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Teen pros becoming standard in skateboarding

He is 14 years old.

Of all the numbers associated with Chaz Ortiz in his professional skateboarding debut year, from his two wins to his 430 points scored on the AST Dew Tour, the one that sticks out the most is his age.

"I know I'm skating against guys older than me all the time," he said. "But I don't feel intimidated at all."

Sliding along ledges, curbs and railings on his skateboard has been child's play for Ortiz, one of skateboard's youngest professionals. Most pros are in their early to mid 20s.

At the tour's final stop this year, in Orlando last month, Ortiz clinched the overall title in skate park, an event in which competitors perform maneuvers on a course consisting of ramps, rails and other obstacles resembling urban terrain.

Better still, Ortiz unseated Ryan Sheckler, 18, the three-time defending Dew Cup champion.

Ortiz, from Chicago, turned pro this season so he could compete on the tour. Skating against athletes twice his age, Ortiz rocketed up the rankings with his success.

"It's cool because I really do respect him," Sheckler said of Ortiz this year.

Nyjah Huston and Sheckler are the youngest to have turned pro, at 11 and 13, respectively.

Sheckler turned pro in 2003. That year he won the park event at the X Games. Ever since, he has been the undisputed champion in his signature event.

But Ortiz has simultaneously raised the competitive bar and made turning pro at a young age more acceptable.

In California, skateboarding twins Nic and Tristan Puehse, 10, have made names for themselves with a slick marketing campaign spearheaded by their father, Michael, who sent videos of his sons to potential sponsors when they were 6.

The Puehse twins have been featured on the Ellen DeGeneres Show and have several sponsors, including Nike and Gatorade.

They could turn pro within the next two years.

Locally, Clearwater's Marcus Jalabar, who recently turned 13, is a sponsored skater who has won several amateur contests nationwide, including the King of the Grom this month in Minnesota.

"Here we have some sponsored skaters, but we don't have pro guys like Sheckler or Ortiz," said Jay Turner, who runs 688 Skatepark in Largo. "I think that could change, though, in the next few years."

Young professional skateboarders are nothing new. Tony Hawk turned pro in 1982 at 14.

What is raising eyebrows now is the bigger movement of boys around that age to turn pro.

Several theories have been offered to account for the movement. One is that increased television coverage — the X Games on ESPN, the Dew Tour on NBC — has transformed action sports from idle pastimes to full-fledged careers. Add sponsorships and top athletes can earn six figures annually.

Another theory points to the skatepark proliferation.

"There's just more exposure to the sport," Turner said. "You can see skateboarding on television, play skateboarding video games. And there are so many skateparks that have opened up within the last five, 10 years. Kids are going to be drawn to that."

Now the toughest trick for skateboarding prodigies is navigating a pro career and growing up.

Ortiz says he has been able to balance both.

He attends public school and does homework and family chores.

"It's fun to be on the road and skate against these guys," Ortiz said. "But I still try to be a regular kid."

Bob Putnam can be reached at putnam@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4169.

Teen pros becoming standard in skateboarding 11/01/08 [Last modified: Friday, November 7, 2008 8:30pm]

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