Oh, to be young and 'unbreakable'
Teenage skateboarder Chaz Ortiz has it all: youth, wealth and loads of talent
Chaz in Charge
I last scored a minute with Chaz Ortiz in Portland, Ore. It was mid-August and he was sweating through a red T-shirt, busy autographing a stack of skateboard decks that stood about as tall as his 5-foot-4-inch frame. The back of Ortiz's T-shirt read simply 'UNBREAKABLE,' which couldn't sum up the soaring status of the 15-year-old more succinctly.
He seems to win skateboard comps in his sleep.
That night, Ortiz -- wide awake -- stomped the whole school of skaters again, earning him the top spot in Portland's park competition and thus securing his first win of the 2009 Dew Tour.
Last year, as an amateur, Ortiz earned a spot on the Dew Tour pro contest series. Suffice to say, the kid did not disappoint. He posted a rookie highlight reel that reads more like the résumé of a consummate pro. He won two events outright and hopped up to the podium in four of the five, total. That stunning summer sequence bested even the brightest stars of skate and Ortiz ultimately dethroned three-time winner and defending champion Ryan Sheckler for the 2008 Dew Tour title. That feat also secured his place in the record books as the youngest Tour champion in history.
So with the Dew Cup freshly in tow, Ortiz trucked further onward and upward. The Illinois native who started skating at age 6 had hardly one year of life under his little diapered belt when the X Games debuted in 1995; and at 14, the high school freshman had managed his first medal. The silver (behind defending champ Greg Lutzka) came at the international X Games Mexico event held at the Palacio de los Deportes.
There is something fitting about that. Chaz's father, Mark Ortiz, was also born in Chicago; but Mark's grandfather (Chaz's great grandpa) came to the U.S. in the early 1900s from Leon, Mexico, to Corpus Christi, Texas , eventually migrating the family to Chicago.
It was Ortiz's first time in Mexico City and his first X Games ever, but you'd never guess, judging by his trademark serenity. Some people don't find Ortiz's kind of composure until their hairs go gray.
"I don't really get nervous for competitions," Ortiz said over the screams from adoring teen fans in the arena stands. "I try new things, sometimes stuff I've never practiced. But sometimes, it just works."
When his competitors are asked what they think of the young gun, they glow with admiration and envy.
"The kid is fun to watch. He doesn't get tired. Look at him," second-place finisher Chris Cole said, nodding in Ortiz's direction with a smile and a shake of his head. "We're all talking about how tiring the new format is, and he could go for another session right now."
The grueling finals format had each skater taking a 60-second run followed by one five-minute jam session. From there, the six skaters with the highest scores advanced to a 10-minute final jam. Ten minutes is a long time for skateboarders to go all out. They usually take turns after tricks, or push hard through a few minutes before hopping out to let someone else drop in, not unlike line changes in hockey games.
But Ortiz would skate the whole period if they let him. That boyish endurance is how Ortiz earned his nickname: The Little Machine.
Ortiz isn't just well-liked by his peers; his free spirit, plainspoken smile and seductive young style immediately aroused the interest of several of the industry's corporate giants. Both DC Shoes and Zoo York came calling, quickly, with sponsorship offers.
It wasn't long before Ortiz was part of the Gatorade family, too, after signing a contract with the thirst quencher that is estimated to be worth six or seven figures. But despite the unusually stout income, the sophomore at Dundee-Crown (a public high school about an hour west of the Windy City) remains grounded, by all accounts.
In Portland, his answer to a question about the secret of his success came with a Chicago accent strained through a smile that stretched from ear to diamond-studded ear.
"I don't know, man," he said. "I just skate. I just have fun!"
It sounds like a simple recipe.
High school. Skate. Succeed.
Rinse. Lather. Repeat.
I could go on and on about his achievements, but not if Ortiz is going to read this. It's a school night in Chaz Ortiz World and his folks hold him to a strict schedule.
This weekend (Sept. 17-20), Ortiz heads off to his next big Dew Tour test in Salt Lake City -- the same spot where he earned his first victory ever just a year ago.
Oh to be young again. Young and unbreakable.
Mary Buckheit is an ESPN.com Page 2 columnist. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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