Believe it or not, not every teenager wants to be the next Peyton Manning or Kobe Bryant.
Alternative sports are continuing to gain in popularity at the high school level, whether it be surfing, roller hockey, boxing, bowling, rowing, fencing or ice hockey.
So it should come as no surprise that skateboarding is about to enter uncharted territory as a team sport. The newly formed California High School Skateboard Club will hold the first of four events Sunday, matching five-man teams representing Santa Monica, Agoura, Simi Valley, Royal, Newbury Park, Westlake Village Westlake and Oak Park highs.
During practice last week at Skatelab, an indoor skate park in Simi Valley that will play host to Sunday's event, students showed off their best stuff, going airborne off ramps and maneuvering around rails and stairs while hardly talking smack to each other despite attending rival schools.
It seems as if skateboarders care more about having fun, hanging out with friends and maintaining their laid-back attitude than trying to prove they are better than a competitor. And that could be the big problem when three judges are asked to give scores for each athlete's two-minute routine.
"If there wasn't a competition, I wouldn't care," Agoura freshman Jake Simowitz said. "I just love skateboarding."
Freedom from coaches, freedom to wear whatever they want and freedom to choose their own routines was critical to founder Jeff Stern's ability to pull off supposedly the first high school skateboarding competition.
Stern, a 38-year-old Ventura County resident who attends law school at night and has a 7-year-old son who skateboards, spent more than a year putting together the idea of having high school skateboarders compete on teams.
He's got Nike serving as a title sponsor, with the most valuable skateboarder on the winning team receiving free shoes for a year. Competitors receive free energy drinks and free helmets, and Skatelab's owner, Todd Huber, is allowing competitors free skate time.
"I think it's cool because it's opening up skateboarding more," said Josh Krakover, a senior at Agoura.
If you're hanging out with skateboarders, the first thing to do is to figure out their lingo. Like surfers, there are certain words everyone seems to use, such as dude, tight, roll and chill.
But the one word that keeps getting repeated is cool. That's the answer when a skateboarder is asked to describe the feeling on a board, whether falling or flying, rolling or jumping.
"I love skateboarding, so I'll do anything for it," Simi Valley freshman Roy Canright said. "I thought about going out for the football team, but I'm more devoted to skateboarding. I'm here every day. It's like my second home."
Canright said he has been gone from 8 a.m. to midnight on some days skateboarding, which makes him as dedicated to his sport as a basketball player rising at 7 a.m. to shoot 500 free throws or a golfer spending hours hitting balls at a driving range to perfect a swing.
These skateboarders might not get worked up about who has the best team, but they care about their craft.
"I really don't do anything but skateboard," said Tanner Fazli, a senior at Royal and an A student. "It's more fun because you don't have a coach, and skateboarding is completely up to you. This is really weird. I've never had a team before. Me and my friends went into this, 'Let's have fun, let's not take it too seriously.' "
Stern said the skateboarding competition is an opportunity to challenge some of the misconceptions and stereotypes associated with the sport.
"They're not getting into fights," he said. "They're not smoking pot. They all hang out with each other. There's no rivalries. They're high-fiving and pushing each other. It's a great scene."
Although there's no official sponsorship from the various high schools because skateboarding is not sanctioned by the California Interscholastic Federation, school administrators are supportive because it takes skateboarders away from campuses and gives them an opportunity to spend time in a safe environment.
Liability concerns have forced schools to stay away from supporting competitions in such sports as boxing, roller hockey and ice hockey, but giving them club status or letting an off-campus organization take responsibility for providing insurance has become a growing option.
Skatelab has each competitor and their parent sign a liability waiver and release form.
It's no wonder the home of the X Games is in Los Angeles, where good weather combined with fearless teenagers willing to try anything, is fueling the alternative sports scene.
Two of the skateboarders practicing last week were asked whether they knew who Peyton Manning was. Neither could identify him as the quarterback of the Super Bowl champion Indianapolis Colts. But they knew of Tony Hawk, Paul Rodriguez Jr. and Ryan Sheckler of skateboard fame.
Times are changing, and skateboarding is among the alternative sports leading the way.
\o7Eric Sondheimer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.