Jagger Eaton will ride an elevator to the top of a skate ramp, plunge down an 80-foot roll-in at nearly 55 mph, soar over a 70-foot gap and ride up a quarterpipe that will send him as high as 50 feet in the air.
The MegaRamp is not for the timid. Velocity and precision go into landing tricks on a structure that is taller than an eight-story building and longer than a football field.
But soaring on his board over the ramp in the Big Air event is mere child's play for the 11-year-old Eaton, who will become the youngest competitor ever at the X Games, which start tonight in Los Angeles.
"I didn't know until a few days after I was invited that I was the youngest," Eaton said. "I'm psyched about that. I'm not nervous. I just want to go out … and have fun."
Some of Eaton's competitors are more than three times his age. But there is a preteen scene in the Big Air event. Of the 18 invited athletes, five are younger than 16.
Eaton, who lives in Mesa, Ariz., is two months younger than Trey Wood, also 11, and four months younger than street skater Nyjah Huston was when he competed as the youngest X Games athlete in 2006.
The proliferation of young riders in Big Air is due in large part to the opportunities to ride such a monolithic ramp. Most of the riders got their chops down on the MegaRamp at Woodward West, an action sports camp in Tehachapi, Calif. In November, Eaton and Wood tied for third at defending Big Air champion Bob Burnquist's Dreamland MegaRamp Invitational in Vista, Calif.
Eaton is an anomaly because he is equally adept at street skating and often uses street-riding tricks when he flies through the air on the MegaRamp. Eaton started skating seven years ago with his brother Jett, who is 13. They trained at the Kids That Rip Skateboard School, a skate park owned by their father, Geoff.
The brothers became so good they have appeared on Disney's Get'cha Head in the Game and have been featured in magazines such as Thrasher and Sports Illustrated for Kids' 20 under 20 issue.
Two years ago, the Eatons tried the MegaRamp for the first time.
"The first time I went with the boys to Bob Burnquist's ramp just to look at it," Geoff said. "It was an intimidating experience. We stood at the top of the deck and we were all shaking our heads."
The brothers started by riding a 25-foot section of the ramp before moving on to the full-scale version.
"The first time was more scary than anything I've done," Jagger said. "It would probably be as freaky as skydiving if I ever tried that. I just had to learn to get over the fear and get used to the speed."
Now the Eatons travel more than 460 miles to the Woodward West ramp twice a month and spend three to four days there practicing. The brothers look like road warriors in their protective padding, which includes vests, helmets, shin guards and a mouthpiece. They duct tape the top of their shoes to keep the laces from burning off whenever they fall off their board at such high speeds.
Stay updated on Tampa Bay’s sports scene
Subscribe to our free Sports Today newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
Still, the padding is not always enough to prevent injuries.
Three months ago, Jett crashed during his takeoff and slammed so hard into the ramp that his forehead went through the helmet padding and into the plastic shell. He ended up with a skull fracture and bruises on his frontal lobe.
Jett had qualified for the X Games' Big Air competition, but Geoff decided to pull him out and keep him off the MegaRamp for six months.
Jagger, though, has decided to skate despite his brother's injury.
"I kind of let my boys decide what they want to do," Geoff said. "I really thought Jagger would want to bail after what happened to Jett. But it was just the opposite. Jagger realized it was kind of a fluke with the way the crash happened during the takeoff. He said if it was okay, that he wanted to ride for his brother.
"I'm proud of my son. He didn't turn his back on something and faced it head-on."
Bob Putnam can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
. FAST FACTS
X Games 18
When/where: Today-Sunday; Los Angeles
TV: 21 hours live on ESPN, ESPN2 and Ch. 28
Tonight: 9, ESPN2