Pedestrians on 15th Street were given an eye-opening treat yesterday morning when freestyle skateboard champion Chris Chaput, 17, displayed his acrobatic tricks in an alley between L and M Streets.
Normally, the native of Torrence, Calif., cavorts in specially designed skateboard parks, but, he boasted, "All I need is a little space and some concrete and I can perform almost anywhere."
Chaput earns a reported $100,000 a year for his talents. He is in town to perform for the opening of the St. Charles Skateboard Park in Waldorf tomorrow at noon.
Although the West Coast is the hotbed of skateboarding, "The East Coast is rapidly catching up," Chaput said.
St. Charles will be the third park in the Washington area and claims to be one of the largest in the East.
One of the largest manufacturers of skateboards is Belair Boards in Bowie. Attesting to the sport's rapid growth, the company's president, Tim Witmore said, "Three years ago we sold $300,000 worth of skateboards - last year we sold $7 million worth.
"The pre-Olympic Committee is considering making the sport part of the international games, Witmore said."
However, officials of the U.S. Olympic Committee have said skateboarding has only a slim chance of becoming part of quadrennial games.
Chaput said he rides and controls the fourwheeled board for three reasons - publicity, money and personal satisfaction.
"There is nothing like doing a trick that blows you and your friends' (minds) and makes them say, 'wow,' because you came so close to death it wasn't funny," he laughed. Then with a serious expression, added, "Skating is really nothing but a rush."
Chaput is paid from $50 to $100 for performing at the opening of skateboard parks and collects up to $3,300 by winning in world competition. He is guaranteed $12,000 in royalties and 5 percent of the gross earnings from Belair for his personally designed skateboard.
"It wasn't hard to design my board. The spear-shaped board wasn't any good, so I designed a wide, blunt board that is lightweight," he said.
Chaput's commercial brand board retails for $23.
"I don't handle my money" he said. "It's put into a trust fund. My parents are tight with it." He has bought a new Volkswagen van.
As a skateboard champion, Chaput has traveled around the world.
Last month he competed in South Africa. He delivered a skateboard to Buckingham Palace in celebration of the Queen's 25th Jubilee. The same afternoon he flew in a Concorde SST to Washington to deliver a skateboard to the White House.
He also has appeared on CBS "Challenge of the Sexes."
Chaput estimates he has traveled the equivalent of 100 trips between Washington and Los Angeles.
Handling his fame and fortune at such an early age seems to be natural for Chaput, but he says it hasn't always been easy.
"I moved to Bowie after graduating from high school (at age 16) so I could be closer to Belair Boards and my checks," he said. "But it is kind of rough not being able to hang with kids my age.
"When I started skating at 15 I didn't know I would be so big," he said. "I'm thinking about going to college, but I just don't know yet."
Skateboarding seems like a secure profession to Chaput. "I plan on skating for 10 more years then I hope to go into management, probably advertising. I also would like to buy property in California."
Chaput is entertaining some dangerous, moneymaking ideas.
"I want to be the first to do some Evel Knievel antics on a skateboard," he said. He has planned to build a motorized hang glider with an attached skateboard to be used for take off and landing.
"Wouldn't it be wild to jump off a cliff with a hang glider and a skateboard?"
His routine includes a headstand, during which he makes three turns of 360 degrees, and a maneuver consisting of soaring down a 180-degree banked wall with three wheels in the air. He begins this feat at a near-standstill and reaches 25 mph at the bottom of the wall.
Chaput keeps one philosophy in mind when competing: "He who hesitates loses - he who does not, wins."
With that thought and a gold goodluck skateboard chain around his neck, which he hasn't taken off since Christmas, Chaput continues to win.