|(Posted 10/14/2002) |
By Neil Davidson, Canadian Press.
Mississagua, Ontario *- Ask skateboarder Pierre Luc Gagnon * about the tiny impish scar on his face and he smiles. Merely a childhood mishap. No story there. But look at the inside of his right arm and there's a neat surgical scar that stretches the length of a cigarette. A little further down the arm, he broke the scaphoid bone in his wrist. And when he smiles, a crinkly scar emerges over his upper lip.
Yes, Gagnon has the war wounds to show the price of failure at skateboarding. But the 22-year-old from Montreal * also enjoys the rewards of being one of the young stars of his sport.
The young Canadian, whose nickname is PLG *, is among the very best in the world at what he does. He owns a home in an upscale suburb of San Diego * and travels the world on his board.
And while he goes to work in baggy shorts and a T-shirt, like all the top skaters he is a walking billboard for clothing and board sponsors such as Osiris *, City Stars *, Bones, Oakley, Nixon * and West 49.
The reigning X-Games * champion picked up $7,000 US on Sunday for winning the vert final at the inaugural West 49 Canadian Open World Cup skateboarding * event at the Hershey Centre.
Gagnon picked up another $500 US by winning the vert best trick contest. For those in the know, his winning move was a switch frontside air heelflip revert.
While others soar higher, Gagnon is known for his technique and a deep bag of tricks.
In the vert, competitors perform in a giant halfpipe * - pulling off moves as they reach the lip of each side.
Some prepare for a signature trick by using one side to gain momentum before rocketing to the other side. Gagnon uses both sides of the halfpipe, sticking a complicating trick on one side and then nailing another.
While Gagnon is a flying star, there is little attitude in this skateboarder.
The five-foot-10, 155-pounder projects an aura of quiet confidence on the ground, yet there is no cockiness. And even up in the air, he is all business.
When he falls, landing on his knees so his padding absorbs the shock of impact, he betrays little emotion other than a slightly pained expression. Then he gets back up and tries again.
When he pulls off a big stunt - like his signature 720, two revolutions in the air - the most you get is a slight wave to the delirious crowd.
It's a no-nonsense approach from a young man who drives a VW Jetta. Yes, Gagnon is contemplating upgrading, but he's unsure whether he wants to spend some of his hard-earned cash on fancy wheels *.
He's thinking about forming his own business down the line. The money may be needed for more important things.
Vert skateboarding events usually feature skaters doing three 45-second runs. But the Canadian Open was run in a jam-style format, 30 minutes during which the dozen competitors had as many runs as they could fit in.
The skateboarders went one after another, each run ending when they fell or pulled the plug themselves. The limited-time format offered ample opportunity for the skaters to show off while the likes of the Clash, AC/DC and Ozzie Osbourne blared over the speakers.
Gagnon fell more than his normal share, but he also strung together some monster moves.
His best run consisted of a kickflip mute to fakie (Gagnon flipped the board coming off the lip, grabbing it while coming down backwards) back to back with a 720 (two revolutions in the air off the other lip).
"Instead of doing a regular set-up air (a run using one side to gain momentum), it's two hard tricks combined," he explained.
The 720 is one of Gagnon's signature moves.
"There's only a handful of people who have done it. Ever," he said matter of factly. "There's probably 10 to 15 people who have ever done it. No one did it this weekend."
"No one's spun more than me," he summed up succinctly.
Skateboarding is all about originality.
"It's not about doing what's done before because people have already seen that. It's about coming out with something that's never been done before, that's never been seen. And that makes you totally different. People love that."
The sport is also about camaraderie. The competitors at the Canadian Open stayed at the same suburban hotel.
Like any twentysomethings, they know how to have fun. Rumour has it that a good chunk of Gagnon's prize money was enjoyed at the bar by his fellow skaters after the competition. It's tradition.
The boarders travel together, hang out together and celebrate each other's successes. "We're like a big family," Gagnon said.
Whenever a skater had a big run Sunday, another would come over to congratulate him - with the two touching fists.
Still, the X-Games success has launched Gagnon into the big time. There are more offers for shows, more calls from sponsors. Businesses want to associate with the best in their sport and that's Gagnon.
"I'm always going to be the same, even if I win many contests," he said. "But people have been talking about me a lot more since I won the X-Games. It makes a difference. You have a lot more opportunities, a lot more offers.
"It turns your career around, that's great. It's probably the greatest thing that could happen to me at the moment."
Gagnon does about 20 contests or demos and tours a year. For the top skateboarders in the world - Gagnon estimates the world's elite vert skaters number about three dozen - It's a crazy life, waking up in another hotel and living out of a travel bag.
But at 22, it's also a lot of fun.
"But I get to see a lot, I get to go all over the world," Gagnon said.
"It makes me stronger. Sometimes it gets pretty rough to be away from home for really long periods, but the way I see it the more hard stuff you go through, the stronger you get and the better you get."
Seems to be working.
This article was originally entitled "Montreal skateboarder makes mark, has scars and success to show for it"
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