Go by the board

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What makes skateboarding so popular? Answers on a postcard to any police officer or security guard who is forced to spend his or her time harassing sidewalk surfers.

It's not easy being a skateboarder - surfers have the freedom of the ocean, and snowboarders enjoy whole mountain ranges, but the skateboard is an urban vehicle, adapted for concrete jungles.

When you consider that skateboarding is banned in many public areas, you begin to understand why skateboarders are such a close-knit community.

"It's actually illegal to skate in the city," says skateboarder Pete Hellicar. "There are quite a few skateparks around, but they're all carefully designed, with set-up obstacles. If you ride the street, you find stuff that nobody else has ever ridden before.

"I enjoy doing that, but I've gone out less and less recently because I can't deal with the hassle from security guards and the police. Sometimes they're okay, but other times they won't leave you alone for two minutes."

Hellicar has been risking his body riding various wheeled objects for longer than he can remember: "I've always liked messing around with things that go fast." Skateboarding appealed to him because you can ride anywhere in the city.

Tomorrow, Hellicar may win the chance to ride in skateboarding's country of origin - America.

The PlayStation 1998 Skate Tour has been running around the country since June. Regional champions and other riders will converge on the PlayStation Skatepark in London for the chance to become the overall UK PlayStation Champion, and win a trip for two, with pounds 1,000 spending money, to the US.

The standard of skate- boarding in the UK is impressive. The Americans remain way out in front, but the UK has some of the world's best riders. With more money coming into the sport from television coverage, it is now possible to earn a living as a professional skateboarder.

Not since the sport's first UK boom in the early 1980s has the industry been as big. Tomorrow's winner (in addition to today's champion in the in-line competition) will win a year's sponsorship deal with PlayStation.

"I want to win it because I want to go on holiday, but I'm just going to go down there and have a laugh," says Hellicar.

"There's no intense rivalry in skateboarding - it's like a big family. I've been around the world, and it doesn't matter where you are; if you walk past another skater, you say, `hello'.

"I went to Paris and ended up skating with a load of guys, complete strangers. They showed me around the city, took me to their house, fed me and now they're good friends."

The PlayStation circuit boasts obstacles for transition skating: a purpose- built street course (including mini-ramps and rails) in addition to a "vert" competition, where competitors defy gravity and common sense, performing exotically named tricks in the half-pipe.

It's one of the best spectator sports around, and will have you running down to your nearest skate shop. Beginners are advised to buy the best equipment they can afford (a decent deck, with trucks and wheels, costs from pounds 80); cheaper stuff will just break.

"It's best to buy a skateboard and find out whether you like it before deciding which kind of boarding you want to do," advises Hellicar. Then head for a skateboard park, where you can try out specially designed circuits from about pounds 2 an hour.

"You need to have a certain kind of mindset to perform tricks. You have to work some things out yourself, and think your way around problems, because someone can only teach you so much."

Just don't ask your local policeman!

Alister Morgan

PlayStation 1998 Skate Tour: PlayStation Skatepark, Acklam Road, London W10 (0181-969 4669) tomorrow 12noon-8pm, pounds 4


PlayStation Skatepark

Acklam Road, Ladbroke Grove, London W10 (0181-969 4669)

Daily 12noon-4pm, 5pm-9pm

Bones Skatepark

Canal Street, Stockport (0161-480 8118) Mon-Fri 12noon-9pm, Sat & Sun 9am-9pm


1-3 Leckwith Road, Netherton, Liverpool (0151-530 1500) Daily 12noon-4pm, then 2hr sessions till 10pm

Mount Hawke

Truro, Cornwall (01209 890705) Daily 10.15am-9.30pm

The Storm Centre

Colombo Street, Derby (01332 201768) 10am-10pm daily except Wed, 10am-8pm