Action Sports: Who is NEXT?

Updated: December 18, 2011, 11:56 PM ET
ESPN The Magazine

Ryan Decenzo, skateboard street

[+] EnlargeRyan Decenzo
Dario Cantatore/Getty ImagesAGE: 25 | HOMETOWN: Vancouver, British Columbia
X Games 2011 Game of SK8 gold medalist; 2011 Dew Tour overall street skate Dew Cup champion.
The 2008 winner of the prestigious Tampa Am contest, Decenzo turned pro the following year and has been climbing the professional ranks ever since. His third year on the circuit has been a charm. A previous Best Trick winner on the Dew Tour, Decenzo logged his first street skate win at this year's Dew Tour stop in Salt Lake City. Then he won again at the series finale in Las Vegas in October, clinching the overall Dew Cup title and a $75,000 bonus. At this summer's X Games, he finished second in Real Street, a competition pairing a street skater and a videographer, and took gold in Game of SK8, his sport's version of HORSE, by landing rail tricks that could not be met by anyone else in the field. Decenzo also competes in the Maloof Money Cup series and recently took fifth at the South Africa stop. Those standout performances are likely to earn Decenzo an invite to Rob Dyrdek's Street League Skateboarding tour for 2012. That, in turn, would enable him to compete against riders he doesn't have the chance to skate against now due to Street League's exclusivity clause, as well as regular ESPN coverage. But that would also mean giving up what are fast becoming easy paychecks on the Dew circuit. We think this Canadian will be up for the challenge.

Jess Kimura, snowboard

[+] EnlargeJess Kimura
Ashley BarkerAGE: 25 | HOMETOWN: Vernon, British Columbia
FAME CLAIM: Kimura's part in 2010's Right Brain Left Brain won Transworld Snowboarding's Women's Video Part of the Year and Women's Reader's Choice Award.
At the beginning of her career, Kimura was known as much for taking incredible slams as for her limit-pushing riding. But something happened on the way to being the only female rider featured in Think Thank's 2010 video Right Brain Left Brain: She stopped crashing and started landing those gender-bending tricks. (Most of them, anyway.) After her breakout 2010 video season, Kimura was named Snowboarder Magazine's Ms. Superpark Standout 2010 and scored the cover of Snowboard Canada's annual Women's Annual along with the cover line, "Jessica Kimura, Believe the Hype." Although Kimura isn't a rider you'll find competing at the X Games, her charging riding and distinct personal style earned her several sponsorships in the past couple of years. She's tattooed and foul-mouthed and spent last winter living out of the back of her truck. When she wasn't snowboarding, she worked construction, doing masonry work to pay the bills. Fortunately, her snowboarding is taking care of that these days. In the past year, she signed sponsorship deals with Volcom, Nike Snowboarding and Monster. Kimura is breaking down the barriers of what women are supposed to be able to do on a snowboard, and that is making her someone sponsors want on their rosters. And it's why her tricks have become must-see on DVD.

Levi Sherwood, freestyle motocross

[+] EnlargeLevi Sherwood
Hagen Hopkins/Getty ImagesAGE: 20 | HOMETOWN: Palmerston North, New Zealand
FAME CLAIM: First athlete from New Zealand to medal at the summer X Games. He took silver in FMX in 2010.
Freestyle motocross has never been a sport populated by teen phenoms. Flipping and spinning a 250-pound dirt bike requires years of experience and the kind of maturity and strength not possessed by most teenagers. But in 2009, Sherwood proved he isn't like most teens. Nicknamed Rubber Kid because of his extreme flexibility and extension on his tricks, Sherwood had been racing motocross and competing on the Crusty Demons of Dirt tour in New Zealand and Australia since 2005. But the 2009 X-Fighters competition in Mexico City was his first major international event. After drawing a wild-card entry, Sherwood, then 17, won the contest, beating Japanese rider Eigo Sato, who was nearly twice his age, in the final. In 2010, Sherwood took silver in freestyle at the X Games and was named Rookie of the Year at the Transworld Motocross Awards. This past spring, he toured as a special guest with Travis Pastrana's Nitro Circus Live tour, and he was slated to be a part of their one-off Las Vegas show in July. But during a preshow practice, Sherwood experienced bike trouble midjump, was forced to eject early and landed hard on the dirt. He broke two bones in his left wrist, fractured two vertebrae and lacerated his liver, causing him to miss the show as well as the X Games and a few X-Fighters stops this summer. But as he always does, Rubber Kid bounced back, returning for the September X-Fighter finale in Sydney, where he took second.

Owen Wright, surfing

[+] EnlargeOwen Wright
AP Photo/Kirstin ScholtzAGE: 21 | HOMETOWN: Culburra Beach, New South Wales, Australia
FAME CLAIM: Beat current world champ Kelly Slater head-to-head in the final of the Quiksilver Pro New York in August; No. 2-ranked surfer on ASP World Tour
In only his second year on the pro tour, Wright has breathed excitement into what was otherwise another runaway world-title campaign by 11-time champ Kelly Slater. In three of nine contests this season, Wright surfed against the 39-year-old Slater in the final, beating him at the Quiksilver Pro in Long Beach, N.Y., to claim the largest prize in pro surfing history ($300,000) and nudge closer to him in the standings. The 6'3" goofy footer is the tallest surfer on tour, and his style -- balletic yet powerful -- is mesmerizing. He's fearless in a heat, which also makes him dangerous to surf against. When Slater's competition days finally draw to a close, Wright is the most likely candidate to take over his reign. But for now, surf fans can enjoy watching their rivalry develop, knowing it's sure to be short-lived.

Torin Yater-Wallace, skiing

[+] EnlargeTorin Yater-Wallace
Aurelien Meunier/Icon SMIAGE: 15 | HOMETOWN: Aspen, Colo.
FAME CLAIM: 2011 Winter X Games Ski Superpipe silver medalist
A rookie in 2011, Yater-Wallace couldn't have written more of a storybook ending for his Winter X Games debut. The youngest competitor in Ski Superpipe, which will make its Olympic debut at the Sochi Games in 2014, the Aspen High School sophomore was excited just to hear his name announced in the same finals lineup as Simon Dumont and Kevin Rolland. Heck, he was still having a hard time wrapping his head around the fact that he was now a teammate of Dumont's, having signed a sponsorship deal with Target a week before Winter X. Now he was competing on live television in front of his hometown crowd and with his Aspen High School friends standing at the bottom of the pipe. In one of the most fun contests of the event, Yater-Wallace not only stomped his run, he was one of few skiers to do so. He became the youngest athlete ever to medal at Winter X, taking silver with a run highlighted by a cork 1260 tailgrab and no sign of nerves. Two months later, he took bronze at X Games Europe and won a World Cup halfpipe contest in France. In the post-event interviews, Yater-Wallace was as poised as anyone on the podium. That's a good thing, because he's going to be spending a lot of time up there.

Alyssa Roenigk is a writer for ESPN The Magazine. Follow The Mag on Twitter, and like us on Facebook.