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Eight Men Who Changed Action Sports Forever



A great man once said “As far as I’m concerned, progress peaked with frozen pizza.” I’m talking of course about John McClane from Die Hard, a man who really knew what it was to get your blood pumping, and sadly, he may have been right.  However, in the world of action sports every so often there comes along an athlete who causes a fissure so powerful that we’re all forced to reevaluate how we perceive the sport.  More often than not, these men aren’t seeking wealth or trophies, but it’s their competitive spirits and thirst for peer recognition that drives them to completely redefine the meaning of excellence in their fields.  As fans of sport we count ourselves fortunate merely to catch a glimpse.  These men may not be the greatest athletes the world has ever seen, but they’ve all managed to leave indelible marks in their fields and have changed the standards by which all athletes are evaluated.  It would be impossible to weigh their achievements against each other, because each of these men have truly changed the face of action sports forever.

  • 1. Kelly Slater

    Kelly Slater
    Historically, Florida has never truly gotten the recognition tha tit deserves from the surfing community. The waves aren’t as consistent, nor treacherous, as across the nation in California or out in Hawaii. But, with the semi-tropical climate Floridians have always had the luxury of being able to get in the water year-round. So its not wonder that eventually a champion would come along like nothing the sport had ever seen before and truly put Florida on the map. The numbers speak for themselves: 10 World Championships spanning nearly two decades, including five in a row from 1994-1998. He’s both the youngest (20yrs) and oldest (38yrs) to win a world championship, and upon winning his 10th WC he doubled the total number of his closest record book competitor, Australian Mark Richards, who held the title five times. He is the only surfer ever to be awarded two perfect scores in a competition, scoring 20 out of 20 in the final of the May 2005 Billabong Tahiti Pro at Teahupo’o. Slater also holds the record for the most career wins in competition with 46 WCT victories, setting a standard that is likely never to be broken.
  • 2. Rodney Mullen

    Rodney Mullen
    Just like Forrest Gump had to wear those goofy braces on his legs growing up, but would one day tear them off and go on to accomplish amazing feats, Rodney Mullen was born with Pidgeon Toe and had to wear leg braces to fix his condition. He received his first skateboard at age 10 under the promise to his father that if he were to injure himself he’d give up the sport forever, and from there he went on to become the most influential man the sport will ever see. Mullen is the ‘Godfather’ of modern skateboarding, credited with inventing the Ollie, the Kickflip, Heelflip, Impossible, 360 and 540 Heelflip and nearly every other trick that sits at the foundation of the sport. At a time when the sport of Skateboarding had an uncertain future Rodney Mullen set the foundation for future generations to shred to, and for that he’s widely revered as the most influential Skateboarder of all-time.
  • 3. Tony Hawk

    Tony Hawk
    A man who’s name is synonymous with skateboarding and record breaking. Tony Hawk was the first skateboarder to ever land a 900 in competition on July 27th, 1999 at the Summer X-Games in San Francisco. In addition to pioneering arguably the most difficult trick in the sport of skateboarding, Hawk also left a lasting impression on the face of skateboarding in the form of his video game series. Spawning 16 titles, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater has made faux skateboarding accessible to the masses, and has raised awareness of the sport to a level never previously imagined. Six Flags even went so far as to create ‘Tony Hawk’s Big Spin’ rides in three of their parks in 2007 and 2008. The magnitude of being the first person to land a 900 in competition may have faded, but it vaulted Tony into the seat of Ambassador of Skateboarding to the world and for that skaters everywhere are thankful.
  • 4. Shaun White

    Shaun White
    ‘The Flying Tomato’ as he is called defies both physics and boundaries across action sports. The two-time Olympic gold medalist in Snowboarding also holds a gold medal in skateboarding at the Summer X-Games. In 2003 Shaun became the first athlete to compete and win a medal at both the Summer and Winter X-Games in two different sports. He holds the record for the highest score ever in snowboarding at the Winter Olympics with a 46.8 in 2006. Yet with all these achievements what is simply astounding from the Flying Tomato is the height at which he achieves these medal winning tricks. White’s landed a host of tricks that no other snowboarder can pull of simply because the Flying Tomato goes higher. Look no further than below to see what I mean.
  • 5. Patrick de Gayardon

     Patrick de Gayardon
    Parachuting and skydiving date back for hundreds of years, with the first known instance in China in the 1100s, and again in 1495 Leonardo DaVinci designed a pyramid-shaped, wooden framed parachute that would be used in the 20th century by Adrian Nichols as proof of concept. But it was not until Halloween 1997 when French skydiver Patrick de Gayardon demonstrated his revolutionary ‘bat suit’ for reporters and catapulted skydiving into the next era. The suit gives skydivers an unprecedented freedom of motion and control that has since produced some of the wildest and most awe-inspiring videos in the world of action sports.
  • 6. Juan Manuel Fangio

    Juan Manuel Fangio
    Much like the Will Ferrel creation Ricky Bobby, Jean Manuel Fangio had the need to go fast. Born June 24, 1911 in Argentina, Fangio began racing in Argentina in 1934. However, it wasn’t until 1948 at the French Grand Prix that Fangio made his F1 debut. In a sport where most racers start and finish their careers at an early age, Fangio didn’t explode onto the scene until much later. He went on to win 24 World Championship Grands Prix in 51 career starts, an astonishing winning percentage of 47.06% the world has since never seen on that scale and will likely never see again. His 5 world championships all came after the age of 40.
  • 7. Laird Hamilton

    Laird Hamilton
    If ever there was a pioneer in the sport of surfing it was Laird Hamilton. Prior to Laird surfers had always been limited to waves small enough to paddle into themselves. But in 1992 Laird and friends of his realized they could use personal watercrafts to tow one another into waves previously too large to ride and over night the field of Big Wave Surfing was born. The creating of Big Wave Surfing culminated on August 17th 2000 at Tahiti’s Teahupo’o, a shallow reef-break notorious for scarring surfers unfortunate enough to fall into the reef. On a day with a larger than normal break nobody could have expected what formed over that reef, and as fortune happened Hamilton dropped into the heaviest wave ever recorded, and cemented himself as the greatest big wave surfer the world will ever know.
  • 8. Evel Knievel

    Evel Knievel
    Thought not strictly recognized as an athlete, the American daredevil did more for action sports than any man in history. In an era when the world had yet to embrace action sports Evel Knievel was captivating audiences all across America with over 75 ramp-to-ramp motorcycle jumps. He’s the Guinness Book Of World Records holder for “most broken bones in a lifetime” with 433. The legacy he left on the world of action sports is something seen in every man on this list, that in order to truly achieve greatness you have to put your life on the line and hope that you have what it takes to elevate the sport. And for that we salute you Mr. Knievel!
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