- Alyssa Roenigk, ESPN The Magazine senior writer
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The elevator doors open and 14-year-old Mitchie Brusco, skateboard in hand, steps onto the platform. "You been waiting long?" an X Games security guard jokingly asks the kid, who is headed to the top of the MegaRamp for the 80th or so time Thursday afternoon. Brusco smiles. In some ways, he's been waiting his whole life for this ride.
Brusco was 3½ when he first stepped onto a skateboard. He was with his mom at a neighborhood Target store and a plastic Tasmanian Devil skateboard caught his eye. "He had to have it," says mom, Jen Brusco. "It was September in Kirkland, Wash., which is the rainy season, so every day he was on the carpet in front of the TV on that skateboard, doing what I now know were ollies and 360s." When she took him to a mellow skatepark near their home, the local kids took one look at his board -- and his talent -- and told mom Mitchie needed something a bit more legit. "So we took him to this local skate shop called Trickwood and got him a new board," she says.
During the visit, Brusco spotted a two-foot mini-ramp in the back of the shop and asked its owners if he could skate it. They reluctantly agreed, and when he rolled in without hesitation and started skating the ramp, they immediately signed him to their team. "They called him Little Tricky," Jen says. Less than a year later, sports agency Octagon came calling and signed him to a management deal before his fifth birthday. That's a lot of expectations heaped on a little kid. But his siblings -- he has a younger sister and two older half-sisters and a half-brother -- say it never fazed him. He assumed every 5-year-old skateboarder had a manager. "Mitchie's always been a naturally levelheaded kid," says older brother Michael Wyman, 21. "He's never had a problem with all the fame or limelight."
And there was a lot of it. At age 5, Brusco was on the "Today Show." His picture appeared in skate and sports magazines. He won a small contest and, along with it, a trip to the Gravity Games, where he was the event's youngest competitor. "The oldest guy was like 39," Jen says. At that contest, he met another young up-and-comer named Chaz Ortiz, who was 9 at the time. The two quickly bonded and have been friends ever since, two success stories in a sports landscape littered with child prodigies who never made it. "What I've learned is to just let your kid skate," Jen says. "The skating speaks for itself. You don't need to push your son on people. He'll do all the talking he needs to with his skating."
Earlier this month, his skating didn't talk. It screamed. At a practice for the Nescau MegaRamp Invitational in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Brusco became only the second rider ever to land a 900 on the MegaRamp quarterpipe. The first was Bob Burnquist, X Games gold medalist and the skater who first gave Brusco a chance to ride the MegaRamp -- on his backyard ramp at his home in Vista, Calif., last July. For two days, Brusco walked to the top of the ramp, looked down the giant roll-in and walked back down the stairs. But at the end of the second day, "I built up the courage to drop," Brusco says. "I landed on my feet, then my knees and then fell forward." But the second attempt went better. And the third better still. "Then, slowly, you get better and better," Brusco says. "On the MegaRamp, you have to re-learn everything: how to ride, how to fall, how to land stuff, ride away, spin, do airs. The roll-in and the quarterpipe are the scariest part of the ramp." Which makes Brusco's 900 all the more impressive. "The quarterpipe is 28 feet tall, and I spin about 21 feet out of it," says the 5-foot-1, 95-pound skateboarder. "That's really high in the air."
In Brazil, he says the motivation to try the 900 sort of just struck him at practice. "I wasn't even thinking about it before," he says. "I just decided to do it and then I tried it and tried it and tried it -- and then I landed it. It was indescribable. Only six people, including me, have experienced what it's like to land a 900. It was amazing." And it earned him his first X Games invite, where he is the youngest skateboarder ever to compete in Big Air.
If he can land another 900 in Friday's final, it will likely be good enough for a win, and definitely land him on the podium. At Thursday's practice session, Brusco estimated he took about 100 runs, attempting the 900 in nearly half of them and landing it in just one. Still, it only takes one. He proved that in Brazil.
"The progression level has been substantial in the past year," says three-time Big Air champ and MegaRamp innovator Danny Way. "The next paradigm was going to be taking more risk on the quarterpipe and 540s were getting played out. I think, this year, Big Air will be a 900 contest."
Which means Burnquist vs. Brusco.
"Their 900s are so different, they're almost two different tricks," Way says. "Bob's is fakie-to-fakie, and I give him respect for that. And Mitchie doing it at 14 is amazing. I turned pro when I was 14 and I see so much of myself in him. He's so motivated and hungry and it'd be awesome to help him get really focused, so he could be the guy to keep this genre of skateboarding progressing and on track."