- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 6, 2000

Professional skateboarder Jason Adams is having a hard time keeping his sneakers glued to his board.
It's not his fault. The ramp on which he's practicing isn't finished, so the smooth plastic laminate that eventually will coat its walls has has yet to be applied.
That ramp is part of what its owners believe soon will be an oasis for any local skateboarders who have ever been told to take their boards elsewhere. The Vans Skate Park, set to debut April 15 in Potomac Mills Mall in Woodbridge, Va., will offer upward of 61,000 square feet of skate-worthy terrain. It's being touted as the largest indoor skate park in the world.
Outside the sanctity of skate parks, skateboarders tend to be personae non gratae in their communities.
"[Other people are] intimidated by us, for some reason," says Mr. Adams, 26, of San Jose, Calif. "They think we're a nuisance, but we're not bad dudes."
He was one of a group of Vans-authorized professionals on hand last month to oversee the park's installation and lend it a whiff of legitimacy.
Vans, based in Santa Fe Springs, Calif., operates three skate parks in its home state and is in discussions to bring five to 10 more to various parts of the country. The company also sells snowboard boots and footwear, and it sponsors the Vans Warped Tour, a music, sports and lifestyle festival.
The $4 million park, designed with input from a team of 18 professional and amateur skaters, includes a 48-foot-wide miniramp, a stunt jump area, a 6,000-square-foot peewee street course and a kidney-shaped "pool," the trough skateboarders roll down into. An 8,000-square-foot simulated street course will feature stairs, ledges, benches and fire hydrants for skateboarders to maneuver over and around.
The park also will include a bicycle ramp and obstacle course.
Other promised amenities include Internet kiosks, arcade games and a spectators lounge where passers-by can thrill vicariously to the skaters' derring-do.
The park at its deepest sinks 14 feet below park level. Careening down such an unforgiving incline might seem like a ticket to the emergency room, but the park's creators have included numerous safety precautions.
A Red Cross-trained emergency technician will be on hand at all times, the company promises. No one will be allowed to skate without donning the proper helmet and padding, and 19 video cameras will keep an eye on potential malcontents.
If a skater injures himself at the bottom of one of the pools, grappling hooks will be used to fish out the wounded.
Neal Lyons, Vans' president of retail, says the park's indoor location, combined with the need for a safe skating venue, makes the site ideal.
"The market demographic fits perfectly with our core audience," says Mr. Lyons, who adds that Vans has had a store at the mall for some time. Plus, the Northern Virginia area provides the company's highest percentage of e-commerce sales nationwide.
"Lots of families and kids need something to do. It's just like going to the movies. If it's not easy, people won't go," he says regarding the park's prime mall location.
The level of resistance faced by skateboarders outside the confines of skate parks varies from city to city, county to county, according to some skateboarders.
Dave Bateman of Baltimore, an employee at East Coast Skateboard Shop in the District of Columbia, says the new skate park should flourish as a result.
"You're not allowed to pretty much skate anywhere," Mr. Bateman laments. "It's illegal [to skate on certain roadways and parking lots] but they don't post signs in a lot of places."
The teen-agers who gravitate toward the skateboard culture appear anything but graceful in their style. Their clothes oversized and clumpy hang on them. Their shoulders jut out from their torsos like randomly firing pistons, but when they skate, their angular bodies take on the fluidity of a flag suspended by a taut breeze.
Mr. Adams, a rail-thin pro who looks a decade younger than his 26 years, is a prime example as he powers up and down the unfinished ramp.
He says the sport's popularity was at its nadir when he turned pro seven years ago.
"Now it's in its trendy phase again," says Mr. Adams, who first took up skateboarding at age 13. "The X Games have been a real boost," he adds, referring to the extreme sports package created by ESPN that features exhilarating skateboard contests.
"We can thank corporate America, in part, for the sport's resurgence," Mr. Bateman says.
"The corporations are getting involved, using it in their advertisements, like McDonald's, Sprite and Nike," Mr. Bateman says. That exposure lends itself to mainstream acceptance.
If companies continue to put a safe, regulated face on the sport, it has a better chance of sticking around, Mr. Adams contends.
"The industry has learned a lot. The companies are presenting it to the public" in a more professional manner, he says. "They're making an effort."
Mr. Lyons expects the new park to pull in customers from a 60-mile radius, with initial estimates for its debut year of 2 million visitors and 200,000 to 300,000 actually paying to skate. The average age of a skate-park visitor is 14, he says.
Those 14-year-olds aren't just boys. Mr. Bateman says the sport has broadened its appeal of late to include girls.
Mr. Lyons says his company plans to host professional skating events, along the line of the X Games.

WHAT: The Vans Skate Park
WHEN: Opens April 15
WHERE: Potomac Mills Mall, Woodbridge, Va.
PRICES: For a two-hour visit, $5 to $11 for members, $9 to $14 for nonmembers; skate park membership is $50.

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