by Michelle Thornton
photography by Matt Wright
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.