La Verne Magazine
"Tradition & Change"
The Athlete vs. the Sport
by Michelle Thornton
photography by Matt Wright
Exploding out of the gates, BMX In Cycle team members Chris Lucas,
23, from La Verne; Rick Lund, 22, from Covina; Bud Evans, 19, from San Dimas;
Bryon Bushatz, 22, from Glendora; and Brian Arch, 24, from Pomona ride at
least once a week on the Coal Canyon BMX track, pushing for faster times
and polishing their tricks.
It is five o'clock in the morning, and the sun is beginning to shine
brightly, casting light shadows on the streets and hillside of San Dimas.
The air is cool and silent as the white Nissan truck pulls out from behind
the gates that rest at the end of San Dimas Canyon Road. Almost every morning,
San Dimas resident Attila Mezsaros, 31, rises to check the surf reports
to see whether it is worthy enough for the hour's drive to the majestic
coast. If it is, he is on the road, and by 6:30, in the water. This motivation
is something that is shared among many "extreme" athletes. For
them, it is more than a sport, more than a hobby. It is a life style. A
culture. A desire. A passion. A religion.
Snowboarders, surfers, mountain bikers, skateboarders and many others
are as much in search of the toughest unridden terrain and the adrenaline
rush that comes with it as the Buddhist monk is in search of enlightenment
and eternal peace. Just as the monk meditates through prayers, these athletes
meditate through their sports.
It is not the sport that is extreme, but rather it is the athletes who
take their sport of choice to the ultimate level. Their sport is something
they worship. Many times, they pray to the Lord to keep them alive or from
breaking any of their bones; they often reach their eternal peace only when
finally conquering their goals.
Whether it is the perfect wave that has traveled thousands of miles
and been formed by the works of the sun and moon, three feet of freshly
fallen snow never touched by another soul, or the perfectly constructed
plywood, masonite or fiberglass half pipe, these individuals believe that
sports are a spiritual experience and all about pushing the limits. Ask
any athlete about what defines a sport as "extreme," and he will
answer: passion, dedication and a desire to push his limits.
Since he grew up in Budapest, Hungary, Mezsaros has always been active
in sports, doing everything from judo, karate, snow skiing to skateboarding.
His passion these days is riding one of the world's most perfect creations
-- waves. "It is always beautiful. Waves are the most beautiful things
nature creates. Not to sound cliché-ish but they are poetry in motion,"
he says. "It is the purest expression of nature." A wave's energy,
Mezsaros says, can be felt at that one second when it is caught and ridden
to its break. It is what is called the "rush." Mezsaros finds
his "ride against gravity" a rush, and takes pride in the fact
that he is a self-taught surfer, riding the smaller more playful fun waves
with ease and tackling the harder more difficult waves with hard won skill.
When Mezsaros cannot relish his rush on the beaches of Southern California,
Mexico or Hawaii, he skateboards down San Dimas Canyon Road. He jumps on
his skateboard on those mornings when the surf is not up to par, just to
keep in shape. He says skateboarding San Dimas Canyon is not a difficult
feat. "See, nothing big, that is all," he says after his first
ride. But San Dimas Canyon is not a smoothly paved road with protective
barriers. It would be easy for a skateboarder to hit a rock in the road
and be sent flying over. It is definitely more dangerous than it looks.
But he does it, crouching low to the ground, using his right hand to control
the direction of his skateboard and left hand to keep his balance.
A short portion of San Dimas Canyon Road is where Mezsaros practices
his riding skills. It takes control and strong knees to be able to control
the board. During his 200-yard thrill ride, he weaves in and out of the
paths of passing joggers and his dog, who often goes with him, chasing him
and biting the wheels of his skateboard. He typically does this for an hour
or so, or until his knees start getting tired. He enjoys it. "It keeps
me in shape; it's good cross training."
Many other extreme athletes are also in search of the "rush."
Chad "Chipper" Harp, 18 year-old freshman at the University of
La Verne, has snowboarded some of the toughest mountains in Oregon during
his 9 years of boarding. He has boarded long enough to see the sport change
from a group of "punk-rock" type people keen on mastering skills,
to a totally mainstream crowd, filled with stereotypical rich youngsters,
whose parents bought them the best boards, bindings and appropriate clothing
and knew nothing about the sport.
"It has turned into a huge commercial market with the potential
to harvest insane amounts of money," Harp says. He blames the media
for the "blow up" into the main stream commercial market. Before
the media exposure, it used to be about the sport. And for some serious
snowboarders, it still is. "It is an all around rush. There is always
something new you can push yourself to," says Harp. He believes that
in order to be an "extreme" athlete in any sport one has to lose
his fear. "Fear is the only thing that ever holds you back," he
says. "Anything can be done, but certain aspects and tricks, you have
to get up to that to accomplish that," he says. "If you can imagine
it, it can be done." It is all about progression, he says.
Extreme sports are fluid and ever changing, different from person to
person. It is about experiencing the rush.
Attila Mezsaros, 31, blasts down San Dimas Canyon Road several times
a week when he is not surfing.