Hermosa Beach Is Place to Catch the Action

That nearly 100,000 showed for last year's Mervyn's Beach Bash in Hermosa Beach is proof of at least one thing: Everyone loves a party, especially one at the beach.

But the attendance figure also provided more evidence that, while pro beach volleyball tournaments also were among the featured attractions, the popularity of so-called action sports--especially among the younger generation--is soaring higher than Dave Mirra on one of his BMX freestyle bikes.

"Spectator-wise, it's a whole new realm," says Mirra, who's taking a break from the Slim Jim Dave Mirra Super Tour to ride the "Soul Bowl" at this year's Beach Bash, in progress through Sunday alongside the Hermosa Beach Strand.

"No doubt baseball and basketball are fun to watch, and football . . . but have you seen the trouble those athletes are getting into? It's getting harder for parents [to push those sports] because there's someone getting away with murder all the time."

So, have BMXers such as Mirra, aggressive in-line skaters such as Fabiola de Silva and skateboarders such as Brian Patch become more suitable role models?

That's up to young fans and perhaps their parents to decide. But Mirra, who supports a scholarship program that sends underprivileged kids to an action sports camp for a week each year, maintains that despite the superstar status he has achieved, he would never stoop so low as to charge for an autograph.

"That's ridiculous," he says. "People always thought we were the bad guys. But I think they're beginning to see the light, because we're more accessible, we hang out with the kids and even ride with them."

Mirra, 27, a nine-time ESPN X Games gold medalist, acknowledges that the rising popularity of action sports--BMX participation in the United States, for example, experienced a 70% growth rate between 1997 and 2000 among people 12 to 24--would not be possible without television exposure.

But he points out that TV would not be involved if the demand wasn't there.

In any case, the high-flying rider from Greenville, N.C., is making the most of the situation, enjoying millionaire status while performing aerial maneuvers scary enough to make any parent run out and buy his or her kid a baseball glove instead of a bike.

Of the crashes he has endured over the years, including one that led to the removal of his spleen, Mirra scoffs.

"It's not that bad," he says. "Really, the spleen is not a vital organ when you get to a certain age. I was in the hospital only six days and I was back riding in six weeks. I've been out longer with a broken finger."

Returning to the Beach Bash for the third consecutive year is the "Soul Bowl," a swimming pool-shaped venue flanked by bleachers that will afford spectators a view of some of the world's top BMX riders, in-line skaters and skateboarders competing for a purse of $80,000.

"I try to support as many contests as I can and love that bowl, so I'm going to suck it up [and make the trip]," Mirra said during a phone interview from his home, when asked why he'd travel so far in the middle of his grueling national tour.

When told of the "Twist," a 19-foot-high, 360-degree loop that's part of the Beach Bash's new Contour Park, a street-course venue with a contest purse of $30,000, even Mirra balked.

"I'll have to really, really look at it because I've been trying to stay healthy," he said. "We'll see, but I don't know. . . . I guess you have to go for it. I'm not planning on it, but we'll see."

The men's Sideout Hermosa Beach Open and women's Union Bay Hermosa Beach Open volleyball tournaments will draw their share of spectators, as will musical performances by the English Beat's Dave Wakeling and Joe Wood and the Lonely Ones, Tonic and Stroke 9.

A Saturday afternoon swimwear fashion show, billed as "a show too hot to miss," also is part of a free extravaganza in which the only thing missing might be the biggest crowd magnet of all: the sun.

News and Notes

* Albacore watch: A jig strike here, a double there and a triple somewhere else does not a season make. But with slowly improving catch rates both south and north of the Mexican border, an all-out assault appears imminent.

"The gun hasn't gone off yet, but we're in the starting blocks," says Norris Tapp, co-owner of Davey's Locker Sportfishing in Newport Beach. "Our butts are in air and we're waiting for the starter to shoot his gun and then we're off."

The starter may already be squeezing the trigger. The Pacific Queen on Wednesday, during a 1 1/2-day trip out of Fishermen's Landing in San Diego, had 100 albacore on its deck by nightfall. The fish were caught only 85 miles out, indicating a northerly movement.

* Seabass watch: Though squid are still thick "like mush" in parts of Santa Monica Bay, according to Rick Oefinger of Marina del Rey Sportfishing, the white seabass that have been preying on the mollusks are maintaining a low profile. The Catalina Island bite turned on again Wednesday. The limit goes from one to three June 16.

* Southern Baja: Unrelenting and unseasonably cool weather is beginning to take its toll in Cabo San Lucas. Hotels and their fleets are operating at only about half-capacity and business in general is suffering. There have been good days on the water, but not enough to lure Southland anglers away from their albacore, yellowtail and white seabass.

Water temperatures off Land's End remain at about 70 degrees in the Pacific, nearly 10 degrees below normal, and persistent westerly winds aren't helping. The warmer, calmer gulf remains the primary destination. Marlin, dorado and tuna are biting to some degree, but fishing is better much farther north in the East Cape region, and even beyond off La Paz.

* Northern Baja: San Quintin Sportfishing (http://www.sanquintin

sportfishing.com) last weekend reported its first albacore haul: 14 on Saturday and 12 on Sunday, all on the same boat in an area 25 miles offshore. Much shorter runs to San Martin Island are producing fair catches of yellowtail and calico bass. More trips are planned this weekend.

* Freshwater news: The California Fish and Game Commission is meeting Thursday and Friday in Bridgeport to consider a proposal to add a month to the Eastern Sierra general trout fishing season.

Twin Lakes Resort owner Steve Marti is spearheading the effort to have the lake-fishing season extended through November instead of October. Stream fishing would not be allowed in order to protect fall spawning trout.

Most concessionaires support the proposal. The Department of Fish and Game has not formed an opinion, but has delivered a list of concerns to the commission, one of which cites potential impact on brown trout staging near creek inlets as they prepare to spawn.

* Free fishing day: Saturday is one of two state-sponsored free fishing days, giving prospective anglers a chance to test the waters, so to speak, without having to buy a California fishing license (currently $29.40). The second is Sept. 22.

* Surfing: There was the infamous K2 Big Wave Challenge, offering $50,000 to the surfer riding the biggest wave during the El Nino winter of 1998-99, rewarding Taylor Knox of Carlsbad for his ride down the face of a 52-foot breaker at Todos Island off Ensenada.

There was last winter's Swell XXL Big Wave Contest, offering $60,000 to the person conquering the biggest wave, rewarding Mike Parsons of San Clemente for his dramatic drop down a 66-footer during a historic session at Cortes Bank, a seamount 100 miles off Orange County.

Hard to top?

Now there are reports of an invitational being sponsored by the surfware company Billabong, which will offer $250,000 to the person riding the largest wave over a three-year period beginning next winter, and an additional $250,000 for the person conquering a 100-foot wave.

A spokesman in Billabong's marketing department would confirm only that "we are working on a potential project, but nothing's official yet." That project, if and when it becomes official, probably will be an expedition-style endeavor involving some of the sport's biggest names and called the Billabong Odyssey.

* Sailing: A seminar on safety at sea to be held June 16 at Orange Coast College's School of Sailing and Seamanship will be the last opportunity for Transpacific Yacht Race entries to meet a requirement stating, "At least 30% of a yacht's crew, including the skipper, must have attended a U.S. Sailing-sanctioned seminar within the last five years."

The Transpac, from L.A. to Honolulu, has departures scheduled June 25 through July 1. The seminar is at 9 a.m. Cost is $40 for U.S. Sailing members and $45 for nonmembers. Details: (949) 645-9412.

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