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CARSON : Skater to Show Russians a Thrash or Two

July 14, 1994|MARY GUTHRIE

Carson teen-ager Wes Watanabe will pack his bags full of beef jerky, Chinese noodles and five skateboards for a trip to the Goodwill Games in Russia later this month.

Watanabe, 16, is one of nine skaters from the California Amateur Skateboard League invited by the Leningrad Skateboarding Federation to appear at the games.

Starting July 23, more than 2,000 athletes from 50 countries will compete in St. Petersburg. Although teams from all over the world will participate in slalom, downhill and ramp skateboarding competitions, the sport is considered a cultural exhibition rather than an athletic event.

Watanabe, who has never been out of the country before, plans to rely on ramen and jerky, figuring he won't like the food in Russia.

He also got a Russian phrase book, but found the Cyrillic alphabet and foreign pronunciation daunting.

"He says he'll just use sign language," said his mother, Karen Watanabe.

The trip to St. Petersburg will cost $3,000, about half of which the Watanabes have raised through donations from individuals and manufacturers. Wes Watanabe is also working with his father to earn money for his trip.

Ever since Wes and his older brother, George, raced Big Wheels in the driveway, competition has been part of the family.

Wes Watanabe has only been skateboarding competitively for about three years. George, now 21, has been a professional skateboarder for more than six years.

Wes Watanabe leads his semi-professional division at CASL, which is the highest level that is not sponsored by a store or manufacturer.

CASL officials said they invited good skateboarders on the trip who would also make good ambassadors.

"I think CASL looked at him as a good diplomat," said Ted Okamoto, who owns Vanguard Surf Culture, a skateboard shop in Redondo Beach where Watanabe practices. "I think they picked him not only because of his skating ability but his personality. . . . He's very low-key."

"He's the cream of the crop," said Jeanne Hoffman, who's organizing the trip for CASL.

Wes Watanabe is the only member of the group from the Los Angeles area. The others come from San Bernardino, Upland, San Clemente and other areas.

After the games, the group will take a train trip to Moscow and do some other sightseeing during their two-week trip.

Hoffman said she thinks the experience will be an eye-opener for the group because the California team will stay with Russian skaters' families during the games.

"We want this to be a cultural experience," Hoffman said. "And maybe they'll appreciate what they've got here."

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