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THE GREAT OUTDOORS: A GUIDE TO ORANGE COUNTY RECREATION
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In Through the Out Door

Few Places Can Beat Southern California as a Locale for Outdoor Recreation, so Why Are We Flocking to Indoor Playgrounds?

May 28, 1999|DIANE PUCIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

We surf and on the same day we snowboard. We golf, we hike, we skateboard and Rollerblade. We play tennis, we jog, we climb mountains and ride mountain bikes. We ski, we swim, we hang glide, we fish. We can do one or two or three of these things on the same day. We can do four or five of these things in one perfect weekend.

We look west and see the ocean. We look east and see the mountains. We look up the street and see a bike path, we look down the street and see a skateboard park.

We live in the only place in the country, heck, maybe the world, where it's possible to get a tan while skiing in the morning and get a better tan by surfing in the afternoon.

So doesn't it strike you odd that, within the next 18 months, Orange County will be home to America's first indoor snowboard and surf park, a 435,000-square foot facility with two snowboard half-pipes, a snowboard terrain park, a beginner's ski hill plus a surf park and an indoor skate park?

Or that on a dreamy, sunny spring afternoon there are hundreds of kids rushing from school to an existing indoor skateboard park at The Block in Orange, emerging only briefly into the daylight, quickly catching a ride from indoor classroom to indoor playroom. Just to participate in an activity that was born outdoors but has become a big hit inside a building where day or night doesn't matter, where sun or clouds don't matter, where you could be in Anchorage or Chicago or Portland, Maine, just as easily as in Orange County.

"No, it's not odd at all," says Mike Gerard, chief of operations and marketing for Gotcha Glacier, the $65-million indoor sports palace scheduled to break ground in August adjacent to Edison International Field. "Yes, we have the surf and snow and sun here, but we also have a very savvy population that doesn't always find the conditions that they expect."

Yes, that's the problem with the pesky outdoors. Just because the sun shines, that doesn't mean the waves are high. Snow can be slushy or grainy or just plain cold. The wind can blow sand in your eyes or dust into your mouth. The sidewalk can be bumpy, the driveway full of cars.

"One of the nicest things about where we live is the climate," Gerard says. "But a lot of outdoor sports are reliant on certain conditions. The waves aren't always the greatest. The mountain snow is not always the greatest. What we're doing is taking sports that are heavily reliant on the right conditions and making sure those conditions are right. See, it's not so much about the weather as it is about the conditions. People here have access to a lot of year-round sports, but as they get more accomplished, they come to expect something better."

Gerard makes the passionate argument that the chance to ski and surf and snowboard and skateboard indoors is more democratic. He says that Gotcha Glacier, built in the city and in the midst of freeways, will open up these sports to a larger, more diverse population. Gerard says that too many people, kids and adults alike, can't afford or don't have the ability to drive to the beach or up into the mountains. Or maybe they don't feel comfortable.

"But Gotcha Glacier would be right there for them," Gerard says. "People will see it. While we hope to attract the elite participants who we think will want to use our facility because it has perfect conditions which would allow them to learn harder skills, we also think we can attract people who might never otherwise think about surfing or snowboarding."

*

Certainly it is a multicultural crowd of kids and teenagers who come to Vans Skate Park, the largest indoor skate park in the world at The Block. There are Latino, Asian, African American and white kids, mostly boys but girls too, riding their bikes, being dropped off by parents or skateboarding right on in.

"It's more fun in here," says Tyler Li, a 15-year-old from Westminster. "Outside, you're always trying to stay away from cars. You hit potholes and fall. People get mad if you're in their way. Inside, it's perfect. This place is built for skateboarding, so they want us here. It's great."

Chris Person of Tustin said he didn't miss being out in the sun, didn't miss skateboarding in the fresh air, didn't see any particular virtue in feeling the wind in his face. "Not at all," Person says. "This is way better.

Both Person and Li, who have also tried snowboarding, find the prospect of doing that sport indoors attractive as well. "Cool," Li says. "It's too far to drive up to Big Bear and stuff. I like snowboarding but it's a hassle to get to the snow. This would make me think about doing it more."

This seems to be the way of the next millennium.

We are people who aim for perfection. We are people who don't walk around the block for exercise. We walk on machines in our homes or gyms that measure calories burned, miles traveled while going nowhere. We devise separate tasks to build stronger triceps and biceps, abs and thighs.

We don't want to drive to the beach and find the waves only rolling and not breaking. We don't want to have to put chains on the tires, drive slowly up the mountain and find out the snow is slushy and slow. We don't want the sun to glare in our eyes or the wind to blow us off our skateboards.

So indoors we go. To pretend we're outdoors.

Diane Pucin can be reached at her e-mail address: diane.pucin@latimes.com

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