TAMPA — Marlee Miller stares down the steep incline at the Skatepark of Tampa, her brother Haze beside her, pointing out a path for them to train through the converted warehouse filled with ramps and rails.
They nod at one another then take off.
One after the other, they ollie (jump into the air), grind (slide their boards along a length of railing) and fakie (perform a trick backward), picking up speed along the way. Haze pushes Marlee to try moves she hasn't yet mastered. Marlee in turn teaches Haze a thing or two.
This is heaven to the Bayonet Point teens, both honors students who'd like nothing better than to spend every waking moment on skateboards.
"It feels really good to just defy gravity and to do things that people can't do standing still," said Marlee, 16, a Ridgewood High junior. "It makes me so happy when I land a trick. It's a sense of self-accomplishment."
Having mastered the basics over seven years of practice, the siblings thrive on learning new tricks and melding them into ever more difficult combinations, said Haze, a 13-year-old Bayonet Point Middle School eighth-grader who's got Metallica pulsing through his headphones to pump up the excitement.
"It's all about pushing each other and having fun," he said.
Along the way, they've earned some recognitions for their skills, finding their way into the top spots in some state and national competitions. They've both won sponsorships from Dread or Dead Surf Shop, which supplies monthly boards as well as contest entry fees.
Marlee even placed fourth of 10 in the 2009 women's Florida Bowlriders Cup and eighth in points (out of 32) for the World Cup Skateboarding 2009 Girls World Bowl.
With hopes of someday being invited to the X-Games, Marlee thinks it's cool to see her name alongside some of the sport's legends like Lyn-z Adams Hawkins. She says she'd like to continue to grow as a skateboarder, and competitions give her that opportunity which might someday lead to bigger things.
But she stresses that the contests are less about winning than about camaraderie.
"It's not really about competing. It's about showing everyone what you've learned since last time," Marlee said, taking a drink break during her strenuous two-hour session. "It's really all about having fun no matter if you win or lose. ... If you're not having fun, what's the point?"
In the world of skateboarding, that laid back attitude can take you far — particularly in the girls' side of this male-dominated sport.
"It's not just your contest ratings," said Skatepark of Tampa general manager Ryan Clements, a skateboarding veteran. "It's, do people like you? Do they want to watch you skate?"
Having skills matters. But attitude, looks, likability and other factors also play a role in a skater's success, he said.
And in the Millers' case, you don't need to study lists to know they're good, Clements said. You only need to watch them in action.
"The Miller kids have it all," he said. "They're just super cool kids."
He attributed that to parents Dave, a Pasco firefighter, and Susan, a forensic investigator for the Pasco County Sheriff's Office.
The Miller 'rents (that's teenspeak for parents) support their kids by providing practice ramps in their yard, taking them to skate parks and competitions, and yes, even skating and surfing with them.
Susan Miller, who met her husband at a skateboarding event, says she's more the cheerleader. But Dave Miller, who taught the kids their first moves, loves to break out his skateboard with them. If not for an injury, he'd be spending the winter break on the ramps and rails with them.
"It's cool when we go to new places where none of us have been before. It's like being at a candy store," said Dave Miller, who still recalls skateboarding as an outlawed activity back when he was a kid. "These guys are pushing me these days."
New tricks take time to learn. And they often mean injuries.
Haze is coming off his second broken arm in a couple of months. He skated with the first cast, but the doctor told him the second was too severe to risk it, so he's been off since the fall. Marlee's purple helmet is dinged up with loads of dents — just imagine if she had no helmet, she says, noting she's still had her share of concussions, stitches and broken bones.
"I worry all the time. I can't help it," Susan Miller said, watching her kids shoot through the skate park and soar through the air, flipping their skateboards under their feet as they ride. "But it is doing something good for them. They've got so much self-confidence."
Really, for the Miller family, skateboarding is a way of life. Marlee, for one, doesn't plan to give it up, going so far as to consider becoming a physical therapist for action sports to keep her near.
"Will I ever stop? Never," she said. "Not until I'm very, very old and hurt. I love it."
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4614. For education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.