Michael Brandy, Deseret News
When the governor shows up at an event, it's assumed that it must be important. After all, he has an entire state to run, and presumably, a lot of requests for his time.
Still, there he was on the dirt track, among BMX riders, skateboarders and motocross starts, one of two men in a tie, welcoming an event to Utah that most officials wouldn't know anything about.
"I am wearing a tie out of respect for the occasion," Gov. Gary Herbert joked last Thursday at a press conference welcoming the Toyota Challenge Dew Tour to Utah for the fourth straight season. "This really is a big deal. The athletes are incredible. You defy gravity. You must have superpowers somewhere. I am a spectator and a fan."
Herbert's presence at the opening day of the Toyota Challenge Dew Tour last week gave the action sports a link with the mainstream that they don't always enjoy in other communities.
It is not something that is lost on the action sports athletes and event organizers who love coming to Utah because, while there are thousands of action sports fans, they also enjoy support from businesses and the government.
That combination makes the state an almost irresistible draw for events like the Dew Tour.
"We're thrilled to be back in Utah," said Chris Prybylo, vice president of events for Alli Sports which runs the Dew Tour. "It is the only home for both a winter Dew Tour stop and a summer Dew Tour stop."
In fact, the Winter Dew Tour event, scheduled for Feb. 10-13 at Snowbasin, is the Dew Tour's championship.
"This truly is the state of sport," he said, parroting the slogan of the Utah Sports Commission. "The state of action sports. The panel up here speaks to that."
The man often bringing those businesses, the government and sports fans together is Jeff Robbins, president of the Utah Sports Commission.
Hosting the Dew Tour for four years, he said, has brought somewhere between $45 and $50 million in economic benefit to Utah. It has also given the state about a $30 million media value because of television broadcasts that reach millions in more than 100 countries.
The support of the legislature and governor, Robbins said, makes Utah more attractive to organizers of events like the Dew Tour.
"It really does give us a competitive advantage," he said. "We couldn't do what we're doing without the support of our elected officials.
But the benefits aren't just measured monetarily.
"Utah is consistently rated one of the states with the best quality of life," he said. "Utahns are rated the healthiest. Part of it has to do with our outdoor recreation."
A sports participant and fan, Herbert said he has watched over his lifetime as the games have changed.
"I have watched the evolution of sports," he said. "They're much more diverse."
One of the other benefits, Herbert pointed out, is that it encourages young people to be active.
"It's part of our culture here in Utah," he said. "We're known for outdoors recreation activities."
This year's Dew Tour featured nearly all of the marquee names in action sports. Last year, skateboarder and MTV star Ryan Sheckler was injured and unable to compete, but he was center stage last weekend signing autographs and pushing the limits of the sport. He finished third in the skate park event — behind Greg Lutzka, who was second and leads the tour standings, and the event's winner, 16-year-old Chaz Ortiz.
The BMX vert competition was hailed as one of the most exciting ever thanks to a format change that had competitors sweating but smiling. Jamie Bestwick preserved his perfect season (for the second year in a row) by winning the Salt Lake event with tricks that brought the packed house to its feet.
"I had to breath down his neck," Bestwick, 39, said of the second-place finisher, Chad Kagy. "That was a different thing for me. That's a good thing. That, for me, was a perfect contest."
And then there was Shaun White.
He came into the Dew Tour as the victor at the last competition in Portland. But he does not lead the standings, and in fact, wasn't even in the top five because he missed the first competition on the tour. Winning not only puts him in the lead pack, but it also makes it possible for him to win the overall prize — the Dew Cup — next month in Las Vegas.
White, who owns two Olympic gold medals in snowboarding, said he loves coming to Salt Lake City because of its outdoor opportunities. He actually owns a home in Park City and rides for Park City Mountain Resort.
"That should tell you what I think of Utah," he said. "It's one of the few places where you can land at the airport and be at the mountain a half an hour later. … I love coming to Utah."
Utah was the only stop on the tour that offered fans a motocross competition. Prybylo said that was a nod to the thousands of FMX fans in Utah who can't get enough of the high-flying sport.
In addition to the Dew Tour competitions, fans got a look at some up-and-coming stars as the Gatorade Free Flow Tour finals mingled in the same venues, on the same weekend, which was a new twist this year.
Sandy's Tyson Bowerbank finished third in the skateboard park finals on Sept. 18.
In his third year on the GFFT, the 15-year-old said he enjoyed the chance to compete in front of his family and friends.
"Its fun to do the competitions," he said, noting that they, too, skated with a new format that included a final jam session. "I thought the jam session was fun."
He began skating, like most of the athletes, just for fun with friends. But when he was 8, he began competing.
"My cousin invited me to a contest," said Bowerbank.
He travels so much that his parents decided to enroll him in Utah Online High School, which allows him the freedom to pursue his passion while maintaining his good grades.
"Some kids never have a passion," said his mom, Kim Bowerbank. "It's a total love and passion."
Tyson has a number of sponsors who make it possible for him to travel to contests around the country.
"Honestly, there are so many talented skaters," said Kim. "We just meet so many people across the country."
She said it was obvious from the start that her son wanted to pursue skateboarding as more than a hobby.
"Probably when he started eating, sleeping and breathing skateboarding," she laughed.
Helping to develop talent like Bowerbank's is one of the things the Gatorade Free Flow Tour does most effectively. Without it, skaters wouldn't have a direct route to earn a spot in the Dew Tour's main event next month. The winners of each event are invited to compete in the Dew Tour finals against the likes of White, Bestwick and Sheckler.
And it isn't just that they get to participate.
Chaz Ortiz, who won the skate park finals three years ago at age 13 and then again on Saturday, is on the Dew Tour thanks to the Gatorade Free Flow Tour. As he still skates with those who he once admired, Ortiz understands how the new skaters feel first hand.
The laid-back environment of the events, however, allows new skaters to assimilate in with the veterans pretty easily.
"I don't get intimidated," Ortiz said when asked about competing against such well-known athletes. "I skate with them all the time. I'm just going to skate how I normally do. I just want to have a good time."
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