AOL has come to Los Angeles in search of the ultimate wave. And the ultimate vert-ramp. And the ultimate motocross course.


The Internet giant is launching an action sports portal, called Lat34.com, and is on the hunt for office space on the West Side. The site is a joint venture between AOL and Fusion Entertainment, a Portland-based production company that specializes in extreme sports programming.


AOL, based in Dulles, Va., is the latest entrant to the skate park. Fox Entertainment launched FuelTV and its companion Web site FuelTV.com in L.A. in 2003 with more than 100 employees; and El Segundo-based GrindTV.com launched last year, backed by Newport Beach venture capital firm SoftBank Capital. And don't forget ESPN's EXPN.com, the official site for the X Games and extreme sports; social networking powerhouse MySpace also has action sports pages.


"L.A. is the unofficial home of action sports," said Lat34.com Chief Executive Jeff Rowe, a former senior vice president at AOL.


Lat34, which took its name from the GPS coordinates of Los Angeles, launched the first week in June. Yahoo! Inc., whose Yahoo Sports division is based in Santa Monica, does not have an action-sports specific portal, though it does cover the X Games, according to a spokesman.


The company will have about 20 employees in its soon-to-be leased headquarters. And to hear Rowe describe the site, the company is trying to draw from all the current youth-market buzzwords: it aims to become the MySpace.com, YouTube.com, iTunes, instant message, mobile content and blogspot for action sports kids.


"Our goal is to create a new space, a home for interactive sports online," Rowe said.


With AOL's marketing muscle behind it, Lat34 already has a media partnership with the Dew Action Sports Tour, the professional competitive tour owned by NBC Universal Inc. and Live Nation, sponsored by Mountain Dew. The site signed up Jeep as its first sponsor. It will combine traditional media coverage of sports events, as well as social networking and viral video content.


Emerging sector
The action sports world is still fragmented. Though the surf, skate and snowboard culture has gained more mainstream popularity over the past 10 years, the juggernaut of standard pro sports has proved a tough nut to crack.


EXPN.com launched in 1997, built around the summer and winter X Games, but has struggled to gain traction the rest of the year. The company is currently "at a crossroads" with the action sports site, according to X Games General Manager Chris Stiepock. It is trying to figure out the best way to span the action sports realm.

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