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Skateboarding covered on

August 30, 2004

Skateboarding to Better Health / As appearing on

Riders drawn to adrenaline; experts say it's a great workout.
Friday, August 13, 2004 Posted: 10:46 PM EDT

SAYREVILLE, New Jersey (AP) -- While the tennis courts at Kennedy Park are bare on a hot afternoon, parents keep dropping off teenagers at the skate park, home to all the day's action.

A dozen boys sit on the ledge, cooling off while watching others take turns flying downhill on the concrete slope. Forget Little League: In some areas, skateboarding is now the sport of choice.

Clad in helmets and jeans, the teens have their choice of skating into a clover-shaped bowl -- resembling an oddly shaped empty swimming pool -- or over a series of obstacles not unlike the park benches or railings used in street skating.

"You can just, like, go out here and do your own thing," said Nick Marrone, 13, visiting from Poughquag, New York. "It's whatever you want; you're just having fun."

The sport once mainly practiced on backyard ramps and in Southern California skate parks has found universal appeal. One estimate is that there are 12 million skateboarders nationwide and more than 1,000 public skateparks on top of the multitude of private ones.

"It's a great rush," said 14-year-old Amelia Brodka, taking a short break from the vert ramp at the indoor RexPlex Skate Park in Elizabeth.

The sport is growing not only in the suburbs of big cities, but also in small communities like Searcy, Arkansas.

"There are more and more kids every single day getting involved and the stereotypes are really being lifted," said Alan Holloway, program coordinator for Searcy Parks and Recreation, which opened its municipal skate park in 2000 and expanded it in 2002 because of heavy use.

The core market seems to be in the 10- to 15-year-old group of "energetic, crazy young kids who are fearless," and who now surpass the number of Little League baseball players, said Miki Vuckovich of the Tony Hawk Foundation, established by perhaps the sport's best-known athlete.

"A lot of kids are looking for alternatives now; they don't want to do team sports," said Mark Sperling, founder of Op Girls Learn to Ride, which teaches skateboarding and other action sports to females. "Skateboarding is a way for them to express who they are and their creativity."

It's also inexpensive -- just grab a secondhand skateboard and head to the streets. And while some skate competitively, others say they have fun without the pressures or politics of team sports.

"There's no coach yelling at you that you bobbled the play," said Chris Li, 16, of Livingston, New Jersey, who is lobbying his hometown to build a municipal park. "It's not like you bobble one play, and you're benched for the rest of the season."

The sport's popularity dates to the 1960s and has surged again in the last 10 years thanks in part to the X Games, the action sports competition broadcast on ESPN and ABC.

And its appeal these days is ever wider. Some parks have an "Old Man's Night;" and girls and women acccount for about 20 percent of skateboarders. There's even a California-based International Society of Skateboarding Moms.

"We just can't get this kind of buzz from scrapbooking," said founder Barb Odanaka, 41, of Laguna Beach, Calif. "We can't get this on the tennis courts and we certainly can't get it from shopping at the mall. There's something about looking down a vertical wall of cement and basically hurling yourself down this wall on four wheels. That is a rush like nothing else."

Avid skateboarders maintain their sport is no more dangerous than football or soccer.

Barb Ordanaka, left, with Alison McGuire, says "We just can't get this kind of buzz from scrapbooking."

Skateboarding-related accidents accounted for 113,180 emergency room injuries in 2002, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. That's about a third of the bicycle injuries suffered by kids under age 15, and about half the number of injuries from playground equipment.

Aspiring riders are usually drawn more to the adrenaline rush than the fitness benefits, but it does provide a great workout, experts say.

"It's cardiovascular; it's better than running," said Brendan Flattery, 28, who runs skateboarding programs at the RexPlex. "You're constantly moving."

Balance is key, and it also helps to have a sense of direction and agility. While learning to skateboard requires patience and perseverance, Vuckovich said the rewards are many.

"You're always progressing, you're always learning something new," he said. "You see things and you want to replicate it. You want to be that guy. The closer you get there, the more the mystery is solved and the more excited you get. It's a great thing for kids to do."

The trend also means teens are spending less time on video games.

"The more time that you can limit them from being squatted in front of the TV, and actually get them outside physically doing something, that's a good thing," said Searcy parks coordinator Holloway.