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Sport's no longer skating on thin ice

Skateboarders now have big-money endorsements and a worldwide following.

It has been nearly 40 years, but Don Bostick never has bothered to get his tooth fixed.

"The chip reminds me of where it all started," he said, pointing to the broken chopper. "It reminds me how far the sport has come."

Bostick, founder of World Cup Skateboarding, has seen the sport go from boom to bust, rebound and fail again, then rise from the ashes like a phoenix and evolve into a million-dollar industry with its superstars on the scale of a Michael Jordan.

"Back in 1961, we would ride 2x4s with steel roller skate wheels nailed to the bottom," recalled Bostick, 49. "I was flying down the street, trying to impress some girls, when I got the "wobs' and flew 10 feet through the air and did a face grind."

The chipped tooth, he said, is a badge of honor, a testament of his love for a sport that has more than 6-million enthusiasts in the United States alone.

Bostick's organization puts on a tour that travels throughout the United States, Europe and Central America.

"This summer we will hold events in Austria, (Prague) and Switzerland," he said. "Then in the fall we will be down in Brazil. The way skateboarding is growing is just phenomenal."

Nobody knows for sure who first broke the push bar off a scooter and turned it into a skateboard, but there is no doubt the sport is enjoying something of a renaissance, thanks in part to the X Games, the Olympics of alternative sports that are being broadcast to more than 100 countries.

At last year's X Games, history was made when Skate God Tony Hawk completed the first 900 (2{ spins off a vertical ramp) and became an instant idol to millions of young skateboarders.

"That takes more talent than any game-winning shot or Super Bowl touchdown pass," said Anthony Furlong, a 21-year-old pro from Tampa in his first year on the tour. "Unless you follow the sport, it is hard to understand just how incredible something like that is."

Skateboarders liken Hawk's feat to Roger Bannister's sub four-minute mile or Ted Williams' .400 season.

"People are doing things that we never imagined 20 years ago," Bostick said. "Who knows what they will be doing in the future."

At this weekend's X Trials, athletes will run a street course _ complete with ramps, rails, quarter pipes and fun boxes _ or the "vert," or half-pipe.

It is unusual for an athlete to excel at both, but many skaters enter both competitions.

Furlong, the rookie, spent Friday afternoon practicing on the street course. "I'm better at vert," he said. "But I skate whenever I can."

He moved to Tampa from Georgia to pursue a career as a professional skateboarder. "The Skatepark of Tampa is known throughout the Southeast," he said. "It is the place to go."

At first Furlong struggled financially, but eventually he landed some big-name sponsors and now can support himself. Manufacturers of skateboards, shoes and clothes are eager to back hot, young talent like Furlong.

"There are pro skateboarders making $15,000 and there are pro skateboarders making $500,000," Furlong said. "It is all about image and sponsorship."

One of the hottest products is skate shoes. Companies such as Vans paid big bucks to back so-called "extreme" events such as Bostick's World Cup Skateboarding tour.

"Shoes are where the money is right now," Bostick said. "Everybody is buying skateboarding shoes."

The purse money for skateboarding contests isn't huge; a major contest might pay $5,000 for first place. Yet hundreds still make a living in a sport that has long been considered the pastime of street punks.

Hawk, the family man and sport's first millionaire, changed all that. His clean-cut image and push-the-envelope competitive attitude has endeared him to millions of fans around the world.

But even Furlong, a local hero, has his own followers.

"Little kids come up and knock on my door and say "Aren't you Anthony Furlong? I saw you at the skate park,' " he said.

"It all seems kind of funny."

More skateboarding

KILLER WEB SITES: www.skateboarding.com, the official site for TransWorld Skateboarding Magazine; wcsk8.com, the official site for World Cup Skateboarding; expn.com, the official site for ESPN extreme sports; skateboardassn.org, the official site of the Skateboarding Association of America.

LOCAL PARKS: Skate Crate Central Skate Park, 6140 Ulmerton Road, Clearwater (727) 523-0785; Skatepark of Tampa, 4215 E Columbus Drive, Tampa, (813) 621-6793; St. Pete Skate Park at Coquina Key, 3595 Locust St. SE, St. Petersburg, (727) 823-4434.

THERE'S MORE: The Clearwater-based Skateboarding Association of America is sponsoring a tour with stops around Florida, North Carolina and Tennessee. The finals will be held Aug. 4-6 at Central Skate Park in Clearwater. Call (813) 250-0666 for information.

Local skateboarders and professionals Steve Caballero, Andy Mcdonald, Pat Channita, Moses Itokonen and Jason Ellis will be at Florida OceanSports, 544 First Ave. N, from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. today, to present an award to George Rahdert, the local attorney who helped finance and build St. Petersburg's only public skate park. The pros will sign autographs and give away products after the ceremony.

TEXT FOR TRICK GLOSSARY NOT PROVIDED FOR ELECTRONIC LIBRARY. PLEASE SEE MICROFILM.

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