Action sports attract people who know that they’re tough and want to become tougher. It’s no surprise, then, that sports like surfing and skateboarding are full of the people who build a legacy by not only mastering their skills but overcoming obstacles and refusing to give up. Want to feel inspired? Read our picks for the top five action sports heroes.
1. Jay Adams
Without Jay Adams, we wouldn’t have skateboarding heroes to begin with. Known as the “Original Seed,” Adams was one of the first members of the Z-Boys skateboarding team—you know, the guys who pretty much invented modern skateboarding. From a young age, Adams lived and breathed surfing and skating. As a member of the Z-Boys in the 70s, his surf-influenced style transformed the sport. It’s safe to say that skateboarding would not be what it is today without Adams’ influence. And despite struggling with addiction, which he eventually overcame, Adam remains a relevant figure in skate history. Sadly, skateboarding suffered one of its biggest blows when Adams passed away in August of 2014 while on vacation in Mexico. Rest in peace, Jay. We can’t thank you enough.
2. Bethany Hamilton Dirks
If you find yourself making excuses not to push yourself these days, check out the story of Bethany Hamilton Dirks. In 2003, when the professional surfer was just 13 years old, she was attacked by a tiger shark off the coast of Hawaii. After being rushed to the hospital and losing over half her blood, she miraculously survived, but had lost her left arm. Not to be deterred, Dirks got back on the board as soon as possible and entered a major competition barely a year after the attack. Now, Dirks continues to compete professionally and runs a charity that works with shark attack survivors. How’s that for tenacity? Not only is Dirks tough as nails, she is also defies stereotypes about people with injuries and disabilities.
3. Oliver Percovich
Maybe you don’t know much about Oliver Percovich, but you should, and not even so much for his athletic accomplishments as for his commitment to making the world a better place. Percovich is the founder of an organization called Skateistan. Founded in 2007, Skateistan works with Afghani youth ages 5-25 who have little access to education or other important resources. The organization’s mission is to connect them to these resources through the power of skateboarding to engage young people with the world around them and with each other. Where others might have given up and stuck to scoring sponsorships, Percovich has endeavored to help kids in need, and that’s some real heroism.
4. Shaun White
How can you not love this guy’s goofy mug, easy-going attitude, and superhuman skills? Shaun White may be everywhere, but he’s everywhere for a reason. Originally discovered by fellow legend Tony Hawk, White went pro at age 17 and has gone on to master both skateboarding and snowboarding, hold the record for gold medals and overall medals at the X-Games, and complete in the Olympics. WTF, is he even human? Just kidding—like the best of heroes, White’s had to overcome his own share of adversity. Born with a congenital heart defect, White endured two open-heart surgeries before the age of one, and still grew up to be the force of nature that he is today. So go on, love Shaun White—just quit calling him “The Flying Tomato.”
5. Jolene Van Vugt
Canada’s own Jolene “Nitro Girl” Van Vugt is a total badass who likes to live on her own terms. Even as a wee one, she ignored figure skating and dance class for motocross, and by age 14, Van Vugt dedicated herself to motocross full-time. A decade later, she became the first woman in the world to backflip a full-size dirt bike from dirt to ramp. Five years after that, she also claimed the bragging rights to being the first woman to backflip a bike ramp to ramp. And as though that weren’t enough, she also performed all of Catwoman’s stunts in The Dark Knight Rises, rides on MTV’s Nitro Circus, and jumped the Grand Canyon with friend Travis Pastrama. Van Vugt, though clearly unstoppable, admits that being a girl in actions sports has been sometimes difficult, and she’s had to “work twice as hard” as the guys. Well, looks like it paid off, Jolene. Salute!
These legends are our top five heroes, but we know that it’s impossible to list the countless inspirations out there. Besides, heroes mean different things to different people. So tell us: who is your action sports heroes? Who has most inspired you as a skateboarder, snowboarder, or whatever else your heart is set on? Share your thoughts with us in the comments.