Action Sports Mentors
Bob Burnquist, MegaRamp Kids
In the pro-level world of action sports there are many roads to the top. The lucky few catch the attention of established athletes who take it upon themselves to help coach, inspire, support and/or guide these young talents so they don't have to walk their roads alone. The act of giving back to the next generation is a beautiful thing, so we'd like to honor a few of the standout examples here in this gallery of mentor/mentee relationships in action sports, starting with Big Air pioneer Bob Burnquist (left). In the months leading up to an X Games, most of the Skateboard Big Air competitors spend a significant amount of time training on Burnquist's private backyard MegaRamp. Many of the new generation of Big Air skateboarders, including Tom Schaar, pictured here (right), were taught how to skate it by Burnquist himself. Asked whether he viewed the next generation as a threat to his Big Air reign, Burnquist says, "They're not a threat. I mean, come on, man. I've won every event, I've done it all. There's a time for everyone and a time for everything. If anything, they just push me to keep going."
Ian Walsh, Menehunes
Eleven years ago, Ian Walsh (left) came up with the Menehune Mayhem idea after noticing a lapse in the number of kids' contests in Maui. Since then, the event has evolved into a surf competition set in the middle of a mini-carnival. "The event is something that brings the whole community together, which is the thing that makes me the most proud," says Walsh, who grew up surfing at Ho'okipa Beach Park in Maui, where the event is held. "It's not just one person running it, it's the whole community's event and only operates because of so many people's involvement. ... I'm happy to be able to give back to a place that has given me everything that I have in my life right now: all of my friends, family and everything I learned from the ocean around here." "For Ian Walsh to be willing to come back, sponsor an event like this, specifically for the youth," says Maui County Mayor Alan Arakawa, "and to encourage them to not only be very active sports-wise, but to reward their scholastic ability ... [it's] tremendous for the community."
Kazu Kokubo, Ayumu Hirano
In 2011, Japanese halfpipe sensation Ayumu Hirano (pictured right) left Japan, at the age of 12, under the wing of Kazu Kokubo (pictured left) to compete in the Burton U.S. Open. Hirano placed 13th, just missing the finals. Kokubo won the event -- for his second year in a row. When it comes to style in the air in halfpipe snowboarding, it would be hard to find a better mentor than Kokubo. For a Japanese snowboarder on the rise, it's kind of like winning the lottery. "By bringing Ayumu to the States and placing him in my environment, I thought it would make him progress faster," says Kokubo, who incidentally was the first person to claim, in an interview with ESPN in 2011, that Hirano had the talent and potential to beat Shaun White. "We started working together and became like brothers." "Kazu is kind of like a teacher to me. I learn by just riding with him," says Hirano. "Whenever I ask him for advice [on a trick] he knows the timing, and what angles to try, and how to approach each trick in great detail. He's been very helpful and has been a good friend."
Sarah Burke, Roz Groenewoud
Canadian halfpipe skier Roz Groenewoud (right) first met freeskiing pioneer Sarah Burke (left), who was seven years older than her, when Burke was her coach at Momentum, a summer ski camp in Whistler, British Columbia. Burke quickly became Groenewoud's mentor, but she was also her friend. When Burke died in January 2012 from a fall sustained in the halfpipe, Groenewoud and the entire action sports community were forever impacted. Today, Groenewoud says she owes much of her career to Burke, the six-time X Games champion who helped get women's halfpipe skiing into the X Games and the Winter Olympics. "My career will be forever tied to hers," Groenewoud said. "She was a big part of my life and a big part of my career." (Brita Sigourney also pictured here, in the middle.)
Jamie Thomas, Chris Cole
If there was ever a professional skateboarder to define the brand Zero Skateboards after founder Jamie Thomas (left), it would undoubtedly be Chris Cole (right), whom Thomas mentored through his early years as an amateur. Thomas later turned Cole pro for Zero Skateboards. "I was sponsored by C1RCA Footwear with Jamie [Thomas], and he was a major force pulling for me to get on that team. We were on a trip one time, and Jamie asked what the deal was with me turning pro. I was starting to find my own style, and it fit Zero accordingly. And he asked if I wanted to join Zero," said Cole. Cole rode for Zero for nearly 13 years, and was brought on as a business partner of Thomas' in early 2011. Cole was also sponsored by Fallen Footwear, another brand spearheaded by Thomas under his Black Box Distribution helm. In June 2014, after 13 years as a Zero Skateboards team rider, Cole parted ways under good terms from Thomas and Zero. "I have had so many amazing years on Zero," said Cole. "I can't explain to anyone how awesome these years have been. With a heavy heart, it is time for Zero and I to part ways." "It has been an absolute pleasure skating, traveling and working on projects with Cole over the past 13 years and I wish him the absolute best with whatever his future holds," said Thomas in tribute to Cole's departure from the brand.
Twitch, Taka Higashino
Taka Higashino (right) credits Jeremy "Twitch" Stenberg (left), who let Higashino sleep on his couch when he was first starting out, as the reason he found success in the world of professional freestyle motocross. "I'm lucky the first time to know Twitch and then Twitch help me," says Higashino. "Twitch talk for me to promoter then I get invite to Dew Tour. [At the] Dew Tour I am lucky I get podium and then I get invite to X Games. If Twitch never helped me, I wouldn't get chance then, I don't know." "When Taka lived with me he would sit on his bike for two hours a night in the garage with his eyes closed and just [mimics riding with his hands] braaaap, braaaap!," says Stenberg. "I'm like, 'What are you doing?' He's like, 'Oh, I'm practicing for tomorrow.' I'm like, 'Wow, you really want to learn this trick!' For me, that just shows his dedication to the sport and what he'll go through to learn stuff."
Kevin Robinson, Anthony Napolitan
In 2009, X Games BMX Big Air competitor Anthony Napolitan (right) made X Games history when he landed the first double front flip in competition. He placed fifth, and the gold medal went to his mentor, BMX Big Air legend Kevin Robinson (left). Final standings didn't matter, though. For Napolitan, the satisfaction of knowing he did a trick no one else had done was enough, a sentiment echoed by Robinson. The pair first met in 2001. "I gave him my number and told him if he ever needed anything, to call," Robinson says. "He was a pleasure to be around, super polite, mature and had a great temperament. He was taking fun lines no one else was doing, going in his own direction. A lightbulb went off that I was supposed to help this kid out." The two quickly became friends, travel-mates, teammates (Robinson got Napolitan onto the Hoffman Bikes team) and camp-mates at Woodward Camp. Napolitan moved to Woodward, Pennsylvania, to be near his mentor and to train full-time, and did odd jobs around the Robinson house to earn extra money. Today, Robinson can't talk about his proteg without welling up. "Kevin has been a father figure to me, for sure," says Napolitan.
Kelly Slater, John John Florence
Kelly Slater (left) won his first world title before John John Florence (right) was even born, but over the years, the 11-time ASP World Champ has taken the young Hawaiian under his wing, helping him develop his top-notch Pipeline game. Today their relationship has evolved into a fierce rivalry. "If you win a world title without Kelly on the tour, it's just not the same. I want to beat him," says Florence.
Kelly Clark, Chloe Kim
Chloe Kim (right) was 1 year old when Kelly Clark (left) won Olympic halfpipe gold in 2002. In January 2014, a then-13-year-old Kim finished in the silver-medal podium position at X Games Aspen, just behind Clark, who won. One would think Clark, the winningest female ever to step on a snowboard, would be wary of this new halfpipe phenom who has clearly risen to take her spot at the top. Nothing could be further from the truth. It was Clark, who first saw the pre-teen Kim riding at their home mountain of Mammoth, California, who convinced Burton to put her on the team. The two ride and train together regularly. Sometimes, at news conferences, Clark can't help but sing Kim's accolades. When Kim was asked at the 2014 Burton U.S. Open where her switch method came from -- a trick that only Danny Davis had ever put into a contest run up to that point -- Clark jumped in: "Can I say something? We were riding in New Zealand this summer, and Chloe said she couldn't wait for the new month to start so she could ride regular again. The girl was sending it, riding switch for months. That's where it came from." At the bottom of the 2014 X Games SuperPipe, when asked what she thought about Kim, Clark put her arm around her and stated with a smile: "Whenever I decide to leave, [snowboarding] is going to be in good hands."
Christian Edstrom, Travis Pastrana
When Travis Pastrana wanted to switch from two wheels to four, co-driver Bjorn Christian Edstrom helped Pastrana learn to control rally cars without wrecking too often. Pastrana grew to become one of the best rally drivers around today. "I've been there since [Pastrana] started," said Edstrom in 2009. "We did Sno*Drift 2004 together in January of that year in a rented PGT car. Travis had pace right from the start, but we spent a bit of time on that event in a snowbank. Got better from there, though. ... I do like to think I've done a reasonable job keeping a tight hold on the reins in the beginning and whipping him to go faster in the last couple years."
Tanner Hall, Henrik Harlaut
When Swedish freeskier Henrik Harlaut (right) landed the first nose butter triple cork 1620 to win his first X Games gold in Big Air in 2013 with a perfect score, it was in part due to American freeskiing pioneer and former X Games champion Tanner Hall (left), a friend and mentor to Harlaut. "Tanner was up there [at the top of the course] and [he] motivated me," said Harlaut. "Tanner was like, 'Yo dog, you gotta make history, let's do it.'" Since then, the two have remained close, putting together various film projects through Hall's Inspired Media and constantly pushing the limits of what was thought possible in skiing.
Mike Parsons, Kolohe Andino
Mike Parsons grew up surfing with Kolohe Andino's father, Dino. They've been friends for decades, so when Parson's days as a pro came to an end and he branched out into surf coaching, a relationship with the prodigious Kolohe was an obvious fit. Helping him with heat strategy, technique and equipment development, they have a lifelong relationship that's paying off huge as Andino is rapidly climbing the ASP World Tour ratings. "The thing about Kolohe is that he had unlimited talent," says Parsons. "The work we do is channeling that talent and helping him achieve everything he's capable of."
Colten Moore, Caleb Moore
Colten Moore (front) won an emotional X Games gold medal in Snowmobile Freestyle in January after his brother, Caleb (rear), died the year before from injuries sustained in the same event. After winning, Colten said his brother and mentor was with him in spirit for the ride. "I just tried to block out everything and tell myself that I was going to ride with Caleb," Colten Moore said. "And that's what I was doing. I went out there, I rode with him and I rode good. We'd always ride the best when we'd ride together."
Glen Plake, Kye Petersen
In 2005, freeskiing pioneer Glen Plake [left] helped safely guide a then-15-year-old Kye Petersen around Chamonix, France, where they skied the same couloir where Petersen's father, Trevor, had been killed in an avalanche nearly 10 years prior. It was a pivotal moment in the young Petersen's ski career. Now 24, he's gone on to become one the most talented and smartest freeskiing athletes in big-mountain and backcountry terrain. "I am learning to ski in those mountains but never feel too comfortable," says Petersen.
Marc Johnson, Jerry Hsu
Upon joining the Chocolate Skateboards team in late 2013, Jerry Hsu [right] was very blunt about his position on the new team. "Marc Johnson [a veteran member of the Chocolate team] has gotten me every board sponsor I've ever had, so I guess this is where I belong," said Hsu. Johnson's influence paved the way for Hsu's entrance on board brands Maple, Enjoi and most recently, Chocolate. Johnson even attended Hsu's eighth-grade graduation after the pair had just met. "What a weird question to ask to a pro you just met," says Hsu in retrospect. "Being taken under Marc's wing and having him teach me about life was pretty awesome," Hsu adds. "I wouldn't be how I am today without him." In the end, the respect between the two is mutual. "He still smells the same," says Hsu. "There's something zen about Jerry, just cool breeze," adds Johnson.
Louie Vito, Greg Bretz
"I have to thank Louie Vito," said Greg Bretz [right], when asked this past winter who he could credit for helping him enjoy one of the best contest seasons of his life. "He's the one who has taught me the mentality I have now. And he is one of the most dedicated snowboarders out there. He's been a big mentor to me." "Greg looks like he's our age, but he's young," says Vito. "He was young when when he first came on the [U.S. Snowboarding] team. ... It's just the greatest, when you get kids who are so stoked on snowboarding. ... It just revamps your passion."
Ian Morris, Corey Martinez
Upon joining the Federal Bikes team in the early 2000s, brand manager/team rider Ian Morris [left] took new team rider Corey Martinez under his wing to help Martinez deal with life as an upcoming professional in an evolving BMX scene. Morris, a veteran of the U.K. scene and a progressive rider with a list of accolades and BMX industry experience, recognized Martinez's talents and influence over the emerging BMX street scene. When Morris decided to start his own brand, United Bike Co., in 2006, Martinez didn't argue. The duo went straight to work on designing a signature line of complete bicycles, frames and components for Martinez, and that momentum carried over into a line of signature footwear between United Bike Co. and etnies Footwear. To this day, Martinez and Morris each list each other as top influences and favorite riders. And it would be hard to imagine a United Bike Company without Corey Martinez and Ian Morris at the helm.