Boys & Girls Club turns into a skate park

The outdoor basketball courts at the Boys & Girls Club of Laguna Beach served a different purpose for a few hours on April 17.

Instead of shooting hoops, kids were riding skateboards alongside employees from Irvine-based Element Skateboards Inc., showing off their tricks on the quarter-pipe and "pyramid" ramps at the club's main branch on Laguna Canyon Road.

The event kicked off the club's seven-week skate camp. Children have wanted a place and time to skate, and Element was more than willing to help provide staff to offer some education.

Skaters rode the quarter-pipe while Element skateboarders Levi Brown, Dylan Christopher and Chad Tim Tim glided along with the occasional aerial maneuver, during which the board rotates a few times in the air and the skater aims to land smoothly back on the board.

A few children stuck to the basics— standing securely on a moving board, for instance — while others attempted more daring feats like carving up the quarter-pipe. The club already had ramps, so it was just a matter of moving them into position.

"The idea is to build self-esteem, self-confidence and get the kids outside," Boys & Girls Club program Director Faye Branscombe said.

Matt Ward, Element's marketing coordinator, echoed Branscombe's comment.

"Skateboarding is one of those things that you have to really want," Ward said, moments before he got on a board and cruised on the asphalt with kids following him to get a few tips.

"If you can get them riding, it's progress," Ward said.

Branscombe got wind of Element from Laguna Beach resident Sonya Ernst. Branscombe and Ernst walk together, and when Branscombe told Ernst about a skate camp, Ernst knew where to turn.

"I said, 'Wow, it sounds like a great thing for Element to get involved with,'" said Ernst, who called Element founder Johnny Schillereff.

"Johnny grew up going to the Boys & Girls Club, and he's such a loving, give-back person," Ernst said. "I knew he wouldn't say no if all the timing was right."

The camp, which is only for members of the club, costs $20 per child for the full seven weeks. It will run from 4 to 6 p.m. Fridays beginning April 25 at the Boys & Girls Club, 1085 Laguna Canyon Road. Beginners will ride the first hour, advanced skaters the second.

Whether Element participates in the camp hasn't been decided.

The club has some helmets and boards for kids who don't have their own equipment and provides scholarships if parents cannot afford the camp cost, Branscombe said.

Kael Bittner-Brown, 10, hoped to learn a few new tricks Thursday.

"I'm trying to get the guys helping me ollie," Kael said, in reference to a move where the board leaves the ground.

Laguna Beach Police Officer Nikki Hernandez spoke to the children about safety and reminded them that if they are observed not wearing a helmet while riding, an officer can confiscate the board for a week on the first offense and 30 days for each subsequent violation, according to the city's municipal code.

Hernandez added, "Check bearings before you go out and, if possible, ride with a friend."

As to whether a skate park is in the city's future, City Councilmen Steve Dicterow and Kelly Boyd have directed the recreation committee to identify possible sites, Deputy City Manager Ben Siegel wrote in an email.

The city has $195,000 earmarked for a skate park, but no new potential sites have emerged since May, when hundreds of residents turned out to oppose a skating area at Moulton Meadows Park.

The recreation committee discusses the skate park at its meetings, which take place at 6:45 p.m. the first Monday of each month at the Laguna Beach Community and Susi Q Senior Center, 380 Third St.

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