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A Young Head of Skate

X Games champ Ryan Sheckler has perfected his routine at age 14

July 20, 2004|Pete Thomas | Times Staff Writer

Sunshine has vanquished the morning haze and made this one of the finest days of the summer. Ryan Sheckler's friends have gone to the beach, and there is the sense that he'd like to join them.

But, as always seems to be the case, he has visitors, one with a notebook and another with a camera. So it goes when you're the hottest thing in action sports.

The kid knows the drill. He plops into a chair next to the swimming pool at his parents' San Clemente home and politely answers questions. Then he strolls to his backyard skate park and begins to warm up.

The family's yard isn't huge, but Ryan's father, Randall, is a mechanical engineer, and one part of the yard is a course of ramps, sliding boxes and steel rails. Miniature heaven for a skateboarder.

Soon, Ryan is streaking this way and that, launching onto and off of the park's many obstacles. His confidence brimming, he decides to attempt a kick-flip crooked grind. It's a complex maneuver that entails a short "ollie," or jump, flipping his skateboard with the front of one shoe, stepping back onto its deck and landing nose-first on a raised rail between the front wheels before sliding off the rail and skating away.

"It'll be a good one if I can pull it off," he says from atop the lead-in ramp. "I've only landed it, like, five times."

Make that six. Sheckler rolls to a stop after a flawless run and looks back, his green eyes wide and mouth open, as though he has surprised even himself.

Next up: "a backside tail slide ... "

*

Skateboarding's youngest superstar has been full of surprises since he became obsessed with the sport at age 4.

He's 14 now, and winner of too many amateur contests to count. He turned pro a day after his 13th birthday because he'd run out of challenges, and has since amassed a small fortune in contest winnings.

A year ago, he became the youngest skateboarder to win a gold medal at ESPN's Summer X Games, earnestly declaring afterward that just being invited to such a prestigious event fulfilled a dream he'd had "since I was a kid."

Also in 2003, he struck gold at the Gravity Games and won the Vans Triple Crown and World Cup Skateboarding championships.

Today, at an age when most aspiring pros are still finding their way, Sheckler, who stands 5 feet 1 and weighs 97 pounds, is living a dream shared by millions of young skateboarders. He travels the world with the sport's elite and is among the favorites in the 2004 X Games, set for Aug. 5-8 at Staples Center.

But on this afternoon beneath a radiant blue sky, another dream occupies his mind: One in which he's just an ordinary kid skating purely for fun, whose summer means carefree days at the beach and whose fall means mingling with students on campus.

Sitting poolside in jeans and a red T-shirt, Sheckler confesses that he has grown bored with home-schooling, which has been necessary for the last two years to accommodate his schedule. He then announces that he is putting the brakes on his burgeoning career long enough to enjoy what's left of his childhood.

It has nothing to do with his passion for skating -- that's as fiery as ever, he assures. It has everything to do with bringing into his world a sense of normalcy.

"I just want to go to high school, man," he says softly. "I just want to get back up with all my friends and start doing the social thing again. I'm just now entering my freshman year in high school, and I don't want to miss that."

Sharing what is sure to be disappointing news to fans, contest promoters and the sponsors who pay him, Sheckler goes on to say he will skate only high-profile events such as the X Games and Gravity Games, and reassess his situation after the fall semester at San Clemente High. He maintains that the decision is entirely his and that he has the support of his family and the management company that represents him.

"It's clear that he has become an established member of the [skateboarding] community and he's not going anywhere," says Circe Wallace-Hetzel, senior athlete manager at IMS Sports in Cardiff. "He will be around as much as he wants to be, and he will continue to do great things."

Sheckler says this has been his plan from the beginning, "to get a bunch of stuff done before high school and then actually go to high school." "It's all falling into place."

With that, he changes his shoes and begins to skate again.

The photo session shouldn't take long, he's told. "Oh, no worries," he replies, extending his board for emphasis. "This is still my life."

*

The Shecklers' two-story home is on a hillside within a gated community only a couple of miles from the beach. Ryan's home away from home since he was 6 has been the YMCA's Magdalena Ecke skate park 25 miles down Interstate 5 in Encinitas. There, he spent as much time as his parents allowed. At home, he practiced kick-flips in his garage, 100 per day until he mastered them.

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