execute their separate visions dictates their scores.
Not every skater Saturday tried to clear the Viking ship in middle of the street course, but Majerus did. Near the end of his first of three runs, he paused at the drop-in at the back of the course. The crowd roared louder than it did for any other competitor. He landed a backside flip — pushing the board into the air with his back foot, flipping it with his front — that helped give him his highest score of the day, 88.66.
“There’s this almost artistic element to it,” said Paul Forsline, the president of City of Skate, a local nonprofit coalition that advocates for the skate community in the Twin Cities. “It’s not just physical. It’s actually spatial.”
City of Skate operated a tent outside U.S. Bank Stadium for X Games attendees to check in their skateboards before entering the stadium. Every few minutes, a skater rolled past the tent. Wheels churned through downtown.
“Finding a mega ramp is kind of hard to do,” Majerus said. “A lot of people can relate to street skating because they do it themselves, even if it’s just pushing around on the streets.”
There’s a reason skaters always want to take on public spaces, Forsline said: They see the world in a way others don’t.
Majerus said he came up to skate Minneapolis’ streets once he earned his driver’s license. He found it easy to move between neighborhoods on his board, so he couldn’t name a favorite spot.
“Dude,” he said, “you can go all around downtown and just keep hitting spots.”
Forsline said skaters point out flaws in urban landscapes. They activate spaces that might frequently go unused, such as the Hennepin County Government Center’s plaza, filled with rails and ledges. People occupy it during lunch, but at night and on weekends, it’s mostly unused.
The X Games’ presence, Forsline hopes, will help skateboarding gain legitimacy in the Twin Cities, so that skateparks will receive more financial attention and restoration. A Minnesotan placing second in front of the weekend’s largest crowd could help, too.
After his competition, Majerus said he would celebrate in Minneapolis with about 30 friends and leave town Sunday. He wished he could stay in town longer, though.
He would have liked time to skate through the streets.