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Skateboarders respectfully protest a Clearwater Beach ban by riding to a City Hall rally

CLEARWATER — Oh, no. The skateboarders of Clearwater Beach are angry.

Cue the thrash punk image — the Mohawks, the middle fingers. Envision the rides of terror across Mandalay Avenue. City officials and business owners say the skaters spook tourists and wreck property. So what mayhem could be expected from their "protest skate"?

As it turns out — not much. Their Friday morning rally to City Hall, a show of opposition against a newly enforced beach skating ban, was reserved and respectful.

Where signs prohibited skating, they walked. They thanked the police officers who followed them on bicycles. They held signs for 10 minutes and chanted a little bit. Then they left for hot dogs.

Still, they're angry.

"I don't think there's a point (to the ban). We're still going to skate," said Thomas Whitsett, 15, sweat dripping down to his skateboard. "They can't get rid of us."

Since the ban started two weeks ago, Whitsett's skateboard buddies have already been fined $88.

City spokeswoman Joelle Castelli calls it damage control. The ban will help preserve the railings, benches and walkways, including the recently completed $30 million Beach Walk promenade, that skaters scratch up doing tricks.

Whitsett calls it an outrage.

"I think the sidewalk is for everyone who goes to the beach," he said. "We're not a group that does bad things."

Their "All We Want to Do Is Skate" chants and "Skateboarding is Not a Crime" shirts may give that impression. But nearly a dozen Mandalay Avenue business owners think differently. They say skaters trash and terrorize outside their storefronts. One even blew snot on some person's leg.

That, they said, was the final indignity. City leaders authorized new "No Skateboarding" signs and asked police to increase enforcement. In two weeks, skateboarders have gotten slapped with six tickets. More than 80 others got off with warnings.

What do the 50 skaters who showed up at City Hall have to say to that?

"I don't like it," said Decker Johnson, 8, who likes soccer. Skateboarding's "my sport, and I love it."

There are still alternatives for skaters, Castelli said. The Ross Norton Recreational Complex has an "extreme skate park" with ramps, rails and pipes for skating. It's 5 miles from the beach.

If skaters still want to protest, Clearwater Mayor Frank Hibbard promised to attend a 6 p.m. public meeting Wednesday at the Clearwater Beach Library & Recreation Complex to talk it out. Leaders there may even consider a compromise to the ban.

Maybe.

Justin Hagerty, 22, isn't taking any chances. Like other skaters, he's angry. So angry, in fact, he plans to sand and clean his old skateboard and offer it as a show of good faith to city leaders.

"It's going to say, 'Skateboarding does not equal hate boarding,' " he said outside City Hall. "That's when their mouths are going to drop."

Drew Harwell can be reached at dharwell@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4170.

If you go

Ross Norton Extreme Skate Park

1426 S Martin Luther King Jr. Ave.

Hours

Monday-Thursday: 2 to 8:45 p.m.

Friday: 2 to 6:45 p.m.

Saturday: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Sunday: Noon to 4:45 p.m.

Skateboarders respectfully protest a Clearwater Beach ban by riding to a City Hall rally 07/31/09 [Last modified: Friday, July 31, 2009 9:48pm]
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