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RECREATION / IN-LINE SKATES

Different Sports Gain Foothold in Roller Market

April 14, 1993|RICK VANDERKNYFF | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

On any given afternoon behind Kon Ammossow's Costa Mesa skate shop, kids are rolling back and forth on wooden half-pipe ramps and doing jump turns at the top of the nine-foot walls and other airborne stunts.

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Once, these kinds of tricks were the domain of skateboarders, but the kids going aloft here are on in-line skates. The emergence of "ramp riders," as Ammossow calls them, is just one sign that the market for in-line skates is starting to diversify.

"Cruisers," the folks who ply the beach boardwalks for fun and fitness and who fueled the in-line skating boom, are still a big part of the market, but they're joined by the ramp riders and the fast-growing street hockey market--a sport that promises to only get bigger locally when the Mighty Ducks take to the Pond in Anaheim, giving Orange County a professional hockey franchise.

The equipment manufacturers are keeping pace as the market gets more specialized. There are now more than 30 in-line skate manufacturers, with the top makers offering a range of models for different uses. The newest Rollerblade catalogue has a chart in front that asks buyer what their primary use for the skates will be: racing, roller hockey, ski cross-training, stunts, fitness, recreation or transportation.

Hockey skates, such as those the manufacturer Bauer specializes in, tend to be more flexible, modeled after leather ice hockey skates. Most recreation and stunt skates have a shoe of hard molded plastic, much like a ski boot, that offers support but little flexibility.

Racing skates have longer "trucks," often with five wheels instead of the more standard four on adult-size skates. Other innovations include Rollerblade's Metroblade, a skate with a removable shoe (the boot folds up for carrying). And the SwitcHit company makes skates with interchangeable carriages--45 seconds from roller skate to ice skate.

"This is not a fad anymore," said Ammossow, who opened Inline Rollerworks in Costa Mesa two years ago. He has already expanded the shop once and is getting ready for a second expansion.

The maturing of the industry is reflected not only in the advances in skate equipment (and the growth of specialty shops like Ammossow's). Accessories, such as replacement wheels and especially hockey safety equipment, are keeping pace.

Roller hockey players used to make do with ice hockey clothing and pads, but now manufacturers are responding to the growth of street hockey with specialized equipment. The changes are in design (hard plastic wrist guards instead of leather, plastic stick blades instead of wood) and in look (bolder color schemes than hockey's standard white).

Predictions of a boom in roller street hockey are legion in the skating world. "Kids aren't signing up for baseball anymore. They're playing hockey," said Ammossow.

"Warm weather hockey has a tremendous growth potential," said Jim Blee, founder of the Orange-based National Roller Hockey League. Organized roller hockey leagues include one indoor location (Holiday Skating Center of Orange) and a handful of outdoor leagues for adults and children, usually administered through city parks and recreation department.

But the real indicator of the sport's popularity is the informal pickup games taking place on streets, in parks and on public tennis courts throughout the county. "The movement really is coming from the streets . . . . It's amazing how quickly these kids can get organized," Blee said.

"There's a lot of unorganized pickup play," agreed Cal Rietzel, manager of the Community Services Department for Garden Grove. "In every cul-de-sac in the city, you see kids on in-line blades playing hockey."

The California Street Hockey Assn. has operated a street hockey league in Garden Grove since 1989 (before that, the league was in Buena Park for 12 years). It's a "foot hockey" league, which means that the game is played on shoes rather than skates, and also played generally on a smaller field.

Brian Garland, who heads the association in Rowland Heights, said the Garden Grove league has grown every year and now includes 112 adult teams. Now, the city is getting ready to build an outdoor rink specifically for roller hockey, with youth and adult leagues to be operated by Garland's group.

Garland expects a big success. "I think a lot of people will play both" roller hockey and foot hockey, he predicted.

Rietzel said the new facility will be built at Pioneer Park, at the intersection of Harbor Boulevard and Haster Street. Construction is expected to begin in summer and be completed in September. The playing area will be 80 feet by 180 feet, larger than the usual 75-by-145 playing areas used for foot hockey (the players cover more ground on skates).

Teams in Garland's league comprise five players and a goalie. Foot hockey leagues tend to use a ball, while roller hockey teams use a puck. Otherwise, the rules are similar.

Some cities, Ammossow said, have been worried about a potential liability problem, but Rietzel said there have been no serious injuries in four years of foot hockey in Garden Grove, and he doesn't anticipate problems with roller hockey.

For those who just want to go out and skate, a new weekly event was started this month by Inline Rollerworks. It's a group "fun roll," departing each Tuesday at 6 p.m. from the Newport Pier to the Huntington Beach Pier. The event is free and non-competitive. Information: (714) 645-7655.

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