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THE SCENE

Skateboarders Look for a Sporting Chance : Serious Orange County competitors enjoy the challenges, but not the restrictive city ordinances, lack of rinks and negative public perceptions.

August 12, 1994|ROSE APODACA JONES | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

If Huntington Beach High School had finished the skateboard rink it had scheduled for use by the beginning of the school year, Ocean View High senior Jeff Harmon would have entreated his mom to let him switch schools.

He was willing to ditch three years of classmates, teachers and his alma mater for a patch of concrete. Even exchanging the short ride to Ocean View High on his skateboard for a car transport a few miles away seemed worth the hassle. To Jeff, Huntington Beach High's decision to build a rink was evidence that it finally understood his passion. Maybe they'd someday even provide skateboarding the kind of support other high school sports get.

"I've played every sport known to man," says Jeff, 17, who's been skateboarding for about five years and finds it the most exciting of activities he's tried. The inherent spontaneity of executing skills, where no object--not fire hydrant, stair rail or brick wall--poses a barrier but serves as another challenge in the circuit of the urban landscape, that's what thrills.

It takes a certain amount of aggressiveness to maneuver a trick (even as simple as popping the board up in the air and keeping it attached to your feet as if by magic) when the terrain is rock hard.

Jeff's demeanor is anything but aggressive during conversation. "This is what I enjoy best," he says. "People see this as something a bunch of little punks do. But this is a tough sport. This is more than just my hobby."

Of the close to 8 million skateboarders nationwide, 42% are 12 to 17, according to Transworld Skateboarding Magazine in Oceanside. Just scanning the pages of this publication and others on the market, including Thrasher (San Francisco), Monster magazine (Germany), Slam (Australia) and Rad (England), reflects an audience consisting mostly of young males united by their zeal for skateboarding. This is not a scene defined, as many are, by attitudes, intellectual opinions or music. There is no icon, no school of thought or era to emulate.

Camaraderie arises from a shared sense that their interest in skateboarding is still regarded as the stuff of outcasts. It is banned in many public areas and only begrudgingly acknowledged as a competitive sport--even though it's the sixth largest participant sport in the United States. Internationally, it claims millions of devotees from here to Moscow.

While there are musical acts that skate and others that claim a following primarily of skateboarders, there is no one music that skateboarders en masse identify with. Punk rock, rap, hip-hop and alternative music artists are all profiled in the skate mags.

Clothes identify them somewhat. Skateboarders drove extra large sizes to fashionable status--not in the name of fashion but practicality. Ollying (jumping) over a post, riding up the wall of a swimming pool or simply gliding over a flat surface is enough of a stretch without being constrained in tight-fitting jeans that stick to sweaty skin. Lycra bicycle shorts are just not an option among teen-age skateboarders.

Loose-fitting clothes, including odd, thrift-shop finds, will likely not be replaced any time soon, but an emerging sartorial trend disturbs dedicated riders such as Jeff.

"It's very judgmental now. It's all about a Big Scene. It basically sucks, because all these little kids care about is brand names," Jeff says, pointing to teens a couple of years his junior. "It's a big fashion show now. They just sit here and watch, but they don't really skate."

These wanna-bes talk plenty about being sponsored by a skateboard company, a coup for any young rider because of the attention and free merchandise that comes with it. The proliferation of companies inundating the market in recent years has resulted in a frenzy among owners (who tend to be skaters in their mid-20s to early 30s) and their customers to pledge allegiance to a label. With so many companies based in Southern California, the concentration of sponsored riders is high.

Jeff landed a sponsorship with Grind Inc. in Huntington Beach six months ago.

But, he says, "there are all these companies sponsoring every little kid. Too many of them aren't even good enough and don't deserve it."

*

While skateboarders have to face occasional discrimination from within, more frequently they have to contend with external forces that have lumped them all as juvenile delinquents who vandalize, get stoned and tag.

There are vandals, stoners and taggers who skateboard, notes Jeff, just as there are those who play baseball or football.

The major issue lies with the complaints by city officials and business owners angered over street curbs, bus benches and parking stops chipped and ground down by the metal trucks that hold the wheels. Signs banning skateboards are posted at mini-malls, schools, parks, beach boardwalks and other places.

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