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

Makaha skateboard     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."

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