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A FLAIR for 'BIG AIR' : Skateboard Champion Jesse Roach's Star Is Soaring to New Commercial Heights

June 16, 1989|MARK LANDSBAUM | Times Staff Writer

Jesse Roach handles his new-found celebrity with aplomb. Take, for instance, a recent day on Santa Catalina Island. All around him things were hectic. The activity was furious as cameramen scurried into place and NBC's "Today" show wound up its taping on location.

Between segments, anchors Bryant Gumbel and Jane Pauley quick-stepped along the Avalon pier to the chalk marks showing where they must stand when the camera returns after a brief word from their sponsor. Hundreds of vacationing onlookers gawked and strained for a view. The clatter and noise escalated, then suddenly hushed as cameras returned to the action.

Amid all this, waiting for his cue, champion skateboarder Jesse Roach yawned.

Why shouldn't he yawn? Jesse is 11 years old.

On this day he shared the camera's attention with a pair of network anchor people and some of sports' biggest names--Magic Johnson and Orel Hershiser--to say nothing of everyone's favorite weatherman, Willard Scott. Even among such notables, the unflappable Jesse Roach's star was on the rise.

Consider:

He has made dozens of public appearances with traveling exhibitions.

He just finished filming a TV commercial for Gatorade.

He will be on the July cover of Sports Illustrated for Kids, the national sports publication's new monthly magazine for ages 8 and up.

And he just may be the best 11-year-old skateboarder in the country.

So wasn't Jesse Roach the least bit nervous as the "Today" show crew prepared to tape a skateboarding segment?

"Me? Noooo," said the grinning Laguna Beach fourth-grader, a tassel of yellow hair protruding from his crash helmet. After a little prodding, Jesse allowed that "it's pretty cool" to appear on national television before millions of viewers.

"Skating's helped me a lot in everything," he said. "It makes me work harder. It makes things seem more important."

Jackie Rosecrans, who with her husband, Everett, organized a "Pee Wee" skateboard team of pre-teens for Vans, a shoe manufacturer based in Orange, describes Jesse as "an extraordinary young man and an extraordinary skater."

In the parlance of the skateboard world, Jesse gets "big air," meaning he soars very high above the ramp when performing.

Jesse spends virtually all his free time practicing, which is one reason he has mastered tricks such as the "hand plant" in which he skates into the air at the top of the ramp and grabs its lip with his hand before his board returns to the wood for the ride down. He also performs what he calls "a front side 360" in which he comes down the ramp backward. Jesse has dubbed it "The Roach Twist."

Jesse was the No. 1 rated amateur vertical ramp skater in California for youths 12 years old and younger last year by virtue of winning a statewide contest. Now he has moved up to "the grown-ups," as he puts it. He competes against teen-agers and young adults, with hopes of someday making a career of skateboarding.

Some, including sponsors who have provided equipment, believe Jesse can succeed in competitive skateboarding.

James La Fave, 27, Jesse's first sponsor at Galaxy Sports, a Laguna Beach skate shop, recalls that the youth's parents stood behind him, transporting him to practice sessions and competitions.

The determination Jesse has developed for skateboarding has helped him focus his life in other areas as well.

"His grades went from Ds to Bs and A's when he got an interest," La Fave said.

Being featured on television and in news stories has boosted his self-image, Jesse agreed.

Or in his words: "I feel kind of better, you know."

Jesse Roach is a boy of few words but much motion.

In Catalina, he scrambled on cue onto a portable ramp to perform his patented swooping and leaping, defying gravity with the self-assuredness of a veteran risk-taker.

"He just lives to skate," said Jackie Rosecranz of Vans. As a Vans team member, Jesse trains on specially constructed ramps at the shoe manufacturer's factory, travels to demonstrations and is supplied shoes and gear.

Stacy Peralta, 31, a world champion skateboarder when he was a teen-ager, was impressed by Jesse's credentials and recently added him to his touring team of champions.

Peralta, a principal in Powell Peralta, a Santa Barbara-based skateboard manufacturing firm, has 35 sponsored amateurs and professionals. They have been around the world three times, have skateboard models named after them and regularly appear in movies, videos and TV commercials. Jesse is the youngest team member by two years. He doesn't have a model named after him yet, but he has become a "factory team rider" for Powell Peralta.

That means he's in "the highest division before pro," Jesse's father, Jerry Roach, said. "He's too young to turn pro."

Powell Peralta's promotions coordinator, who goes only by the name Sasha, said: "We've got some young ones, but I think 11 is about our youngest sponsored amateur."

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