Gagnon wins top prize at Maloof Money Cup

COSTA MESA, Calif. — With $75,000 and a tricked-up SUV on the line, Pierre-Luc Gagnon flew through and above the halfpipe better than everyone else, including “The Flying Tomato” himself, Shaun White.

Gagnon won the pro vert competition Sunday at the inaugural Maloof Money Cup on Sunday. The skateboarding championships are sponsored by Joe and Gavin Maloof, the brothers who own the NBA’s Sacramento Kings.

Gagnon came out ahead following an action-packed, 45-minute jam session during which Brazilian Sandro Dias landed a 900-degree jump with less than a minute left and Bucky Lasek stuck a 720-degree turn he’d never landed before in nearly 20 years of competing.

White, the snowboarding gold medalist at the Turin Olympics and a gold medalist in the Summer and Winter X Games, had some solid runs and some equally wild wipeouts.

Gagnon, though, made off with the top prize after the 10-man final on a halfpipe set up next to the street course at the Orange County Fair.

“I’ve never made this much money off one contest. It’s amazing,” said Gagnon, a Canadian who now lives in Carlsbad, the same San Diego suburb where White lives. “This is the best contest ever.”

His previous best payday was at the 2005 X Games when he made $66,000 for a first and a second.

An even bigger payday was coming Sunday night, when the winner of the street competition was to get $100,000. Finalists included Ryan Sheckler, Paul Rodriguez and Jake Duncombe. Rob Dyrdek, star of MTV’s “Rob and Big,” had been entered in the street competition but gave up his spot to another skater.

The Maloofs want this to become the World Series of skateboarding. They’ve attracted many of the world’s top skateboarders by putting up nearly $500,000 in cash and prizes.

The street course alone cost about $150,000 to build and the halfpipe, $75,000. The street course, made of 230 cubic yards of concrete and marble, resembles a city plaza with a fake bank building, ramps, stairs and handrails. It all has to be torn out by Tuesday morning.

The skaters appreciated the length the Maloofs went.

“It just goes to show what you get when you have guys like that and money is no problem,” said Lasek, who finished third in vert. “Look what they built. I wish they could leave this stuff instead of tearing it down. It’s amazing.”

The Maloofs have run basketball camps in Sacramento for several years and wanted to try something different. Joe Maloof’s original idea was to have a skateboarding camp in Orange County. But as more and more people heard about it, it turned into a competition that’s been sanctioned to be the world championships of street and vert.

Gagnon came up with a combo of a nollie heel flip indy 540 — basically flipping the board with his feet and grabbing it as he spun through 540 degrees — and a nollie heel flip 360, followed by a 720.

He also spent a good deal of the jam session trying to perform a nose grind on a marble ledge at the top of the halfpipe. Three times he almost collided with other skaters climbing the stairs back to the top.

“It took five times,” he said.

“This was by far the best skating that I’ve ever seen in a vert competition,” Lasek said. “It was by far the best vert ramp, because it works. It has offsets, extensions, ledges. It has it all.”

Overall, “Pierre by far just killed it,” Lasek said. “He was on fire.”

White, who won $34,000, didn’t stick around to talk with reporters.

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