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Ollie Up! Why skateboarding is still cool

Eva Kozloski, 7, shyly demonstrates an ollie at the Skatepark of Baltimore in Hampden, just barely missing her landing. Decked out in a “Girls Can Do Anything” T-shirt and toting a skateboard full of stickers, she’s one of the only girls at the park. But while she seems a bit intimidated by the hordes of older skaters and bikers who have come out to enjoy the unseasonably warm day, a little skate talk perks her right up.

“It’s hard, but it’s cool, too,” she says. “If you fall, you just get back up again.”

Watching Eva practice her pop shove-it (another trick she’s been working on), it’s hard to see how skateboarding could have ever earned its bad-boy reputation. In fact, the sport seems nothing short of wholesome: Nearby, an older boy talks a younger one through an ollie of his own, a group of teenagers take turns sliding across a rail, cheering each other on, and a father encourages his son as the little guy gains some momentum on a small incline.

This sense of community and collaboration is at the heart of what skateboarding is all about, says Gary Smith, a professional skater and owner of the Vu Skate Shop brand. Smith has been a pillar in the Baltimore skateboarding community, mentoring young skaters and holding three annual camps for kids aged 5 to 17.

“There’s this camaraderie [among skaters],” he says. “Even in contests when everyone is competing for money, they’re still stoked on each other.” (Translation: If someone does well, everyone’s happy — no matter how well they do themselves.)

Dawn Blaise, mother of 13-year-old skater Otto, agrees.

“One of the things [Otto] loves about skateboarding, and one of the things I’ve witnessed being here at the park, is that it’s such a nice community and the skateboarders support each other, giving tips. It’s a really positive environment. Everybody wants you to land the trick. The people watching you try it over and over and over are just as happy as you are when you land it.”

For Otto, at least, this has been a nice departure from traditional team sports.

“I think the reason I like skateboarding more is because with regular sports it’s always competitive, where with skateboarding, you get to do whatever you want,” he says.

The sport is uniquely creative, which has been its biggest draw for 28-year veteran Smith — and one reason he thinks it’s so great for kids.

“It’s not like a video game. You can’t beat it,” he says. “You don’t need a field, you don’t need a ref. You can just walk out into your front yard or your garage and start skating. There’s a lot of freedom.”

That’s great for more introverted kids, he says. The minimal setup works for parents, too, including those who want to embrace the sport with their kids and those who don’t want to incur the often hefty expenses of team sports.

“One of the things I like about skating is that she goes [to a lesson] once a month, then practices at home,” says Eva’s mother, Elaine. “For those kids that are on two soccer teams or are swimming or whatever else, the parents are there the whole weekend. Eva likes doing her own thing, at her own pace, and she and her father will practice tricks together or watch YouTube videos. We try not to overschedule.”

More one-on-one quality time has been a major benefit, too, for former skater and now-dad Bill Stevenson. His son, Xan (short for Alexander), still plays traditional sports, but skating is a big part of the pair’s bond.

“I had this idea that at some point in the summertime, we’d load up my van and drive around to hit some different parks,” he says, but he never expressed it aloud to Xan. “Then, about a month ago, he said ‘Hey Dad, do you know what I think we should do? In the summer, we should drive around to different parks and go skating.’”

He smiles wide. “I’m lucky I get to spend so much time with my son. It’s really been great.”

Eric Rice, the encouraging dad seen earlier, agrees. Though his 5-year-old son, Carter, jokingly refuses to admit that he likes skating with his dad, their bond is evident. (Rice was clearly once a skater; he dons the traditional hat/T-shirt/baggy shorts uniform seen on so many around the park. Little Carter, for his part, wears a sturdy-looking blue helmet.)

Though his 2- and 5-year-old sons are not yet fully involved in skate culture, Smith reaps similar benefits from his many years of youth mentorship.

“It’s the fountain of youth,” he says. “It keeps me young. When you’ve been skateboarding for so long, you lose the feeling of dropping into the bowl or landing a trick for the first time. But teaching a kid and seeing them do it … it’s the best feeling. It’s the most pure.”

Eva can attest.

“It’s hard and it takes a lot of practice,” she says, “but when you get it you feel really glad.” BC


About Kim Uslin

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