On the first Saturday morning in July, the skateboarding section of Brushy Creek Sports Park is a symphony of wheels rolling over concrete. The sound escalates at 9 a.m., when the Austin Skateboarding Club starts its monthly skateboarding meetup, or rally. After a series of stretches, the 12 students and three instructors jump on their boards and start gliding around the park. Their shadows lengthen and shrink in the morning light as they ride low to the ground and then spring off elevated slabs and "catch air."
The Austin Skateboarding Club is the brainchild of 32-year-old Chris Zarbock. In 2001, Zarbock opened Union Square Skateshop, which sold skateboarding gear. "Parents kept coming in and asking me if I knew anyone who gave skateboarding lessons," Zarbock says. "After a while I said, ‘Yeah, me.' " The longtime skateboarder started giving private lessons, with his clientele growing via word of mouth. In 2007, Zarbock closed his store and officially launched the Austin Skateboarding Club, expanding on his private lessons by hiring more instructors and starting monthly rallies in addition to camps and group classes for all ages. Since then, club enrollment has grown. "It's for the kids, the whole thing," says Zarbock, who grew up skateboarding. "It's an easy way for the kids to make friends."
Last October, Zarbock returned to his hometown of Corpus Christi. While Zarbock still owns the club, Colten Perry has taken over daily operations as manager. His duties include running the monthly rallies, which are free to club members.
During the rally, 21-year-old Perry is a natural with the students, who range in ages from 4 to 13. Perry guides them through skateboarding tricks, holding hands with students just until they gain their balance. As the kids fan out in all directions, zig-zagging across the park, instructors Jon-Eric Palmer and Will Durf offer similar support.
"I think the tone is set by the guys who run the Austin Skateboarding Club," says Matt Genovese, whose daughter Emily Genovese and son Caleb Genovese are members. "They do a really good job of being encouraging with these kids."
Perry, who has been skateboarding for 10 years, says that for him, the club pairs his two loves: working with kids and skateboarding. "Skateboarding is kind of like an art because no one has the same exact tricks," says Perry. "It's all about self-expression. That's what drives kids to the sport, and that's why I got into it as well."
On the outside, the Austin Skateboarding Club is a rarity. In a city full of clubs and camps, this is one of the few that specializes in skateboarding. On the inside, the club is even more than that. For students of all ages, it fosters experimentation and courage within a safe, community setting.
At Brushy Creek, 7-year-old Alexander Howe is armored with knee, elbow and hand guards. All prevent the possibility of scrapes and bruises, and he might well need them. Alexander is a fearless kid. He learns quickly how to drop down into the park and skate up onto an elevation — almost. Before Alexander clips onto the surface of the slab, he falls, skateboard clattering in one direction, him in another. His dad, Jim Howe, who watches from a folding chair, jumps up. "Hey, Good job! That was really close," he applauds. Then, Alexander rears up and tries it again.
Jim Howe thinks that skateboarding matches his son's personality. "It's a challenge, and I think he's one of those kids that's physical and really likes a challenge," he says. He also appreciates the sense of camaraderie the club offers his son in an otherwise solo sport. "There's a certain bond between the kids," Howe says. "It's kind of like they have their own language."
Emily Genovese's blond ponytail, hanging from the back of her pink and green helmet, is a sign of defiance as the club's only female student attending the rally. The 7-year-old can't pronounce her R's, so when she says, "I'm afraid," holding Perry's hand, poised to drop into the skateboarding park from an incline, she can't even fully pronounce the word. And in minutes, it's not true, or at least, it's no longer a concern as she drops in fluidly. Genovese's smile breaks open, wide and gap-toothed, as she glides around the park. "I like going down the ramps and the fresh air that you get," she says about the sport.
Saturday mornings are father and son time for the Cantu family. "I work nights," Mark Cantu says, "but regardless, every Saturday we come out and skate, like clockwork." At the rally, Cantu teaches his son, Corvin Cantu, how to do an ollie, a trick that involves stepping down on the back of the board, snapping it into the air and landing on all four wheels. When the 5-year-old catches air, his father beams with pride. Mark Cantu also grew up skateboarding, but without access to skate parks, he and friends would skate around local neighborhoods, constantly avoiding police arrest. "Now my son, 20 years later, he's allowed to skate and enjoy himself without any issues being brought up," Cantu says. "It's really nice."
For Isaiah Ender, skateboarding redefines the word special. The 4-year-old was born with ulnar dysplacia, a condition that stunts his right arm at the elbow and disfigures both of his hands so that he has only two fingers on each. He was also born with a natural aptitude for balance. After walking at 9 months, Isaiah hopped on a skateboard at 1 1/2 years old, and he has been gliding ever since. "I think that makes him see himself as special, not just because of a physical condition, but because he's good at something," says his mother, Orieta Ender.
At 11 a.m, as the rally wraps up, Isaiah fends of a bright, burning sun and general crankiness. At his mother's urging, he runs to the top of a mild incline and jumps on his board. Gliding down on his skateboard, Isaiah's mop of curly brown hair blows in the wind. Then, he does a small ollie, and for a split-second, suspended in mid-air, the child is free.
Contact Reshma Kirpalani at 445-1789.