A City Charmed, and Stoked

BMX competitor
Summer is in the air in Baltimore and so are the action sports competitors at this year's Dew Tour. (Pouya Dianat - The Washington Post)
By Katie Carrera
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 22, 2007

BALTIMORE, June 21 -- The mid-Atlantic region may not evoke action sports images like Southern California, but one look at Lombard Street on Thursday demonstrated why the Dew Action Sports Tour chose to stop here for the first time.

Droves of youngsters whose preferred mode of transportation was a skateboard or BMX bike filled downtown sidewalks near Camden Yards and M&T Bank Stadium. They were going to see action sports icons, to find inspiration in their own tricks and see their passions displayed on a grand stage.

"Baltimore is a better market for these sports than people think," said Wade Martin, general manager of the Dew Tour. "Just being exposed to this city scene hopefully can serve as an example of how popular these sports are here and establish more of a foundation for them to grow."

Over the past 10 days, drivers on I-295 had the best view of the stretches of asphalt transformed into carefully crafted mountains of steel, wood and dirt that house the tour's first leg -- the Panasonic Open, which runs through Sunday. The five-stop Dew Tour, in its third year, is the premier summer action sports competition and determines winners based on a cumulative points system.

Athletes ranging from teenagers to 40-year-olds compete in six major action sports disciplines -- two forms of skateboarding (one on a large half-pipe and one with smaller ramps), three forms of BMX (half-pipe, ramps and dirt), and freestyle motocross -- for a share of $3.5 million in prize money.

For skateboarder Rodney Jones, 28, who didn't have many places to ride growing up in Baltimore, the tour represents an opportunity to promote sports that he believes have been overlooked by mainstream sports fans.

"It can make the public aware of how much they need to recognize these sports because individual sports are growing so much faster than team sports," said Jones, who recently moved back to Baltimore after several years in California. "Skateboarding is an awesome sport. You don't need anybody. You just grab your board and go."

After watching the pros twist and turn, several kids scampered from the green bleachers around the skateboard park course to the open space in the shadows behind it. The unoccupied parking lot offered a perfect area to flip and turn on their boards in emulation of what they had just seen.

"There's not skate parks everywhere, there's nowhere to ride really and I hope that's what this brings to Baltimore," said Dundalk native and renowned skateboard vert rider Bucky Lasek. That it "gets the kids stoked on it and gets everyone involved."

Unlike the flashier, made-for-TV X Games, the Dew Tour isn't a one-shot competition and not an invitation-only event. Athletes who aren't invited can enter open qualifying for a chance at the preliminary rounds in which all riders, regardless of prior qualifications or name recognition, must compete for a spot in the final. Because the tour requires each rider to qualify for a spot in the finals, up-and-coming riders have the same opportunity as superstars at each stop.

"It's exciting to see guys make it in from the open qualifier and succeed," Martin said. "It creates an explosion of depth in talent of these sports."

One of those up-and-coming athletes is 21-year-old skateboarder Mathieu Therres from Dundalk, competing in his first Dew Tour event. Therres and his neon green board entered Wednesday's skateboard park open qualifier and finished third, earning the right to compete in Thursday's preliminaries.

"Stuff like this helps the city get out there," Therres said. "There's a lot of talented skateboarders and other riders here, and we get overlooked. But events like this are definitely helping."

© 2007 The Washington Post Company