Riding a concrete wave Skateboarding: It's back, it's free and it lacks rules. Surgeons and youths with earrings skateboard to escape hassles. Yet skate parks are scarce and at times neighbors complain.

August 06, 1996|By James Bock | James Bock,SUN STAFF

In an article yesterday, the name of a skateboarding orthopedic surgeon was misspelled. He is Dr. Drew Pagliaro.

The Sun regrets the errors.

Three orthopedic surgeons in a dark Saab 900S cruised into a blue-collar Baltimore County neighborhood early one Saturday morning, quickly unpacked their gear, ducked into the green overgrowth and went to work.

They came not to an operating theater, but to a theater of sorts for those who perform on wheels. For these surgeons are also skateboarders, and their destination was a graffiti-covered cluster of concrete that is the Baltimore area's underground skateboard oasis: the Lansdowne skate park.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

"This place is a hidden treasure," said Dr. Richard Zipnick, 34, the driver of the Saab. "This is like the last holdout."

Built in 1980, the skateboarding mecca formally known as Sandy Hills Park is riding the sport's wave of popularity. Hidden behind modest rowhouses near Baltimore-Washington Parkway, the park's 1,000 square yards of concrete snake runs and bowls attract dozens of skaters on a typical weekend day: preteens with parents in tow; older children with earrings in the oddest places; and your occasional orthopedic surgeon or three.

Dr. Drew Pagliardo, 34, started skating two decades ago during another skateboarding boom. He has broken two bones in his right forearm and both wrists at one time or another, but he hasn't abandoned the sport.

"I like the adrenalin. I've never played golf and have no desire to. It's too slow," he said. "It's not like we're out here cutting deals. They don't have skate parks at country clubs."

Skate parks are scarce. National skateboarding magazines list in Maryland only Lansdowne -- a Baltimore County park with no on-site staff or facilities (not even a water fountain) -- and Ocean Bowl Skatepark, a public facility in Ocean City. High insurance costs have doomed many privately owned parks.

Despite a skateboarding exhibition in the Atlanta Olympics' closing ceremonies, the sport suffers from an outlaw image. Kids with skateboards cruise shopping centers and suburban cul-de-sacs in growing numbers, but public officials haven't responded by building parks.

"Some of the folks in that culture aren't the most positive kids, but by and large they are good kids and it's a wholesome !B activity," said Clinton Jennifer, the county's recreation officer for Lansdowne.

The skate park's secluded location (at Bero Road and Freeway off Hollins Ferry Road), lack of rules ("Skateboard at your own risk," says a battered county sign) and free admission add to its mystique. Two recent visits to the park turned up skaters from Fallston, Elkton, Hagerstown, Pittsburgh, Jacksonville, Fla., and Montana, as well as places all around the Beltway.

Chris Kelley, co-owner of a Fells Point skate shop, says he feels like a surfer getting to the beach at 6 a.m. to catch the best wave when he follows the little asphalt path to a grassy knoll that overlooks the Lansdowne skate park. "Oh, man, the curves, the bowl. You can go fast, do so much in such a short distance. It's beautiful," he said.

His partner, Chris Shehane, said: "It's one of the only places to skateboard around Baltimore where you really can't get hassled. It's a place to go to get away from everything. It's free. You can do pretty much anything you want. There is no government over it."

The park's immediate neighbors think the skate bowl could use much more supervision.

"I wish they'd close it up or turn it into a park where all kids can play," said Dawn Morgan, a mother of three who has lived by the park for almost five years. "Nobody in the neighborhood goes back there."

Neighbors say the occasional daytime injuries are a problem (a young in-line skater with a skull fracture recently was flown out of the park by MedEvac helicopter), but that nighttime drinking, drugging, loud parties and fights are much worse.

"No. 1, there's no supervision, and No. 2, nobody cares," said Helen Neptune, who has lived in Lansdowne for 18 years. "I'd no more let my granddaughter go down there than the man in the moon."

When the park was built, vandals burned down a building that housed a concession stand and toilets. Bikers and skateboarders used to get into turf battles over who controlled the bowls. Pit bull owners once held dog fights in the park. But now, during the day at least, skateboarders, in-line skaters and BMX bikers share the space in apparent harmony.

Officer Richard France, who has patrolled Lansdowne for 22 years, said: "I can remember one call there in the last year at most, and that didn't originate in the skate bowl. If there was a lot of trouble there, I'd know about it."

Old-style skateboarders like to cruise Lansdowne's bowls and banks at high speed. New-style youths come to practice a wide range of tricks such as "ollies" (jumps), kick flips (making the board rotate and landing on it) and grinds (sliding along curbs or metal barriers).

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