The Outer Limits of Human Performance

A look at the outermost limits of human performance, from the fastest marathon and longest swim to smokingest fastball and deepest freedive.

Makaha skateboard

The Makaha Commando was the world’s first longboard    Photo: Courtesy of Makaha

Will we ever see a 1080 on a skateboard?
In the last two years, our prediction came true: Tom Schaar, a 12-year-old American completed the 1080.

Probably, and it may happen soon. The move—three full aerial rotations—is a daunting combination of force and balletics, requiring a rider to jump off a ramp, spin extremely quickly, then descend a vertical wall, abruptly breaking rotational momentum. Skate master Tony Hawk has said that Shaun White is, for now, the only contender. He should know: at the 1999 X Games, Hawk completed the first 900-degree spin on a skateboard—two and a half aerial rotations—after 13 years of practice.

Why White? For one, he's nailed the 1080 on snow, perfecting the move's motion with his feet strapped to a board that won't fly off upon landing. The experience has helped him figure out the speed he needs at takeoff to maximize spin. "Shaun has a very good feel for decreasing his moment of inertia," says James Riordon, a skater, engineer, and spokesman for the American Physical Society, the country's largest organization of physicists. Moment of inertia, he explains, measures an object's resistance to rotation. White's size may help, too: since he's only five foot seven, he can tuck into a ball—the shape that maximizes spinning speed—more quickly than, say, Hawk, who's six foot two.

Still, according to Riordon, three rotations is at least ten times more difficult than two and a half. That hasn't deterred White, who tried the move 29 times at the 2005 X Games, occasionally completing the 2.5-second rotation only to fall upon landing. "I'd love to land this 1080," he's told an interviewer. "And I think I can."

Filed To: Skateboarding

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