It's all a-board for outdoor fun

Joanne Krohn's Rascals emphasizes service for the snowboarding and skateboarding crowd

October 25, 2006|By Karen Nitkin | Karen Nitkin,special to the sun

Ian Schaefer, a senior at Mount Hebron High School, was a customer at Rascals, the skateboard and snowboard shop in Normandy Shopping Center, before he became an employee.

"I used to come here when I was younger and thought everybody who worked here was so cool," he said.

Schaefer is now one of those employees, working mostly weekends. Like others who work at the small shop, which is crowded with clothes and other gear, he is an avid skateboarder.

"All of my kids who work here in the shop are skateboarders," said owner Joanne Krohn.

Krohn doesn't skateboard, but she's a snowboarder, having picked up the sport when she was in her mid-30s. She travels out West a couple of times a year to snowboard with her husband, and takes weekend trips to mountains in Pennsylvania, she said.

Krohn was introduced to the idea of selling skateboards and snowboards in 1986. She had just moved to Maryland with her family, and walked into The Mall in Columbia looking for a job. She landed one with the Wavedancer Board Shop.

After working for that company for 10 years, Krohn opened her own store in the mall in 1997. In 2001, she moved to the Normandy site.

Krohn said her store isn't meant to compete with more general sporting goods stores.

"They have their place in the industry," she said, "but once they [skateboarders] can do tricks, they need a professional skateboard."

Among other qualities, the skateboards sold at Rascals have urethane wheels, not plastic, which are better able to absorb shock, she said. And customers design their own skateboards by combining the boards (called decks) with wheels and axles (called trucks).

"They read the magazines and watch the videos and they know what they want," Krohn said of her skateboarding customers. Younger kids tend to choose boards based on graphics, while older ones are more discerning about the stiffness and width of the boards, she said. Everything from the size and color of the wheel to the brand of the truck plays a part, she said.

Once the components have been chosen, the boards, which cost between $110 and $132, can be assembled in about 10 minutes while the customer waits.

Of course, the boards are just the beginning. Serious skateboarders need special shoes, which cost about $60 or $70, with smooth soles so they can feel the board, said Krohn.

"Some kids go through a pair of shoes a month," she said.

Rascals also sells helmets and other protective gear, as well as jeans, shirts and other clothing. Magazines, including one called Snowboard Journal (More Snow, Less Hype), are sold by the cash register. Broken skateboards are displayed near the ceiling, gifts (or loans) from customers.

Rascals' customer base is mostly teen-aged and more male than female.

"I would say my average kid is 12 through 18," Krohn said. But she noted that plenty of parents get into the sport after they see how much fun their kids are having.

Part of the appeal of skateboarding, according to employee Colin Nugent, 23, is that there are no coaches or rules. People just go out and skate, he said. "I guess you could say it's an internal competition," he said.

Krohn agreed. "It's a very individual sport," she said. "All they're doing is expressing themselves."

This time of year, the store is moving toward snowboard gear. Rascals sells boards that range in price from $150 to $800, as well as a full line of winter apparel, goggles, sunglasses and watches.

In the summer, Rascals also sells high-end skim boards and body boards that can cost as much as $300. "I only carry the better boards," she said. "They're not coming in my store looking for a $50 board."

Krohn said she also offers more service than typical sporting goods stores, including free tune-ups for snowboards. "Customer service, that's probably the thing for my shop," she said. "We know the kids by name."

Recently, S.J. Greenway of Catonsville took his son, Nicholas, 11, to the store to buy a skateboard. Nicholas chose one with the words "Skateboarding is not a crime" written on the bottom.

"The staff is extremely knowledgeable," said Greenway, who had previously purchased a board for his younger son, Brandon, 9, at Rascals. "They treat you well. They'll let you browse all day. They've got a great store here."

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