Flyboys

Ollies, fakies, and grinds: It's a sick thing, man.

Slice is particularly determined this afternoon. Never overly loquacious, he's almost unnaturally quiet as the wheels of his skateboard curl into a slalom and he weaves delicately between pedestrians on downtown Minneapolis's Nicollet Mall. He glides to a stop in the center of the boulevard and slowly swings around. And then he pauses, a slender, gangly figure in low-slung pants several sizes too large, one Vans-clad foot resting on his board's griptaped surface, the other on the sun-warmed blacktop.

The street is abuzz with all the typical activity of a downtown workday in May. A jackhammer breaks ground outside a building at the corner of Nicollet and South Sixth Street, letting loose a cloud of dust that drifts though the air. Vendors hawk bouquets of vivid flowers under a white tent on the sidewalk. Buses lumber down the otherwise auto-free street, and bicycle cops pedal around. Office workers gossip while grabbing a dose of sunshine or nicotine.

In the center of it all, 22-year-old Slice, whose more formal name is Clint Peterson, is encased in a protective cocoon of concentration. His hair, naturally blond, is dyed a glossy, jet black, accentuating his fair skin. His eyes, the color of faded denim, focus on the stone ledge of a dried-up fountain about 20 feet down the block. He takes a breath. Suddenly his left foot strikes the pavement, pumping like a locomotive pulling out of the station.

In the street, he leaps into the air, flipping his board along its horizontal axis before landing with both feet on top. He flows forward, hopping over the curb to the sidewalk, then leaping, his board an extension of his feet, onto the fountain ledge. He slides along the smooth stone, then soars off the end, twirling in a graceful spiral. The board slaps the pavement, but Slice keeps right on twirling, his board heading in one direction, his body in another. He brushes himself off, picks up his board, and dashes back up the street to the corner, a goofy, eager smile on his face.

He prepares to try again. This time, Peterson rides in tandem with his friend and fellow skateboarder, Steve Nesser, who carries a digital video recorder and rolls along to catch Slice's trick on film. The two have been out all day, filming each other for their respective parts in a soon-to-be released skateboarding video sponsored by Fobia, a local chain of three skate shops, including one on Washington Avenue in downtown Minneapolis. "I can do it," Peterson tells Nesser, "I know I can."

There is no easy progression to making a trick on a skateboard. Even if you're good--and there is no question that these guys are good; Peterson, in fact, is scheduled to turn pro later this summer--it takes physical skill, a stolid mindset, time, patience, and persistence. Peterson is trying to do two tricks in quick succession, otherwise known as a two-trick line. First there's the flip in the street, called a "fakie kickflip body varial" with an "ollie" onto the ledge; that's followed by a "backside 360 ollie" off of it. (For the uninitiated, an ollie is a trick in which the skater uses his back foot to strike the board's tail against the ground while using the front foot to pull the board into the air. Named for Alan "Ollie" Gelfand, who invented the move in 1977, the ollie is the pillar of street skating--it's the basis for almost every other trick.) Peterson comes close on one try, but doesn't quite nail a smooth landing. In his next dozen attempts, he misses the initial kickflip--either the board doesn't fully flip around and crashes with its underbelly exposed, or he steps off of it on the landing, or he doesn't have enough momentum to float into the next trick.

Here on Nicollet Mall, everything is an impediment. It's not just a matter of mastering the jumps. The real challenge is making the tricks in the ever-changing environment of the crowded downtown street. You've got to locate the spot and envision the trick. You've got to skate around the obstacles (the stream of water the flower vender tosses into the street) and the people (the toddler watching, mesmerized, mouth agape). You've got to wait for buses to pass. You've got to hide out around the corner until the police car scoots by (if a cop catches you rolling on Nicollet, he or she will hand you an $80 ticket and possibly take away your board). All these elements combine to form the essence of this creative, athletic, rebellious pastime called "street skating," or simply "street."

Peterson is unfazed by the chaos, and doggedly tries his two-trick line again and again. On attempt No. 17, he misses the kickflip and falls down on the street in an elongated sprawl, his pale arm stretching out in front of him.

Attempt No. 19: He comes close, but falls off the landing. He gets up, shakes his head, and skates vigorously back to the corner. "Next one!" Nesser calls out, encouragingly.

Attempt No. 21: Again, he falls on the landing, and with an aggravated "fuck!" taps his board to his forehead. As he skates back to the corner, hands grasping the sides of his face, he turns back to Nesser and mouths something that looks like, "I suck."

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