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As Mobile Park Rolls, Skaters Jump on Board

A skateboard course is set up at a different Long Beach site each day of the week. It recently made the cover of a trade publication.

November 23, 2002|Daniel Hernandez and Nancy Wride | Times Staff Writers

It's a Monday afternoon at Long Beach's Houghton Park, where the tennis courts have just been transformed into a temporary skateboard course. Some of the expectant kids showed up early, just to watch it being built.

Unloaded from a city truck, the custom jigsaw pieces are assembled into the tubes, pipes, ramps and other hardware that make up the course and provoke fretting by parents but thrill their offspring.

Against the fence circling the course, a few first-timers watch the action, too intimidated to give it a go, nervously clutching their unscratched boards, pretending nonchalance.

Austin Howard has an excuse to chicken out, but he doesn't. He is under 4 feet tall and weighs 63 pounds. He's 6 years old, and going for it, although it will be only his second time on a board.

No small pressure that his mother is up against the fence overlooking the course, her video camera trained on his attempts to remain upright on his slow-moving board.

"I want to learn to do really cool tricks," Austin says, his eyes almost covered by his oversized helmet. "The first time I went, I was kind of nervous because I was little. I busted my elbow. See?"

Austin peels back his long-sleeved T-shirt and proudly displays a thick scab.

Last week says his mother, Arianna Pando, "He was the accident of the evening.

"He's kind of green, getting in people's way," she says. But that won't last. On Thursday, she says, "He'll go 'Mom, seven days till the skate park.' On Wednesday, 'Six days.' [Monday] morning, he's like, 'How many hours?' "

Pando focuses her camera on her other son, Alec, 10. "I have to choose my battles," she says. "Yeah, I'm afraid they'll get hurt. But they'll keep doing it and it's just harder for me if I don't get with the program. They're boys!"

Plus, she adds, her boys wear out after three hours of skateboarding, and when they get home, "They conk out. I love it."

Every day of the week, Long Beach's mobile skate park is set up at a different location for skateboarders to practice their "ollies," "grinds" and "board slides."

With 2,500 registered participants attesting to its popularity, the park made the September cover of Skatepark Magazine, a national trade publication for park operators.

"It isn't the largest course but they have so many kids.... It's amazing," said Richard Hawthorne, owner of Vert Manufacturing in Costa Mesa, which produced the reinforced custom equipment for Long Beach and for other skate parks around the country.

The value of the mobile, or temporary, skate park is that it provides a relatively safe spot for skateboarders in the absence of a permanent facility. Mobile parks are also much cheaper than permanent ones. Long Beach already had a van for its mobile recreation program, so staffing and supplies cost $50,000.

The costs have discouraged municipalities from building parks for the popular sport. For years, skateboarders were forced to hunt for concrete where they could skate in darkened parking garages, empty swimming pools or public places where the public often made it clear they were not wanted.

But liability concerns discouraged most communities from building a place for the skateboarders to go. Officials said that after a state law was passed in 1998 that limited government liability, cities like Long Beach launched construction of permanent parks.

So popular was Long Beach's stationary skate park at El Dorado Park that council members in the eight other districts -- and their constituents -- started clamoring for one near them.

While a second park is being built, Long Beach's mobile course meets a need. It also helps planners target future permanent locations by assessing attendance at the temporary sites. The daily average is 35.

When the program was launched 18 months ago, there was no need to trumpet a grand opening.

"We didn't have to advertise. We didn't tell the schools," said Cynthia Fogg youth services supervisor for the city's Parks and Recreation Department. "Word of mouth spread the word that we're here. The kids found us."

On this Monday afternoon at Houghton Park, the city truck painted in flashy designs pulls onto the tennis courts.

In skateboarder jargon for stuff to glide and grind loud wheels over, under, through and on top of, the contents unloaded include two quarter pikes ("one is in the shop," workers said to a string of kids who asked), a 6-foot flat rail, a 12-foot kinked rail, a 5-foot adjustable rail, a 1-foot flat wedge and a "fun box."

James Alvarez, 19, has come today to perfect his "back tail 180 out." That's a backward 360-degree turn in the air above the skateboard, he says.

Thin and nimble, with droopy eyes and a mop of sandy blond hair, Alvarez starts off his practice runs with his usual warmup: trying an impossible move and falling on purpose. That way says Alvarez, he loses his fear of falling, and "I know how to fall when I do fall."

It hurts?

"Of course," he smiles. "It's the name of the game. That's part of the adrenaline. It's the fear."

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