Bucky Lasek stands atop the vert ramp hunched forward, right hand on his skateboard.
Above his tidy brown chin strip and mustache, deep lines crease his cheeks. He watches other boarders drop in at practice Wednesday.
Tom Schaar, 13. Mitchie Brusco, 16. Jono Schwan, 16. All young enough to be his kids.
But at 40, Lasek is far from just the old Buck.
He's the best in the sport today and possibly of all time. He proved that again Saturday, winning his fourth straight gold medal at the X Games in Los Angeles.
"When I look at some of my classmates and stuff on Facebook, it's pretty crazy," Lasek said. "I wouldn't expect those guys to be rolling in."
At an age when many men are going through crises, Lasek is at the peak of his career and showing no signs of slowing down. He won in Foz do Iguacu, Brazil, this April after a nine-year gold-medal drought in the event, and on Saturday became the first ever to four-peat.
Once a pioneer in the vert event, Lasek is now breaking ground as the oldest to compete, especially as the one to beat.
"This is the best year I've ever had in my life competitively," Lasek said.
It's more than that, said retired professional skateboarder Tony Hawk.
"His last few competition appearances were far and above better than anything he's ever done," Hawk said, "and better than anyone has ever ridden on the vert ramp."
Lasek still loves the lifestyle, 21 years after going pro. Now a family man, he's only getting better with age.
But before this year, Lasek seemed to be veering toward RallyCross driving, which he'll compete in Sunday. He had lost a couple of sponsors and seemed to be falling off after winning vert gold in 1999, 2000, 2003 and 2004.
So what changed?
"I just kind of relaxed a little bit more," Lasek said. "I've always skated for fun, but when you have that pressure of performing, you're under that microscope."
The same passion and joy that Lasek felt as a teenager riding on the streets of Dundalk, Md., is what drives him now. He still jokes around with the younger riders, as when he told Schaar that if he landed a 900 Saturday he'd take him to Chuck E. Cheese's and pay for unlimited tokens, or when he tried to teach Schaar a coin trick before preliminaries Friday, sending change bouncing across the floor.
"I'm a little bit more secure of where I am in life," Lasek said.
The only way age has affected him negatively is through injury. Even bumps and bruises from years ago come back to linger. The tendon in his right ankle, which he broke two years ago, hurts whenever he slams that foot.
And when he scraped that ankle at practice Thursday, the surgical scar was still clear.
"I should be sponsored by Advil or Tylenol," he said.
But the difficult mornings spent dragging his body out of bed and out onto the ramp have paid off.
The transformation started in Foz, where he pulled off a couple of old "bangers" and fell back into the groove. Then Barcelona, Munich and L.A. With four X Games competitions in a span of four-plus months, he never fell out of it.
For older riders such as Andy Macdonald, who just turned 40, and Bob Burnquist, 38, watching Lasek thrive into his 40s is setting a new standard.
"I want to see Bucky keep going because I look at that and it's like, 'If Bucky's going, I'm going,'" Burnquist said.
Lasek said he's thought about when he'll retire, but he can't see himself stepping away while he's still highly competitive. At least one or two more years, he said.
For now he's focused on what's next. There are always more tricks to learn, and with younger riders pushing him, he knows he'll have to fight to remain on top.
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