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Hawks flock takes off

Skaters, motocrossers and BMXers take the tricks big Ñ and national

They're calling it Ice Capades meets the X Games. Next week the Rose Garden will become the big top for the built-to-spill set. Stars from skateboarding, BMX cycling and motocross will come together under the same roof (and practically on the same ramp) on the first night of a national tour, Tony Hawk's Boom Boom HuckJam.

The show represents the merging of three sports beloved by the PlayStation generation. Athletes from skating and BMX will share a pair of U-shaped ramps on which to perform 'vert' (vertical) tricks, crisscrossing one another's paths with just inches to spare. The ramps are divided by a channel, or third, shallower ramp, from which they will launch themselves through the air over a 40-foot gap and on to another landing ramp. Then, over the top of everything, fly the screaming dirt bikes of motocross riders, whose heels and wheels come dangerously close to the skaters and BMXers.

Top skater Tony Hawk's intention is to showcase the top five athletes in each sport, not in the usual concrete playground or brown dirt arena, but with the glamor of a concert. DJs and a rock 'n' roll light show will accompany the routines, while a live band plays alongside improvised moves.

Using money earned from his Activision video games, Hawk tested the idea earlier this year with a one-off show in Las Vegas. Sponsors got on board once they saw the huge interest not just from teenage boys, but from whole families looking for a night out that is a little more alternative than monster trucks and wrestling.

'Skateboarding today is what baseball was to our parents' generation,' claims Andy Macdonald, 29, Tony Hawk's doubles partner. 'This summer we were praying for a strike, because it would have been the end of baseball.' Given that there are 18 million skaters in the United States, he has a point.

Skateboarding, freestyle motocross and BMX now revolve around making huge jumps and pulling off fancy tricks while in the air, and the HuckJam aims for big air, all the time. The floor and first 14 rows of seating will be closed. 'The kid in the back row of the nosebleeds will get sensory overload, there's so much going on,' Macdonald promises. 'I've missed cues because I've been watching the show.'

Kids will have their eyes trained on the boarders in the unchoreographed segments, where they will perform spontaneously to the live sounds of the Offspring. Here the skaters will attempt airs and lip tricks and combinations with such names as 540s, 720s and 'kick flip indies' (catching the board with your trailing hand on your toe edge). 'If you mess up, it's OK. They just want to see us going for it,' Macdonald says.

Freestyle motocross star Mike Cinqmars, 24, is one of those young men you see on ESPN on Saturday afternoons performing elaborate scissors kicks as he flies through the air on his gleaming 250 Honda.

'People get bored watching three hours of motocross, but this is more of a stunt show,' he said. Cinqmars got a giant tattoo on his back meant to look like a horrific wound. Ironically, he later damaged his back on a bad landing in March 2001, but he's still taking chances. He knows he has to live up to the expectations of kids raised on 'Terrafirma' and 'Crusty Demons of Dirt' videotapes and games such as Championship Motocross 2001 Featuring Ricky Carmichael. Cinqmars is best known for jumping over his own house on MTV, and he laughs at Evel Knievel for his poor style.

Another participant, BMXer Kevin Robinson, 30, has some worries. 'BMX is not an alternative sport anymore; it's become what we've really been against: the jock kids who are all wrapped up into dressing a certain way.' He's hoping the tour will get the fans to mix. 'The motocross guys have the most different fans, they're older, more into partying, more free-spirited. This should be cool because the dirt bikes attract the teenage kids, a good proportion of whom are girls, and the parents are following.'

Andy Macdonald, baseball's nemesis, stresses the athletes' approachability: 'Skaters have always maintained a connection with fans; it's not like sports where you have to pay to enter the autograph area.'

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