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Chaz in charge

11/4/2009
Play4:33
Chaz in Charge

At 15, Chaz Ortiz already has a Dew Tour Cup, Gatorade deal, and Zoo York video part under his belt. Now he's setting his sights on X Games gold.

Chaz Ortiz is hungry. He's in the lobby of Zoo York's offices in midtown Manhattan. It's the morning after Zoo premiered their video "State of Mind" -- a video that garnered serious applause from the crowd; a video that Ortiz has a full part in -- and despite the debauched revelry that followed the premiere on the Lower East Side, Ortiz looks rested and fresh-faced. Might be because he spent the evening after the premiere in a hotel room with his parents. Might be because he's 15. Can't blame him, really; he's got to fly back to Chicago in an hour. He has school tomorrow.

A crew sets up cameras and mikes while Ortiz and his dad grab a bagel. Other media outfits are milling about, waiting their turn. It's not a typical scene in the offices of a skate company, but with Ortiz winning pro comps as an am and rumored to be pulling in six- or seven-figure contracts from companies like Gatorade, it's a scene folks around him are starting to get used to.

When the X Games debuted in 1995 (Ortiz was barely a year old), the candy-colored courses and emphasis on big transition might have missed the mark with some street skaters driving the industry. But with time, things coalesced, as they tend to. By the time Ortiz picked up a board at age 6, the X Games had gone through some growing pains and were hitting their stride. By 2002, the X Games held a legitimate street contest at Philadelphia's City Hall, a legendary street spot.

For established skaters of the time, contests and mainstream coverage still held a stigma. But Ortiz and his peers picked up boards in an era when skating on television was fast becoming normal.

A "normal" day for Ortiz could be any number of things. He could be sitting in a high school classroom in suburban Carpentersville, trying to pay attention in social studies. Or he could be in Southern California skating with friends like Paul Rodriguez and Ryan Sheckler. Or, like today, he could be in New York giving interviews for myriad publications. Maybe "normal" doesn't apply any longer.

"Ortiz is coming in at a time when X Games, Dew Tour, Maloof Cup -- these contests have exposure on such a bigger level than they had in the past," Rodriguez says. "He's coming in at a time when a skateboarder can actually become a celebrity."

When Ortiz entered his first contest at age 7 it was a natural progression from the skating he'd been doing at skateparks. "I started skating on driveways and just cruising around," Ortiz says. "And then my dad started taking me to all these skateparks. That's why I skate all these contests, I guess; I grew up at the park."

Ortiz had several outdoor parks in his area and one essential indoor facility to assist in his progression year-round. At the Warp indoor skatepark Ortiz took cues from older locals. "I skated with the all the older dudes," he says. "I think that's what gave me the advantage, because they were doing tricks and I wanted to be like them and step my game up."

Rodriguez sees it this way: "Kids see people skating on a certain level so young. And in their minds it registers, 'OK, that's what I'm going to be doing.' So they automatically boost up to that level."

Ortiz grew up watching gnarly guys jump down stairs. But he also watched guys on teams like Girl refining the technical aspects of skating. Terry Kennedy sees the confluence of influence as the thing that makes Ortiz what he is. "Ortiz follows P-Rod, follows me, follows Koston. It's more skillful. You're accustomed to what you see. That's why he skates the way he skates."

Earning a spot on the Dew Tour pro contest series in '08 as an am, Ortiz beat seasoned pros again and again, winning the entire tour in overall standings. Shortly thereafter he headed for X Games Mexico, where he kept his stride, pulling kickflip frontside boardslides down big rails and backside flips down the double sets. He earned his first X Games silver medal on a course that illustrated the progression of X Games as well. Gone were the candy-colored ramps and vert trannies. Instead, the course was built replicating famous street spots.

With contest earnings and corporate cash, Ortiz could just push for the podium. But he wants more than that. Given the choice, Ortiz swears he'll take the streets. "I'd go for the street session for sure. It's so much tighter if I'm filming with the Zoo guys or even at home messing around; it's just fun. Like when I was filming for the Zoo video, to land your trick and just ride away, it's better than winning a contest for sure."

Skeptics might claim Ortiz won't be able to transcend the contest-kid moniker to make a mark in street, but friends are quick to point out he's no contest robot. "Some people who skate contests, they can't make that transition. They just can't," Kennedy says. "But with Ortiz, he's just got that natural, all-around feel. You know? The way he looks, the way he dresses, he's got a cool swag to him … he's going to do great."

Rodriguez agrees. "If Ortiz just wants to skate contests the rest of his career, I promise he's going to have a great career with or without street videos. But the fact is he is killing it on the street, and he will have a presence there as well."

Back in the office Ortiz sits in a comfy chair looking at the camera. He's still not used to the attention. A hand keeps finding its way to his chin in a nervous tic, obscuring the profile shot. But nervousness evaporates when it's time to skate. In his element, it doesn't matter if he's at a street spot or in front of a thousand contest fans. When he rolls out for X Games 15, Chaz Ortiz will be more than ready for his close-up.