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THE GREAT OUTDOORS / GETTING ACTIVE BY LAND

Thrill Seekers Are as Extreme as They Want to Be

Rock climbing and aggressive in-line skating may seem treacherous, but enthusiasts insist the danger is minimal.

June 26, 1996|MICHAEL ITAGAKI | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Generation X likes adventure. The extreme sports provide the thrill, the danger, the exhilaration, the . . . excuse me, what was that?

"Actually, I don't think rock climbing is extreme," said Rob Mulligan, who works at Rockreation, an indoor climbing facility in Costa Mesa. "It's really very safe, provided you take the proper precautions.

"It's only perceived as extreme."

There are the daredevil climbers who scale sheer rock faces with no safety ropes or harnesses, but Mulligan said those climbers make up a minute percentage of the climbing population.

The majority of in-line skates are purchased by everyday skaters who cruise on neighborhood sidewalks or even play some hockey. The aggressive in-line skaters, the ones who perform those acrobatic aerial maneuvers, make up a small percentage of the skating population.

In-line skating and rock climbing are two recreational activities considered by the mainstream to be extreme. They are gaining popularity with the masses for the challenge and fitness they can provide. And really, enthusiasts insist they're not that dangerous.

Wall House

Rockreation, built in an old warehouse, is the country's first indoor facility devoted entirely to climbing and the only one of its kind in Los Angeles or Orange County. It is also one in a cluster of climbing facilities in central Orange County.

REI in Santa Ana and Adventure 16 in Costa Mesa also have indoor climbing facilities. Sport Chalet is currently building an indoor wall at its recently remodeled Huntington Beach store.

"Our appeal is that we provide a safe, controlled environment for people to learn the basics of climbing," Rockreation's James Lewicke said. "People also enjoy the fitness aspect too.

"But I think only a small percentage of the people who learn to climb here will become avid outdoor climbers."

The recent boom of sport climbing has some traditional climbers nervous, Mulligan said. If the sport becomes increasingly popular, more sport climbers will head to the mountains. The conflict arises because of some fundamental philosophical differences about equipment usage.

The debate centers around which climbing does more damage to rock faces. Is it more damaging in sport climbing to have a camouflaged, permanent anchor placed in the rock by a drill? Or is it more damaging to have the repeated placement and removal of similar instruments which causes chipping and expansion of the holes?

Or is any type of rock climbing endangering the environment and rock faces too much already?

"It's like asking if all these little chips, flakes and drilling into the rock deface the natural surface more than say, Mount Rushmore?" Mulligan said.

Environmental concerns are something climbers will always face and they will continue to debate how to best handle them. Indoors, those aren't issues.

Lewicke said indoor facilities are popular with longtime climbers as well as rookies. Veteran climbers are hooked because a facility like Rockreation helps them keep their skills sharp and it is conveniently located.

"The best places to climb locally are a one- or two-hour drive away or even more," Lewicke said, referring to popular climbing spots in the San Fernando Valley, Joshua Tree, or Yosemite.

"That's what's nice about working here," Lewicke said. "I can climb all the time."

Skate Park

The sport climbers have some new playgrounds and so do aggressive in-line skaters. As recently as a year ago, local skaters had to venture to Moreno Valley or Encinitas to find the closest park.

That's why Orange County skaters have flocked to Stuart's Extreme Skate Park in Orange. For a $27 annual membership fee and $4 per three-hour session, skaters have access to two half-pipes, and other numerous ramps and rails.

"It's not too much to pay," said James Do, 17, of Anaheim. "This place is great. We need more places like this."

Another local haven for aggressive skaters is Costa Mesa's Pharside 714, a small venue featuring an 11-foot half pipe and a few smaller ramps. Located behind the RSA Inline shop, the park is open to in-line skaters only and some of the sport's professionals practice there.

Although aggressive skaters make up a small percentage of the in-line skating population, there is still enough interest to spawn two professional tours: Aggressive Skaters Assn. (March through November) and the National In-line Skate Series (June through September). The NISS national finals will be Sept. 7-8 in Huntington Beach.

*

How lucrative is the sport? The NISS offers $2,000 to the winner of each event. Another indication is the success of entrepreneur Joe McGowan, who owns and operates Bulletproof, an in-line skating equipment company. Bulletproof is prospering by manufacturing and distributing high-end performance shinguards worldwide. ESPN and ESPN2's coverage of recent in-line skating competitions has also given the sport more visibility.

But the everyday aggressive skaters such as Do are happy more places like Stuart's Extreme Skate Park are opening.

"Here, the skaters, skateboarders and BMX [bicycle riders] can all come," Do said. "It gives us all somewhere to go . . . where we don't get harassed by the cops."

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Starting Costs

Here are some estimated costs for a beginning in-line skater:

* Skates: $60-$300. Street hockey and trick skates tend to be higher-cost products.

* Helmet: $20-$30.

* Wrist guard, elbow and knee pads: $45. High-end performance gear is more expensive.

Here are some estimated costs for a beginning rock climber:

* Starter classes: Rockreation, $37. Three hours instruction at Rockreation, rental gear and use of climbing wall for the day. Adventure 16, $79. Instruction, rental gear and day of climbing outdoors. REI in Santa Ana, $77. Instruction, rental gear and day of climbing outdoors.

* Climbing fee: $20. Equipment rental and day pass to Rockreation.

* Indoor gear: If you don't want to rent, it will cost $250-$300 to outfit yourself.

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