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Tony Hawk’s wild horizontal loop, and a brief history of extreme sports stunts

From ESPN to YouTube

This month, Tony Hawk became the first person to ever skateboard a "horizontal loop" — essentially a tornado of wood that he built smack in the middle of a half-pipe with the help of Sony's Action Cam brand. The short, two-minute video follows a familiar narrative for these types of pieces: time-lapse of the construction, lots of failed attempts, and Hawk's eventual triumph.

It's a very cool stunt, one that shows how few steps Hawk has lost even though he's approaching 50. But at the end of the film, Hawk claims "I never thought this would really happen" right before looking at the camera and saying, "Action Cam, thank you." The tightly-packaged video is a shrewd piece of marketing and a very cool stunt, no doubt. It's also supposed to make us believe that Tony Hawk — who owns a digital production company, is arguably the most famous skateboarder in the world, was the face of one of the most iconic video game franchises ever, and has enough spare time on his hands that he fooled the internet into thinking hoverboards were real last year — wouldn't be able to pull off a stunt like this on his own.

Tony Hawk really needs help from a brand just to pull off a stunt?

How did we get here? I mean, this is the guy that ESPN basically threw out the X-Games rulebook for when he attempted the 900 on live television in 1999, letting him go way past his allotted time. And after he landed that trick action sports (or extreme sports, if you like) exploded. That moment helped the X-Games grow from a yearly California dream into a massive, worldwide phenomenon.

Over the years, though, it got harder and harder for skateboarders (and athletes of other disciplines) to keep up with upping the ante. Mike Metzger did a backflip on a motorcross bike, then Travis Pastrana doubled it. Danny Way jumped the Great Wall of China on a skateboard, and then RedBull started hosting even more mind-bending stunts every New Year's Eve. Bigger tricks meant bigger risk, which meant more money was needed to pull them off.

At the same time, YouTube happened. The internet grew up fast, and it became a place to share the footage of these stunts, legally or illegally. Instead of trying to catch up, ESPN and other networks moved action sports coverage to more obscure cable channels. The X-Games might still be a pretty big deal, raking in millions of dollars in advertising revenue and drawing huge on-site crowds each year. But the ratings started to stagger, and the craziest action started happening outside the stadiums and arenas. Stunts like Hawk's horizontal loop are the new normal: crazy people doing crazy things on the internet, where they're happening more and more all thanks to brands. So in honor of that, here's an (extremely) abridged history of some of the best crazy action sports stunts, and where they were found: