When a skateboarder goes splat from 45 feet up

By Mike Wilson
Published August 12, 2007

Check out Jake Brown's epic crash at the X Games and you have to wonder: Why is he still alive? And what was that experience like?

Click play to watch Jake Brown fall nearly 50 feet during the 2007 X-Games. Warning: This video is gnarly.

We called Dr. Robert Pedowitz, chairman of Orthopedics and Sports Medicine at the University of South Florida, and asked him to explain what someone goes through, physiologically, immediately before and - ugh - during that kind of crash.

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The X Games Big Air ramp
Brown, an Australian, reached 40 mph going down the in-run. He hit the first jump and completed a 720-degree spin, a first in X Games history. He landed, then rocketed up the 27-foot vertical wall of the quarter-pipe. Cue the ominous music.

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Sizing up the damage
According to news reports, Brown suffered a minor fracture to a vertebra, broke a rib and a small bone in his wrist, had a mild concussion and bruised his liver and a lung.

The crash: how the body reacts

When someone is in danger, Pedowitz says, the sympathetic nervous system prepares the body for whatever may happen next. Heart rate spikes. Blood pressure increases. Pupils dilate to sharpen vision. A burst of adrenaline boosts strength, which accounts for those grandma-lifts-car-off-kid stories.

Did all this happen to Brown when he lost his skateboard? Nah, Pedowitz says. He would have been amped up already.

Once Brown knew he was falling, he seemed to run through the air. Pedowitz says people windmill their arms during a fall to regain balance. A diver intentionally swings his arms to start his body spinning. This was the opposite.

The instant before Brown hit, he executed what Pedowitz called an "incredible maneuver," rotating his body so he would land on his backside instead of his face. Still, the force of the impact transmitted a shock wave through his bones and organs. Inside Brown's body, Pedowitz says, "everything was crashing into everything." He survived because he's a highly conditioned athlete and he knows how to fall, our expert says. So don't try this at home. Or anywhere else.


Jake Brown, of Australia, is helped after falling hard during the Skateboard Big Air Final at the X Games at Staples Center in Los Angeles, Thursday, Aug. 2, 2007.