Many of the kids call formore area skateparks.
By JENNINE ZELEZNIK
VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF
HUBBARD -- Standing at the edge, 18-year-old Jim Hake took a deep breath, then jumped.
In seconds, the rollerblader was at the top of the next ramp, then airborne. He twisted, grabbed the bottoms of his skates, then straightened to fly down the ramp, up a wedged wall and back down again.
Landing finally at the table where he'd begun, the Boardman resident grinned.
"It's the way you ride the ramp," Hake explained, hands on the hips of his sweatpants. "You gotta know how to ride."
Extreme sports -- rollerblading, skateboarding and "trick" BMX biking, among others -- are continuing to grow in popularity.
"It's a rush," T.J. Sudol, 14, said while sitting astride his short bike. Sudol, from Howland, has been riding for about a year. He started because his friend biked.
"I like to be better than my friends," he said with a shrug. "If he can do something, I can. I tried, and I liked it."
Ride in Hubbard: Both Hake and Sudol ride regularly at the Section 8 Skatepark in Hubbard. Owners Steve Luckett and Joe Cupp -- both bikers themselves -- built the park about two years ago. It has since been voted one of the best in the country, Cupp said.
Fifteen-year-old Jason Loychik of Girard rides his bike everyday at the skatepark, and has practically since it opened.
"It's really cool when you see what you're doing on a bike," he said while holding an ice pack on his thumb. "I mean, these ramps are taller than me, and I'm going six feet above them."
As for his injury, he figured it'd be better in a few days.
"What sucks is that I'll have to stop riding," he said, his backwards red ball cap shaking with his head.
Injuries aren't uncommon in these sports, but many of the participants swear they are no more injury-prone than a typical football or basketball player.
"Just like with baseball or football, you have to know your limitations," Cupp said. "You have to start small."
Besides, "It's worth the risk to have fun," Pat Sanders, 20, of Struthers said, then pulled his helmet on and walked his bike to the ramp's entrance.
Helmets a must: Helmets are a must with these extreme sports -- at least while at the skatepark, Luckett said. Full safety gear is recommended, "but we can't force the kids to wear it," he added.
Most of the older bikers -- those in their late teens and early twenties - say they never ride without their helmets.
"I always wear my helmet," Matt Gibeaut, 22, said. The Bannock resident has broken his pinkie and herniated two disks in his back during his 10-year biking career -- but has had no head injuries.
Gibeaut travels to BMX biking competitions around the country now, and even has companies which sponsor some of his expenses. He attributes much of his success to Section 8, where he bikes whenever he's in town.
Others find it much more difficult to spend time at the Skatepark - especially those kids without drivers' licenses.
Kyle Garchar, 12, loves trying to "catch air" at the skatepark, but doesn't get to do it very often.
"It's a long way," the Boardman resident said, brushing his dyed blonde hair away from his eyes. "It's hard to get here."
One Poland biker, Steve Mentzer, has an idea -- local skateparks kids could easily get to. Unfortunately, the 15-year-old's idea has met with little success.
He and others met with the Poland village council to try and convince them of the merits of a small skatepark. There are community ball fields and basketball courts -- why not a park? No luck.
"We've been working on this for the longest time," Mentzer said. "But nobody will listen. We need more parks."
He added with a selling grin, "And, they'll keep us out of trouble."
He sobered quickly, though.
Not troublemakers: "Parents and teachers look at us like we're all troublemakers just because we do something different," he said, and shook his head. A silver stud winked in his ear. "They look at us like, 'Oh, a dirty biker, a dirty skater.' But we do what we like -- and we don't cause trouble."
Exasperated, he put his helmet back on, then dropped off the edge of the jump for a ride around the park.
Nearby, fourteen-year-old Brandon Boser of Niles stood with one foot propped on his skateboard. He's only been riding for a few months, but has already picked up one thing.
"Skateboarding is not a crime," he said, his eyes looking determined behind his glasses. He explained that he and his friends will be skating down the road, minding their own business, when a police car will happen by.
"They'll start to follow us," Boser said, hands fisted on his gray T-shirt. "We're just doing what we like.
"And we're not doing anything wrong."