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OVER BOARD : Weighing Nerves Against Gravity, They Find Themselves in the Balance

The logo on the bottom of Mike Perry’s skateboard reads, Suicidal Tendencies. The name of no other punk band could have described the scene better.

Perry, who lives in Van Nuys, was one of more than 300 skateboard fanatics who gathered Saturday on hot pavement in Northridge for a Val Surf & Sport skateboard exhibition.

“I’m not crazy! Institutionalized!” screamed Perry, 15, as he recited the chorus from the hard-rocking Los Angeles band’s hit, “Institutionalized,” and jumped his skateboard over a parking lot speed bump with all the grace of a slam dancer. He landed face-first on the cement.

“Yeah, you belong in Camarillo,” said another youth, suggesting that Perry may be better off in a state mental hospital.

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The exhibition featured freestyle skating, ramp skating and a safety demonstration by “America’s Sports Mom,” Gail Webb.

Webb, who has led a crusade to promote safety among teen-agers who participate in potentially dangerous sports such as skateboarding and motocross, arrived a couple of weeks too late to help Omar Lozano, who calls himself a kamikaze skater--and has proof.

“I broke my wrist all the way through,” said Lozano, pointing to a plaster cast that stretched from his thumb to his triceps. “I was riding a half-pipe and lost it when I got to the top and came down on my wrist.”

Lozano, 15, of Mission Hills, said his mishap was worthwhile even though he “can’t really do much radical skating with the cast on.”

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After a decline in popularity in the late 1970s and early ‘80s, skateboarding appears to be thriving.

Rob Roskopp, a first-rate skater from Santa Cruz, thinks he knows why.

“In the seventies everybody was, like, so stagnant,” said Roskopp, 22. “But now I think everybody is into, like, stuff.”

For Roskopp, that stuff is riding down one end of a curving plexiglass ramp--or half-pipe--and up to the other, only to clutch his board with his right hand and grab the end of the ramp with his left, hurling his body in a 180-degree turn. The stunt momentarily suspends him 15 feet above the asphalt.

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“He’s out of his mind,” said Margaret Kelsey, 64, after Roskopp lost control of his board and almost hit a passing Mercedes Benz. Whether or not Roskopp is in control of his gray matter, however, is a matter of opinion.

“Oh, no way, dude,” said Terrence Darity, 13. “That dude shreds, man, he’s ripping. He knows what he’s doing, totally.”

Penny Seeder, a mother of three sons, took a more objective view.

“This is where it’s at right now,” Seeder said. “It’s an earned thrill. It’s not just something where you turn on a switch and go fast. It’s something they work very hard at. They’re strong and athletic and I admire that.”

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Audrey Ritter is strong, if not admirable. The 14-year-old Alemany High student considers herself hell on four wheels.

“I skateboard, but I’m dangerous,” said Ritter, who had just stumbled onto the blacktop, the victim of a discarded soft drink can. “I’m suicidal--a suicidal skater.”

Moments later she crashed into a curb, hurting nothing but her pride.

Keith Meek, 23, of Santa Cruz has seen worse. “Yeah, I’ve been a hurt a few times,” he said. “Like, I broke my wrist and I’ve stretched some ligaments and got a concussion--just little things.”

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Little things?

Area hospitals do report a decline in skateboard-related injuries--mostly broken wrists--over the last several years, but one hospital is having difficulty dealing with an older breed of thrill seeker.

“We used to have a lot of injuries due to skateboards three years ago,” said Ann Kirkpatrick, director of community relations at the Medical Center of Tarzana. “But the current problem seems to be with middle-aged women who roller skate in Balboa Park.”


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