After a hectic day, Tim Morris knows how to unwind.
At night, when no one else is around, he heads for a bank parking lot near the Mall in Columbia, turns up the stereo, opens the hatchback of his car, and pulls out his skateboard.
"I get off into my own world and get away from my problems," said Morris, 27, of Ellicott City.
In fact, the skateboard has changed Morris' world considerably.
He was 12 years old when he got his first skateboard, as a Christmas gift. He and his friends were soon traveling everywhere on the rolling boards.
"It was more practical than bikes," Morris recalled.
Soon after, he entered his first amateur contest in Reisterstown and came in second in the freestyle category. That success spurred him to enter other contests.
In 1986, Morris was selected to be a member of the U.S. Amateur Skateboard Team, which would compete in that year's World's Fair Expo in Vancouver, Canada. The team won first place out of about 20 teams from around the world. Morris took second place for overall performance and fourth place in the freestyle division in that contest.
The next year, Morris became the first competitor from the East Coast since 1981 to win the Stubbies Challenge, an international skateboard contest in Carson, Calif.
Two years ago he went pro. Since then, he's competed in several other national and international contests, always placing near the top.
He has also acquired six sponsors, including Converse Shoes and Walker Skate Boards, and has been featured in skateboard magazines and Boys Life Magazine. Morris also performed for an instructional skateboard video produced by Pantheon Video Productions of Scottsdale, Ariz.
"Skateboarding has changed," he said. "It has become an athletic endeavor and it's not just people decked out in black leather jackets doing punk rock."
Morris, a 1981 graduate of Oakland Mills High School, is the antithesis of that stereotype. His conservative, close-cropped haircut belies any images of half-shaven locks. A white T-shirt sporting the name of a sponsor provides the only hint of Morris' skateboard career.
But the ascent to professional status, though quick, hasn't been as smooth as Morris would like.
"The hardest thing for me is to get into the top five (competitors); it's hard breaking through their reputation," Morris said.
An easier task is entertaining the crowds, which appears to be no obstacle to Morris.
When the Columbia resident rides his skateboard during a demonstration to promote one of his sponsors, chances are he will perform an "Ollie," the "360s," or a "Pogo" -- three skateboard tricks that are usually crowd pleasers. As a freestyle skateboard rider, he needs to perform as many tricks as he can that include rotational, flipping and bouncing feats.
"Skateboarding is open to creativity," said Morris. "You have to be careful to know what kind of judges will be (at competitions). You want to include crowd pleasers as well as difficult maneuvers. It's like a game.
You can create the weirdest tricks; but if there's no impact on the crowd, the judges are influenced," he said.
Morris typically spends about three weeks preparing for competitions, learning new tricks and combinations and working them into a sequence of moves.
He also meets in Delaware each summer with a professional trainer from the National Skateboard Association. That trainer, Barry Zaritsky, coaches Morris for future contests. His efforts have taken Morris from 16th to fourth in the rankings for the National Amateur title.
"I feel like I have gotten everything out of the dream I have always had about skateboarding," Morris said.