- Associated Press - Sunday, May 9, 2021

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - The old Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport terminal ain’t dere no more. Well, it’s dere, but it’s as abandoned and unloved as a jilted sweetheart, tossed aside for the new girl in town, the glinting and glamorous MSY palace that opened down the road in 2019.

But the makers of Red Bull - a highly caffeinated soft drink - breathed life into the 62-year-old edifice last weekend, when they invited dozens of svelte young guys and girls to swarm the place for the “Red Bull Terminal Takeover” skateboard competition.

Imagine narrow Concourse D with tattooed skaters jetting down plywood ramps and swooping over obstacles, T-shirts and baggy pants aflutter. Imagine the escalators in main terminal converted into bobsled tracks, meant to provide sufficient momentum for aerobatic stunts. Imagine skaters zipping along baggage conveyor belts and soaring over baggage carousels, where we used to cluster, tapping our feet, anxiously waiting for our suitcases to appear.

Skateboarding is like NASCAR in a way, because the possibility of spectacular crashes is part of the thrill. On Saturday night, an emergency medical technician sat against the wall of the baggage claim area watching the young men and women launch themselves into the air again and again, then succumbing to gravity and smacking down violently on the linoleum. Sometimes skateboards squirted away uncontrolled, sometimes skaters slid helplessly across the floor. The EMT, who was there just in case of injuries, described the chaotic, noisy, high-speed scene as “entertaining.”

You just knew somebody was going to crash into the stack of empty luggage that was piled up for the skaters to jump over. The fates demanded a baggage mishap in the baggage claim area, right? Skater John Kosch said he hit a loose piece of plywood on the approach ramp, which altered his flight path just enough to send him plowing picturesquely into the wall of baggage.

“I smacked Grandma’s luggage,” he said laughing as he rose from the wreckage. “Grandma, I’m sorry.”

Anyone who traveled through the old terminal regularly would get a pang of eerie nostalgia at its current state. It’s as if the once-bustling place has just disappeared off the radar screen into the Twilight Zone.

And nothing makes a place seem more forsaken than skateboarders. After all, skateboarders are the athletes of emptiness, the fleeting occupants of the unoccupied office building plaza, the unguarded parking garage and the public park after the public has gone home. Skateboarding is a sport often conducted after closing time, beyond the no trespassing signs. That’s what makes it so sinister and sexy.

Skater Phillip Santosuosso said skating the old terminal was a blast because of how smooth the cement and terrazzo floors were. The whole place was “polished heaven,” he said. But there was another attraction too.

Santosuosso, the owner of the Humidity Skate Shop in the French Quarter, pointed out that New Orleans has never been especially hospitable to skaters. Until 2015, when the Parisite skate park opened in Gentilly, the town didn’t have a sanctioned spot, so skateboarders were used to constantly looking for places to play until they were shooed off or locked out.

Santosuosso, 36, said he knows that most New Orleans security guards are nice because he’s been kicked off so many unauthorized skating spots. Naturally, skaters fantasize about skating locations where there’s absolutely no chance they’d be welcome.

“You do it all the time,” he said. “You go to a city anywhere and say, ‘Dang, look at that, I’d like to skate that.’”

Santosuosso said the old airport terminal was one of those rare magic environments that “you’ve been to 100 times but weren’t allowed to skate.” But now you were.

The Red Bull Terminal Takeover wasn’t a competition in the Olympics sense. Teams of skaters from different Southern cities performed stunts for the benefit of video cameras. The public will vote on the winners later.

Cheers echoed through the baggage claim area when 21-year-old New Orleans skater Anthony “Savage” Simmons finally landed a move he’d attempted maybe 20 times. The challenge was to fly through air, slide along the counter of an unused rent-a-car booth like Fred Astaire, then drop back to earth without crashing.

Simmons described the maneuver as a “crooked grind,” or something like that. He said the main challenge was not hitting the vertical steel pole at the end of the slide when he “nollied out of the crook.”

Simmons said he’d never been to the airport before the Terminal Takeover, so he didn’t pick up on the nostalgia angle. But from a skater’s point of view, he said the place was “totally the best” and they should keep the temporary ramps and obstacles in the unused airport permanently.

“I feel like I could come here all day,” he said.

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