Skaters on board with tricky sport

Park: The Columbia Association offers a skate camp at one of the best facilities in the country for youths to perfect their moves.

Howard At Play

July 04, 2004|By Lowell E. Sunderland | Lowell E. Sunderland,SUN STAFF

On the edge of a steep, steel ramp, 8 feet off the ground in Columbia's Harper's Choice village, Aaron Llanso checks the chin strap on his helmet.

He leans forward, and - whooooosh - down he goes, rapidly accelerating across a flat, then up a steep 4-foot ramp and what's called a fly box. Then, suddenly airborne, he twists his body 360 degrees.

Whaaamp! The board's wheels slam into the box, spurring Llanso's acceleration and lean enough to zap him up another 4-foot ramp, and to launch him higher this time.

Airborne again, he twists 1 1/2 times -- 540 degrees. He turns his head forward and immediately scoots up a 3-foot ramp to a landing, where he abruptly stops, grinning.

Llanso, 18, who graduated from River Hill High School last month and is headed for the University of Delaware, is head instructor at a Columbia Park and Recreation Association skateboarding and in-line skating camp this summer.

Nearby, Doug Williams, the lead instructor for skateboarders, talks about Llanso's stunts and others'.

"It's so different from what it was in 1988, when I started," Williams says. "All the tricks done today weren't even thought of then.

"I'm an old man at this."

He's 24.

Llanso and Williams are teaching in the Columbia Association's Sports Park, which includes one of the county's best facilities for skateboarders and in-line skaters who like stunts.

You have to watch carefully if you know little about the two athletic activities, which are part of the TV- born and promoted phenomena called extreme sports.

Skateboarders and in-line skaters do leaps, twists, grinds, spins and other moves at the 3,800-square-foot Harper's Choice facility.

The moves look similar to the unschooled eye. But except for keeping balanced, say Williams and others who spend hours there, skateboarding and in-line skating skills are quite different.

"You stand sideways on a board," Williams says.

"The board can leave your feet," adds Vincent DeLorenzo, the park's assistant general manager.

Older participants tend to choose one event or the other, DeLorenzo said, "but the younger kids do both. ESPN has had a lot to do with that. Kids see it on TV and want to try it."

These activities that obviously require athletic ability - coordination, anticipation, quick thinking, strength, courage - aren't considered sports by many. The Columbia facility, usually active when it's open, is only infrequently the site of competition, DeLorenzo says.

But there are competitions, and it's attracted at least one teenager.

Bart Strang, 16, a River Hill High School junior and teacher at the camp with Williams and Llanso, has participated in several East Coast events, finishing as high as fifth in his amateur bracket.

Skateboarding, Stang insists, has changed his life.

"It's very self-driven, very independent, very goal-oriented," Stang says. "There's no coach. You pretty much have to learn yourself. But there's so much `positivity.' I'm a whole different person. I dream about it all the time."

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