Loren Foushee starts from the sand and sprints toward the water, tossing his skimboard onto the surf at Clearwater Beach. He jumps on his board at full speed, gliding over the froth toward an oncoming wave. Whenever Foushee, 16, a rising junior at Countryside High, hits the wave, he can carve it like a surfer: flipping over it, sliding on top of it or rebounding off it with an acrobatic aerial.
"The sport has definitely progressed a lot," Foushee said. "The limits are being pushed."
Though skimboarding has been recognized as a professional sport since the 1980s, it has remained just below the mainstream radar. Its popularity, however, has been growing the past few years. There are Web sites (SkimCity.com), magazines (Skim) and a league (United Skim Tour) devoted to the sport.
Locally, skimboarders have a contest to call their own.
On Saturday, Foushee and others will try to grab big air in small water at the fourth annual Double Barrel contest at Clearwater's Sand Key Park.
"I think skimboarding eventually will be as popular as surfing," Foushee said.
Skimboarding was an ultraunderground pastime initially spawned by Laguna Beach, Calif., lifeguards in the 1920s.
Laguna Beach still has a stranglehold on the skimming world, but the sport started reaching coastal communities across the nation in the 1980s.
Skimboarders popped up more frequently in the Tampa Bay area at that time, though most beaches had ordinances that prohibited the sport while lifeguards were on duty.
Skip Maxwell, a former Clearwater Beach lifeguard, remembers having to shoo away skimboarders.
Now, Maxwell, 38, is the owner of Double Barrel, a store that caters to skaters, surfers and skimboarders.
"Skimboarding takes up a good part of our business, especially in the summer," Maxwell said.
Skimboarding is akin to skateboarding on water, involving the three fundamentals of running, dropping and jumping on a kind of finless minisurfboard.
Most beginners ride a thin layer of water atop the wettest sand at the edge of the ocean. This is sometimes referred to as sand skimming.
The more advanced style is wave skimming — the art of running at a shore break, jumping on the board and carving the wave face with tricks.
"I think the styles and tricks are where the sport really has been growing in the past few years," Maxwell said. "Skimboarders are now using winches and tow-ins to get bigger jumps off bigger waves."