Benjie's pals were awed: The dude was skating with the pros.
All around him, big names in the world of professional skateboarding were shooting over ramps, flying onto ledges and kicking off their boards in airborne stunts to promote Frederick's new Hill Street Skate Park.
There was Elissa Steamer -- Elissa Steamer! -- the first female skater to have a pro-model skateboard named after her, a star so big in the skateboarding world she's now a character in a video game. She swooped down a concrete ramp, skinny arms flung out for balance and a spray of wild blond dreadlocks corkscrewing behind her. She gathered speed over a small hump, then launched off a J-shaped ramp known as a quarter pipe and caught some air. A guy with a camera on another skateboard cruised alongside her, capturing it all on video.
In the background, Tony Montgomery -- he's a comer on the professional tour -- seesawed up and down in the concrete curves, while another pro, Mike Maldonado, a big, athletic-looking guy with a shaved head, cycled around the outer rim of the course like a marble in a roulette wheel.
And in the middle of it all was Benjie, aka Benjamin Ross, who lives in Middletown, west of Frederick. He's 16, lanky, normally laid-back, well spoken, even a little philosophical. But at this moment, he was coolly focused.
Benjie had been coming to Frederick's new skate park since well before last week's grand opening festivities, even before the city finished building it, and word has it around the skate park that he's the best. He was with his buddies watching the maneuvers of a handful of pros under contract with Bootleg Skateboard Co. when a park manager invited him to show his stuff.
Benjie skated into the spotlight as a crowd watched. At least one TV news crew taped the event, and Mayor Jennifer P. Dougherty and other city officials were on hand to talk about the park's creation, marvel at the daredevilry of youth or cringe in the presence of bone-jarring impacts. More than 100 skaters showed up, some old enough to have tattoos and others young enough to have their moms nearby. But most were boys Benjie's age.
"You're my hero, Benjie!" someone called out, in a tone that was at once encouraging and unmistakably snarky.
So Benjie went for the rail slide, a maneuver in which the rider flies up onto a metal bar that resembles the handrail on a staircase and then surfs along the rail with the underbelly of the board. But Benjie couldn't quite make it work.
"It takes guts to skateboard with the pros," said Benjie's friend Mark Eaton, 15, of Frederick. "I bet if he was doing really bad, people would start booing him."
No one booed, even though Benjie messed up several tries. Other boarders zoomed by, their wheel bearings emitting a kind of sizzling noise.
Then Benjie nailed it: He performed a kickflip backside lip, a maneuver in which the skater glides downhill toward a rail, launches himself skyward, kicks off the board, turns his body 180 degrees, catches the board midair on the soles of both feet, alights on the rail, surfs it, then hits the ground wheels-first.
Benjie smoothly rolled away. Kids hooted and applauded.
"Yeah!" Mark yelled. "Sponsor him!"
Even grown-ups who couldn't tell an ollie from a 5050 were in a celebratory spirit at the grand opening. After years of shooing skateboarders from sidewalks and storefronts, the city gave in and gave them what they had been asking for: a place of their own. By chance, it's in a fast-growing part of town that is home to young families and a sizable number of Latino immigrants.
The $400,000 skate park measures about 140 by 120 feet and features a street-style course and two bowls, which are crater-shaped depressions in the concrete that allow skaters to whirl around inside. One is a clover-shaped bowl with 10-, 7- and 5-foot-deep basins; the other, called the Pee Wee bowl, is shallower for beginners.
To ensure that the park would satisfy hard-core boarders, the city worked closely with Malcolm Bryan and Tim Reardon, two Frederick natives and former skateboarders (one is approaching middle age, and the other is almost 30) who opened a skateboard shop on Market Street. The park, which charges city youth $4 per four-hour session, opened its doors unofficially last month, and it has drawn a steady stream of skaters since.
"This is one thing my kid didn't do, and I'm glad," Alderman Marcia A. Hall (D) said as skaters swarmed over the course.
Eventually, the park will have lights that will allow it to stay open three hours beyond its current 7 p.m. closing. It serves as the cornerstone of a $7.8 million regional park that eventually will include two lighted playing fields, two inline hockey courts, a pavilion, playground and a swimming pool with a water park, said Roelky Myers, director of the city's Recreation Department.
"We wanted to open this as soon as possible because the kids were clamoring to get in here," Myers said.
Just before one of the managers asked Benjie if he wanted to try his stuff, his friends were marveling at his ability to land the big jumps.
Before the park opened, for example, a bunch of kids sneaked in and skated at night, and one of the stunts they dared was plunging off a wall at least 10 feet high. That was before a handrail was installed along it, so that spectators could watch the action below.
There are wisps of a mustache around his mouth, and his shaggy brown hair flopped around a little as he talked about skateboarding the way other people talk about Zen. Munching a PowerBar, he spoke about watching what he eats and getting enough sleep so he can perform at his best. The scars that discolored the skin around his elbows? No biggie. Not when he's doing something that is not just a sport.
"To me, it's more of an art, to my mind," Benjie said. "It's about self-expression."
Hours and hours spent learning how to perform a stunt have taught him how patience, self-control and perseverance can overcome frustration, he said.
"It's up to you how good you're going to get," he said. "You can choose to be angry and let it fog your vision."
"Deep! Deep!" said one of his buddies, chiding him.
"I just became driven," Benjie said. "It's kind of my gift."