- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 14, 2009

“Skate or die. Skate with me or skate away from me,” Davon Hall shouted. Joined by nearly 1,000 fellow skateboarders, Davon barreled down 14th Street Northwest the afternoon of June 21 as part of the annual national Go Skateboarding Day.

Davon, 14, is one of about 20 crew members of the Layhill Boyz and has been skating for nearly three years.

What started as a group of friends who lived off Layhill Road in Aspen Hill, Layhill Boyz has flourished into one of the area’s emerging street skating crews. Members range in age from 14 to 18 and primarily attend John F. Kennedy, Northwood or Albert Einstein high schools in Montgomery County.

“One thing that makes us different from other skaters and crews is that we know more than they do,” Davon said. “When it comes to skateboarding, it doesn’t matter if you’re black or white — if you can skate, you’re with us. If you can’t or you’re faking it, being a poser, you’re not with us.”

“My first memory on my board was when I did an ollie, ” said Craig Clinkscales, 15, a junior at John F. Kennedy High School, explaining the moment he mastered the basic aerial skateboarding trick. “I learned on my worst wreck, falling on my head when I was hanging on the back of a car.”

Craig said he skates with his crew every day, except when it snows. “My best trick is called the forward flip. I’m the only one in our crew that can do it. It took some time to learn everything, but I learn new things all the time when we’re together,” he said.

Freedom Plaza, at 14th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest between the National Theatre and the John A. Wilson Building, remains a popular skating site despite even though it has been off limits for skaters since May 1995 under a law enacted by the D.C. Council. Rollerblading and roller skating are also banned, but enforcement is minimal. Local and federal police officers chase away skaters only if someone complains, the skaters said.

The law permits D.C. police to confiscate a skateboard and hold it until a $50 bond is posted. If the skater is younger than 16, the board will be returned only to the skater’s parents once $50 is paid.

“They hate us,” said Mauro Carmona, 16, of Northwood High School, who leads the Layhill group. “We get bothered by everyone and anyone. The cops always used to try to take our boards, but now we’re smarter and they can’t catch us.”

Langdon Park Community Center in Northeast has a public skate park. Meridian Hill Park, also known as Malcolm X Park, on 16th Street Northwest and Shaw Skatepark at 11th Street and Rhode Island Avenue Northwest are free and open from dusk to dawn. Some suburban jurisdictions, such as Alexandria, have parks designated exclusively for skateboarders.

“We skate near our homes,” said Craig. “We go to the city and Silver Spring for some good places. We’re not big on parks. We’re street skaters. We don’t have money to go out to Olney [Skate Park] or Camp Woodward [an extreme sports camp in Pennsylvania]. Our money goes toward the train, bus, boards, gear and, sometimes, girlfriends.”

Members of the Layhill Boyz say skateboarding helps keep them out of trouble and develop strong friendships.

“If we weren’t into skating, we could be into stuff much worse such as drugs or gangs,” said Davon. “Skating keeps us out of trouble and helps us focus. It’s hard out here for a skater, but it’s easier when you have a crew that you can trust and depend on.”

• John Muller is a writer living in Montgomery County.

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