INDIAN ROCKS BEACH — The tide Thursday morning rolled in like a slow drumbeat. Jack Tenney, focused on the water, waiting. Suddenly, his eyes lit up.
"I have to get this one," he said and barreled toward the surf.
Soon he was airborne, spiraling above the knee-high crests.
"Whoa!" a young spectator yelled from the shore.
Tenney, 18, of Indian Rocks Beach, is currently the No. 11 skimboarder in the world. He turned pro in 2011 and has since catapulted up the United Skim Tour rankings. He has also earned two local sponsors who cover travel costs for competitions.
"It's been a wild ride so far, that's for sure," he said. "I'm just trying to take it to the next level."
Tenney placed first at a competition earlier this month in Delaware, one of eight annual UST events.
"Every pro that I've ever seen in videos or looked up to, they were there. That really meant a lot," Tenney said.
A win at his next competition, Saturday in Laguna Beach, Calif., could place him as high as No. 2.
At about 6-3, Tenney is lanky, built like a wide receiver. His top front teeth are both fake, and a scar from a barnacle slice juts across the side of his left knee — old skimboarding injuries.
"I started surfing when I was 6 years old, but because there are never any waves here (in Tampa Bay), I got into the skimboarding and never stopped," he said.
Skimboarding began in Laguna Beach in the 1920s. As Tenney puts it, the sport offers a blend of surfing and skateboarding, finesse-driven but based in the shallower waves near the shore.
A lot of surfers will talk trash, asking him "Why don't you just ride a surfboard?" Tenney said. "But to me, it doesn't get any better than this."
The sport is as much about patience as it is execution, he said. Skimboarders can spend minutes at a time waiting for the right wave.
"With other sports, everything's planned out. But with this, it's whatever the ocean throws at you," Tenney said.
Tenney gained national attention last summer when he won a skimboard company's "best trick" contest on YouTube. The move, a "big-spin kickflip," involved the board rotating 360 degrees while simultaneously flipping twice. It had never been caught on film, he said. (Watch it at bit.ly/times-skimflip.)
"It's great to be able to go out and do things when people tell you they're impossible," he said.
During the summer, Tenney volunteers weekdays at a youth skimboard camp in Indian Rocks Beach. The lessons help spread the sport's influence in the community, Tenney said. The camp is at 309 Gulf Blvd. For more information, call (727) 596-2244.
"That's ultimately the goal. I want to do whatever I can to help make this as big as possible, to take (skimboarding) into the mainstream," he said. "Honestly, I don't think I could quit for anything."
On Thursday morning, a charcoal-black swath of sky loomed to the west. More than sharks, stingrays or wipeouts, Tenney said lightning is his greatest fear.
"We better get out of here," he said. "But first, let me catch one more."
Matt McKinney can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4156.