One sunny morning last week, four 14-year-old boys were whizzing down Avenida Del Mar in San Clemente, blithely ignoring the series of "No Skateboarding" signs that line the street.
"Yeah, we know it's not allowed, but you've got to live dangerously," said Steve Salisian, 14, of Pasadena. "There are a lot of hills and banks here."
"This is a good spot and with the wind going through your hair, it feels so neat," said tall, tan Rawdon Slocum, also of Pasadena.
None of them locals, the four said they come to San Clemente frequently to skate; they have been stopped by local authorities but never ticketed. "They just say, 'You shouldn't be doing that, do you know that?' But they never give us tickets," one of the boys said.
But the San Clemente City Council may soon follow the lead of many Orange County cities by enacting ordinances to stop skateboarders from cruising on certain city streets, and stepping up enforcement by ticketing more frequently.
City officials say the dual concerns of public safety and liability have prompted the efforts to restrict the popular sport.
"It's a significant enough problem that it's time to control it," said San Clemente Police Chief Kelson McDaniel. "It's the liability of the situation. We're liable to wind up being sued by someone who's struck."
An ordinance proposing the restriction of skateboard use in specific areas is expected to be considered by the City Council July 16.
City Atty. Jeffrey Oderman, who is drafting the proposal, said it will be designed to protect the rights of the skateboarder, keeping in mind that for some a skateboard is not only a way to have fun but a means of transportation. "We're trying to afford the maximum amount of personal freedom and not interfere with skateboarders' recreation and transportation."
San Clemente's law will echo that of Brea, which enacted tough restrictions earlier this year, after complaints arose over skateboarders zipping around the Civic Center Plaza. In December, Yorba Linda laid down restrictions after complaints about skateboarders at a shopping center on Yorba Linda Boulevard. Other cities, like Huntington Beach and Newport Beach, have had such laws on the books for years.
Sidewalk surfing began in the early '60s, when inventive teen-agers nailed skate wheels to pine boards. Popularity of the sport ebbed and flowed, reaching its crest in 1979.
Chris Brooksby, 20, manager at the Ozone Ski and Skate shop in Newport Beach, a hub of activity for the skateboarding subculture in Southern California, says skateboarding is once again "on the upswing. Street skating has become real popular."
Brooksby attributes the enduring popularity of street skating to the fact that suburbia is "a skateable environment available to everyone," not just those kids with cars or mothers to drive them to skate parks.
Suburban and city streets are more accessible, but not necessarily safer. Skateboarders told of many close calls--where they narrowly escaped serious injury--but despite the danger, most said that wearing protective knee pads and helmets just isn't "cool." Jim Goodrich, an editor at Transworld Skateboarding magazine, says the renaissance of street skating was inevitable after insurance rates for skate parks skyrocketed in the late '70s. "It hasn't taken off as the fad it was in the '70s," he said, "but there's been a resurgence since about 1982. Kids are gaining a whole new interest."
Commercial skate parks popular in the late 1970s, such as the Big O and Concrete Wave in Buena Park, have disappeared. A $75,000 skate park at Irvine's University Community Park was torn out several years ago after numerous complaints from neighbors about noise and traffic.
In San Clemente, skateboarders are already prohibited from riding on Avenida Del Mar, the recently refinished and "beautified" main shopping street. But according to shop owners and skateboarders, the law doesn't mean much.
"They come by so fast--they absolutely ignore the law. We holler at them, but so many times they just about sideswipe the customers coming in and out," said Estelle McMahon, who owns a women's clothing shop on Del Mar.
Closer to the pier, John Cassano, owner of Cassano's Pizza, agrees with McMahon. "Let's get rid of 'em. . . . Customers walk out of the store and these guys are going past at literally 30 miles per hour."
But many, like Gena Rehbok, a waitress at the Beach and Garden Cafe near Cassano's, across from the pier, just enjoy the spectacle. "It's a good show," she said. "And the customers can bet on who's going to go flying first."
Sam Jones, a 70-ish bookseller whose shop is perched atop the corner of Ola Vista, eloquently echoes Rehbok's tolerance: "I'm envious of them. They have dexterity and poise and they're quite graceful. They seem like they're free-spirited. I don't blame them for their exuberance and life and vitality, but it also can be dangerous."
Skateboarders tend to congregate at the foot of the pier, where Avenida Del Mar dead-ends after a series of serpentine turns.
David Torres, a San Clemente High School junior who was skating in the street in front of the San Clemente Pier while waiting for the bus last Thursday, said, "I've been ticketed $30. Cops tell me all the time not to ride here."
Brian Bracke, 16, a junior at San Clemente High, says that local skateboarders will organize to block any restrictions.
"I know they're trying to outlaw it," Bracke said, "and I wouldn't have any way to get to school, or to get around. I'll have to watch TV all my life. We're going to go to the City Council and do whatever needs to be done."