*** Teens grind and grab spotlight ***
Cherry Hill, NJ -- 06/02/2005
They were not selling a new version of PlayStation2 or
debuting a new Harry Potter movie inside the Moorestown
Mall on Sunday.
So, why were dozens of parents and children lined up outside
the mall's Food Court entrance as early at 6:30 a.m.?
C'mon, dude! The Dew Action Sports Tour was in town.
More than 100 skateboarders from Delaware to Vermont
waited as long as six hours to get their shots at fulfilling dreams
of turning pro Sunday when the 2005 Free Flow tour opened
in the mall's Vans Skatepark.
Nick Merlino, 17, of Atlantic City won the event, and for the
second straight year he'll hit the road for a Dew tour stop, this
time in Portland, Ore. Last year, Merlino joined two other local
skaters - Elliott Coss of Moorestown and Shaun Williams of
Williamstown - for a tour stop in Encinitas, Calif.
"He's insane," said Chris Dziema, 16, of Hopatcong,
Sussex County. "He deserved to win."
Dziema placed third in the event;
Williams finished second.
Merlino, whose elbow bruises serve as battle scars from
five years of skateboarding, will compete against 14 other
amateur skaters Aug. 17 in Portland. The winner of that
competition will join the Dew Action Sports Tour and compete
against 25 pro skateboarders in a nationally televised event Oct.
13 in Orlando, Fla.
"I think the competition this year was better than last year,"
Merlino said. "There were a lot more kids from different areas."
"Nick was super consistent," said Nick Scofield, a 19-year
skateboarding veteran from Burlington, Vt., and one of the
event's three judges. "He managed to hit a lot of hard tricks
and he rode the whole course better than everyone else.
He was very creative."
The fact that Moorestown is included in the 15-city tour is an
indication of how popular the sport has become in this region.
The next closest tour stop is in Louisville, Ky.
As a result, Sunday's event brought skaters
from up and down the Eastern seaboard.
Paul and Pam Hale from Underhill, Vt., booked airfare for
themselves and their two sons, Collin, 18, and Cody, 16, so
they could compete in Sunday's event. The two boys are so
into skateboarding they have their own business cards.
"I love it," said Pam Hale. "Our boys sometimes spend eight
hours a day skateboarding. There is such an individuality to it.
And when you get to this level, it's pretty competitive."
Catherine Ashley of Newark, Del., was one of just a handful
of girls competing on Sunday. But she is no stranger to the Vans
Skatepark. Her mother, Becky, said she drives her to the
Moorestown Mall at least once a week because its Vans
Skatepark is the closest one to her home in Newark.
Ashley won the girls' event in Moorestown in 2002 and 2003,
but the tour has since dropped female competitions.
"I can understand, because there were only about five of us,"
she said. "I wish there were more girls competing because it's
hard for girls to do some of the tricks the boys do."
With music blaring and family members and friends lined three
deep behind a chain-link fence, the skateboarders roared up
and down vertical ramps, sometimes grinding along metal poles
and sometimes soaring high into the air as their boards flipped
"I don't understand it," said Marlton's Bill O'Keefe, who was
watching his 13-year-old grandson Robert Dugan of Moorestown
skateboard for the first time. "It looks like mayhem to me. I don't
know how they don't get hurt."
Don't be mistaken. There were just as
many spills as there were thrills.
Kurt Kamrad, 13, of Hamilton, was one of two skateboarders
who competed with a cast on his arm. He said he cracked the
growth plate in his right arm while he was doing a "50-50 grind."
Still, he finished third in the Junior Jam.
Uwe Dalibor, 14, of Moorestown, hoped to compete, but a
broken left arm forced him out of the competition. Earlier this
year he suffered a concussion. And he's only been skateboarding
"I was trying to do an ollie gap by jumping over a bush," he said.
"It's never going to stop me. I love the adrenaline rush."
Even Sunday's skateboard champion left the Moorestown
Mall with a limp. Merlino said he reinjured his left ankle while
trying one of his tricks.
"I could probably talk to you for five hours and not list all my
Merlino said. "Look at my face. Look at my scars. It hasn't stopped
Donny Hixon, 13, of Moorestown maneuvers on a railing.
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