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An "old guy" give skateboarding a try ... with mixed results.

By TERRY TOMALIN

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 12, 2001


An "old guy" give skateboarding a try ... with mixed results.

ST. PETERSBURG -- Why should kids have all the fun?

"Look at them, just tearing it up," said Gary Sullivan, pointing to a pair of 11-year-olds roaring down the half-pipe. "Don't you want some of that, too?"

The skateboard "stoke," Sullivan said, did not discriminate. Age, sex, race or creed ... it didn't matter. All I needed was a helmet and skateboard, and in no time, I'd be doing "ollies."

"I'm 40 years old, 20 pounds overweight and nursing a bad knee," I told Sullivan. "There's no way I can ride a skateboard."

Nonsense, proclaimed Sullivan, a local skateboarding guru. "Sidewalk surfing," he said, is a sport for all ages. And to prove his point, he dragged this out-of-shape outdoors writer to the St. Pete Skate Park on Coquina Key, covered me in pads and cut me loose on a 6-foot half-pipe.

"It's all in the hips," Sullivan said as he positioned me squarely atop a wide "old school" skateboard. "Just feel the pump, look at the wave."

Pump? Wave? We're talking concrete, not H 2O.

"True, but the sports share much of the same terminology," said Sullivan, who owns and operates Florida Oceansports on First Avenue N. "It's all the same stoke."

The shop's motto is "Surf -- Skate -- Soul." And on any day after school, you'll find a dozen or so prepubescent skateboarders watching surf videos and talking about "decks and trucks" as they wait for the park to open at 6 p.m.

"It is all about the vibe," Sullivan said about his shop and the park he helped start. "You can't argue with a good vibe."

Which is why Sullivan was convinced that even I could survive the half-pipe. Sure, I might be a dad and a few years past my prime, but I had a good attitude.

"Mind over matter," I told a gaggle of grommets who had gathered to heckle me. "If you don't mind, it doesn't matter."

With that, Sullivan pushed me forward and up the ramp. I maintained my balance for a brief second, then fell backward and sent the skateboard skyrocketing.

"Wow ... it almost made it over the fence," one of the youngsters exclaimed. "Do that again."

I picked myself up and adjusted my pads while Sullivan performed a brief neurological exam.

"You okay?" he asked. I nodded. And he pushed me off again.

This time I leaned with the board, and when it had reached its apex, I turned my head and leaned the opposite way.

"Look at the wave," he said. "Look at the blue."

The walls of the skatepark were painted for a reason.

"Besides being a mellow color, blue is the color of water," he said. "Skateboarding is all about being fluid."

Strength, flexibility, balance and the courage to fail ... this is what you need to ride the concrete wave.

"Ouch!" Sullivan yelled as I impressed my young audience with another spectacular wipeout. But I got up and climbed back atop my "old school" board.

The deck, a few inches wider than the "popsicle" boards favored by most of today's "new school" or street skaters, was the ideal choice for a big guy with bad balance. These "pool" boards are a throwback to the days before skateparks, when the only place to skate was empty swimming pools.

And after a half-hour or so (and a dozen bruising wipeouts), I finally found myself staying on my feet for more than a few seconds. The 11-year-olds that had gathered to laugh at the "old guy" lost interest.

Sullivan, confident that his grand social experiment had been a success, pulled me aside and slapped me on the back.

"You've got the stoke now," he said. "I'm sure we'll see you here next week."

Next step, the kick turn, Sullivan said. And once I have mastered that, he would teach me how to "drop in" at the top of the ramp. "You'll be an inspiration to dads everywhere."

I'd get a T-shirt that read: "Old Guys Rule." I couldn't wait.

St. Pete Skatepark on Coquina Key

HOURS: 6-9 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 6-10 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 4-8 p.m. Sunday.

ADMISSION: $3 Monday-Thursday; $4 Friday-Sunday.

HELMETS: Must be worn.

INFORMATION: Call Florida Oceansports at (727) 823-4434.

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