Matt Pellmann wonders where he'll go when it rains or snows or gets too hot outside. He wonders where he'll find such a splendid array of ramps and rails all in one indoor, climate-controlled spot, where he might glide from bowl to quarter-pipe to grind box, then down the concourse to Jerry's Subs and Pizza.
"Total bummer," said Pellmann, 17, of Ashland. "It must be the apocalypse."
Last night, after all, his version of paradise was lost. Vans Skatepark in Woodbridge, 61,640 glorious square feet of cement and plywood -- one of the largest indoor skateboarding parks on the planet -- closed down four years after it opened at Potomac Mills mall.
Because of increasing competition from public parks, Vans Inc. is shutting down all but two of its 13 for-profit skate parks across the country, which, if distressing to the skateboarding masses, represents to others a rare triumph of the public over the corporate.
"When we first started building skate parks four or five years ago, there were probably 50 public skate parks in the U.S.," said Chris Overholser, marketing manager for Vans Inc. in Santa Fe Springs, Calif.
"Now there are well over 1,500. Basically, it's really difficult to compete with free, no matter how good your facility is," Overholser said.
In the Washington area, the number of public skate parks has grown from about eight in 2000 to 40, the vast majority outdoors, and 10 more are in the planning stages, said Dave Merrill, a member of the Reston Skate Park Alliance, which advocates for the parks.
Admission ranges from free to $5 a session, compared with $12 to $15 per two-hour session at Vans.
"The trend is to be free all the time, and that's the great thing for skaters as it gets more mainstream," Merrill said.
"The future for the sport is to have small regional parks . . . or equipment in your back yard. We have a half-pipe in our back yard," he said.
Even so, Pellmann and others who "ollied" and "flipped their hearts out" were disconcerted by the news that the Vans park was closing.
"Like, everything it has, it has in three sizes," Pellmann explained during a break on the metal bleachers with several friends. "A big bowl, a little bowl, step-ups in two sizes."
"You see people skate street, skate vert, then old school," added his friend Nathan Styer, 14, of Ashland, naming various styles.
"Hey," Nathan's brother Will piped in, interrupting. "You guys want to go get some pizza at the food court?"
Now all that is gone.
To those who loved Vans, its beauty was not only its size but also its proximity, for example, to Taco Bell or the Polo Ralph Lauren outlet.
If it was always a bit odd that the quasi-lawless sport of drained California swimming pools wound up in a suburban outlet mall, it certainly was nice to drop off the kids and walk to Books-A-Million.
"I've been here since 10 a.m.," said Kim Marchand, who drove from Rockville and shopped while her three boys skated.
"I went to JCPenney and got some good deals, ate at the food court," Marchand said.
The prefab park was full all week with skateboarders and a far fewer number of in-line skaters. Teenagers whose T-shirts bore such messages as "I just kidnapped myself" and "I'm big in Japan" sailed on battered boards past parents swinging shopping bags. Mothers sat on folding lawn chairs outside a chain-link fence around all the gray, as they might at a baseball game.
Lorrie Damico-Branch watched her son, Colton, 11, disappear and reappear inside a giant bowl in the distance. Yesterday was his birthday.
"My son was sobbing" when he heard the park was closing, she said. "There are outdoor parks . . . but I'm not going to sit there and watch in the freezing cold. This is just one central area where people can come. I've got a daughter who doesn't skate, and she can go to the movies or shop.
"I remember when I came here four years ago, I thought, 'This is so bizarre. A skate park in a mall?' But it's amazing," she said.
Colton, in Vans Dr T shoes, rolled over to the fence on his board, which cost $162.
"I'm not going to let it bring me down too much," he said stoically, heading back out among the pyramids and hubba ledges.
There were rumors that a Bass Pro Shops was replacing Vans, or a Sears maybe, but a representative for Mills Properties, which leases the space, did not comment.
There also was skepticism that the Vans park was not making enough money, considering the high fees.
But Overholser, the Vans spokesman, said only a few of the parks were profitable, "and if this park was making money, I don't think we'd close it."
While many skaters said they hardly minded paying the fees to skate at Vans, others acknowledged that the whole setup was perhaps counter to the true spirit of skateboarding.
"It's kind of like a day-care center for parents," said Robert Rasmussen, 17, of Fairfax.
"And it's really just corporate sponsors trying to control skateboarding, and a lot of kids aren't willing to go pay to skate -- they'll skate in the streets for free," he said.
Still, Rasmussen said he would miss the park that many say was one of the best on the East Coast.
The two Vans parks that will remain open are in Orange, Calif., and Orlando.
"It's the end of an era," said Nick Ghobashi, 18, of Centreville, sweaty after several final hours of grinds and grabs.