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See SPoT soar

They slept here, this handful of guys. Back in the day, a good dozen years ago.

They slept here, at their business, because they could afford to pay only one landlord. So when they were tired from skateboarding and working, they slept here, in this warehouse buried in an industrial area east of Ybor City.

And when they woke up they skated and worked some more, blasting music and building Skatepark of Tampa from the ground up.

They should see the place now. And actually, some do, including the park's founder, Brian Schaeffer.

Skatepark of Tampa, like a lot of its skaters, has grown up, even adding art and music to its repertoire.

The privately owned park, now 13, has thousands of square feet of ramps and rails and perfect pavement. Nearly 20,000 skaters are on its e-mail list, and about 1,000 guys skate here every week.

Yes, they're almost entirely male - that part of the demographic hasn't changed. But no, they're not all preteens and teens.

That still makes up the street skater core, sure. But these days at Skatepark and other skating venues across America, it's not at all uncommon to see skaters in their 30s and even 40s. When skating's in your blood, it's awfully hard to get it out.

The skating, that is. It's awfully easy for the blood to come out.

It comes out of knees and elbows and forearms - depending on where or whether you happen to be wearing pads.

And while it's a little easier to live with those scrapes and bruises when you're 12 than when you're 32, the skaters wouldn't have it any other way.

Just ask Ryan Clements, Skatepark of Tampa's general manager. Who is 32.

"It's part of you; it's part of your blood and it never goes away," said Clements, who began skating when he was, you guessed it, 12.

"Everywhere you go, you look at something and you think, "I wonder if that's something I can skate on.' "

The park at 4215 E Columbus Drive sometimes is called SPoT for short.

"A lot of cities don't have skate parks, so we're lucky to have this one," said skater James Arterea, 24. "And even most cities this size don't have one as big and nice as that."

Clements' office is clean, organized, almost Spartan. He's professional and straightforward.

Give him a little makeover action and he could be mistaken on the street for a yuppie. Just grow out that peach fuzz hairdo into a sharp razor cut. Lose the jeans and skater T-shirts for khakis and a button-down shirt - and keep the shirt sleeves down to cover all that ink, courtesy of Tom Kiernan over at Mean Machine Tattoos near Britton Plaza.

Like the forearm art, a portrait of Clements' mom. Her name appears under the portrait: Dorothy Marie.

"I go home to see my family in Philadelphia," Clements said, "and they're like, "We remember you skating down the driveway when you were 12. You still do this?' "

It costs a few bucks - $4 to $8, depending on the day and whether you're a member - to skate a given session. During the school year, weekdays have one session, noon to 9 p.m. except for Friday, which goes to 11. Weekends are divided into two sessions, each of which runs at least 5 1/2 hours.

In the early days, Clements said, skaters brought obstacles from home to use in the park - "benches, couches, whatever you could skate."

These days they don't need to go to such lengths. SPoT does well, thanks to strong retail sales orders in its store and especially on its Web site, www.skateparkoftampa.com.

Clements credits Rob Meronek, who goes by the nickname "Ragin' Asian," with putting together an online ordering and inventory system that keeps merchandise flying off the shelves, from the decks and wheels that comprise a skateboard to clothing, gear, accessories and even DVDs.

And SPoT has added some bells and whistles to its skaters' paradise in the past few years. Chief among them has been the Transitions Art Gallery, which doubles as an art and music venue.

In recent months, Skatepark's Matt Welch has booked plenty of events at Transitions, including a variety of shows by touring and local bands. Transitions recently screened We Jam Econo, an acclaimed documentary about the legendary punk band the Minutemen.

It's just a small room of a few hundred square feet. But in a few months, Transitions will move into a 1,200-square-foot warehouse on the property.

"We think it's going to be an awesome place for shows, just simple, really nice in here," said Clements, who lives in Ybor City.

Simple is key here. The place is clean, sharp and well maintained, thanks to a crack staff of 16 full-time and four part-time employees. But it never will look fancy, Clements said. That's not what's important here.

While skaters often engage in a battle of wills with police and security guards when they skate in the street, SPoT provides a legal, supervised place where they can pursue their art. Giving them a great place to do it is what matters.

No matter if you're Stan Jurelly, 14, or his uncle Marc Jurelly, 31. Both have enjoyed Skatepark's ramps and frequently street skate.

"It's something we've shared for years and I think it's something we'll always share," Marc said. "Until I break a hip or something."

Rick Gershman can be reached at rgershman@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3431. His blog is at sptimes.com/blogs/tampaarts/.

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