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."

Attempt No. 28: Again he misses the landing, and shares a quick analysis with Nesser: "Just a little more under me, and I've got it."

Attempt No. 31: He misses the kickflip, his hands catching him as he falls forward on to the street.

Attempt No. 33: He misses the kickflip.

Attempt No. 34: He lands it, garnering an excited yelp from Nesser. As Peterson coasts back up the street, his hands stretch high above his head. His face tilts skyward, dominated by a smile ignited by joy and relief.

"All that work for five seconds," he says with a smirk. Were it not for his disarming self-awareness, it might be easy to dismiss Peterson as just another subsidized slacker who ought to stow his board and grow up already. But his excitement is infectious, charming onlookers with his unabashed delight in an art form that goes beyond sport or physical prowess.

The battery in the camera is dead, so the pair can't immediately review the shot. "I got it, dude," Nesser promises.

"I know you did, therefore I love you," Peterson says as they pack up the gear and head back toward Fobia. Peterson practically bounces down the street--all his stony determination has dissolved into boyish giddiness. "I'm so stoked I got that. It's all I could think about last night."

 

Seen through the eyes of a skateboarder, the world looks very, very different. Where non-skaters--"normal" people, as Peterson calls them--see a stairway, skaters see a platform to rocket off of or a rail to "grind" down; where normal folks see a bump in the sidewalk that needs to be fixed, skaters see a gap to ollie over. Walking or driving, their necks constantly swivel: "Dude, did you see that roof bump?" or "Check out that rail--it'd be a sick thing, man." Skating is what they think about. It is what they do, what they talk about, who they are.

Clint Peterson was 10 when he first stepped on a skateboard and rolled down the long paved driveway at his parents' Stillwater home. "Once I found skateboarding, it was perfect. It fit," says Peterson. "It's the only sport I had an interest in. But it's not a sport." Save the few months of each year when injury (broken wrist, broken arm, broken thumb, shin infection) prevents him from skating, he has done it whenever he could for more than half his life.

"If you're a skateboarder, you want to skate all the time," he explains, his voice low and languid, in a laid-back style suggestive of surfers and stoners. He pauses a moment, considering what he likes about skateboarding. Then he speaks slowly, as if the words are so comfortable inside him that they're reluctant to get up and leave his lips. "I dunno. Freedom. A feeling I don't think a lot of people get. Pushing yourself to do something you don't think you'll be able to do, and then doing it."

Even when he first started skating, Peterson's parents fully supported it. He was only 15 when his father, a local musician, was killed in a motorcycle accident. But his mother, Karen Kramer ("the coolest person I know," Peterson says), has always been a fan, even when she's gotten late-night calls from the emergency room--or the local jail.

"He's pretty independent. I had to let go of him when he was really young. He was just gone," Kramer muses. "I never even knew that he was a good skateboarder. You just support your kids in whatever they do."

In the early days, Kramer remembers, she'd drive her son into Minneapolis to skate, or to Shinders, the only place back then where they could find the latest skateboarding magazines. She even took him on a trip to California, where he gleefully rolled around the many skate parks. Today, both mother and son eagerly wait for next month's skateboarding publications to arrive. "He'll go through the magazines with me," she says. "'This is so and so,' or 'Remember when I told you about X?' He is doing something really hard and really cool. This is something that takes a lot more determination, a lot more courage than most jobs. He's decided he really wants something and he's working hard to do it. What more could you want?"

The life of a skateboarder is unhurried, and, consequently, unscheduled. It could be considered a purely hedonistic existence. Or it might be seen as a singular devotion to honing a craft. Either way, it's clear that skating is the essential part of life: Anything else--work, school, dating--places a distant second.

On a typical day, Slice (who was given his nickname by his buddies but sheepishly refuses to explain its significance) might wake up around noon in his mother's house. "I call my friends. See who wants to get gnarly. See who wants to do a trick, get hurt." They'll stop by Fobia to get the video camera, and then they'll head to a spot and skate until they get kicked off. Then they'll get something to eat ("I try and keep it healthy," he says. "And, like, not so expensive.") They may drive around town, head-banging to Rush or Yes on the car stereo. They watch skate videos, not to get specific ideas for tricks, but to "get stoked." Then they skate some more. The goal, Peterson explains, is "to do the craziest thing you can do. It's a lot more inspiring to me to watch people get that crazy."

But to the same extent that street skaters feed off each other's adrenaline, normal people often shun it. One of the sheer joys of skateboarding is that you can do it anywhere. Police, security guards, and grumpy pedestrians usually want you to do it somewhere else. Every street skater has at least one story about a run-in with a cop. Skaters seem to thrive on the rebellion; it's an us-against-them world where those who don't skateboard just won't ever understand--and bluster they may, but they won't ever stop skaters from skating.

It's about 2:00 p.m. on a May afternoon, and Seth McCallum, another up-and-coming local skater who is developing a national name, is standing at the top of the entryway stairs at the Towle Building, an office tower on the corner of Second Avenue and Third Street in downtown Minneapolis. He glides up to the edge of the top step. "I've got to look at it first," he says, explaining that the ritual is part head game, part superstition. Then, from across the entrance plaza, he speeds toward the stairs and leaps off, down to the sidewalk. His fanny smacks the concrete, and his board shoots into the street. A couple of smokers sitting nearby moan in empathy. McCallum retrieves his board and walks back up the stairs. A balding, stocky, middle-aged man in shirtsleeves scuttles through the revolving door. "Take it someplace else," he orders.

McCallum creeps down the block. "We'll just pretend like we're going away, and then I'll go again," he says. He skates up to the other corner of the plaza, past a woman who has just come out. McCallum is poised to start again when the revolving door spins and the same stocky man emerges, scowling. "I was nice the first time, but I'm going to call the cops!" he hisses, brandishing a cell phone menacingly.

"Call the cops," McCallum retorts. "I just need one more." He pushes off, skates up to speed, and hurls himself off the steps. This time he lands, both feet planted securely on the board, and he pulls around in a graceful figure eight. He holds his hands high in the air and casts a defiant glare at the man, presumably a security guard, and the other people who disapprovingly shake their heads at him from the plaza.

"I hate people," McCallum huffs as he walks away. "The woman with the cigarette, she was saying something when I went back there. I know she was talking to me. But under the rumble of my wheels, it's just murmurs."

 

To those who consider skateboarding more of a nuisance than an amusement, the concept of turning "professional" is perplexing, even laughable. What differentiates a pro from an amateur? For that matter, what differentiates a pro from a hooligan?

There's a pretty common roadmap in the skateboarding world. First a skater gets sponsored by a local skate shop, which usually offers discounts on gear. Then, after appearing in videos and magazines, a talented skateboarder might be invited by a manufacturer to skate on that company's team, which includes both amateurs and professionals. Once sponsored, the skater gets equipment for free. Peterson has sponsorships from Fobia, Consolidated Skateboards, Vans shoes, Elwood Clothing, Spitfire wheels, Independent trucks (which makes the metal brackets that hold a skateboard's wheels to its deck), and Killing Machine hardware (which makes the nuts that hold the brackets).

The next step is to turn pro. Peterson has been sponsored by Consolidated Skateboards for about a year and a half, and he's only now about to make the leap. Exactly what that means is hard to pinpoint. Peterson himself provides only a hazy definition: It means he'll have his own "model." For further explanation, Peterson refers to a Consolidated ad in the June issue of the skateboarding magazine Thrasher. It's a photo of Peterson, soaring high above a flight of a dozen or so stone steps, his long arms outstretched like the wings of a crane. At the bottom of the page are the words: "CLINT PETERSON. God told us to give Clint a model.... So we gotta, cuz we don't wanna go to go to [sic] hell or something."

When Consolidated issues the "Clint Peterson" model, tentatively scheduled for August, Peterson will officially be a pro skateboarder, responsible for developing the graphics that are screened onto the underside of his board. The artwork on the Consolidated board he currently skates on incorporates a bright sky-blue background, with a cartoonish drawing of a pale pink udder and the block-printed words "Goat's Tit." Consolidated issues models with new graphics every couple of months, so by turning pro, Peterson, who draws, sculpts, and sketches cartoons, will have a chance to wed his twin creative interests.

The financial arrangements can vary from pro to pro, but the usual deal is that each time a pro's model sells, the pro earns a royalty of a couple dollars. This creates a cycle: Peterson goes forth into the world, filming videos, getting photos in the skating magazines, competing in contests, making a name for himself. Consolidated helps out with this, providing his equipment and sending Peterson and the rest of the company's team of skaters on tours, by van through the United States, or by plane to Europe. The theory is that as more people see Slice, he'll sell more boards, and he--and Consolidated--will make more money.

As a professional skateboarder, Peterson expects to make just enough to eke out a living. "It helps to live a minimalistic lifestyle," he explains. "Because it's really not all that much money. It's about a millionth of what a fuckin' baseball player makes." ("He can make $1,000 stretch more than anyone else I have ever known," his mother points out, adding that on a recent morning she went out and duct-taped a dangling headlight back to the body of his beaten-up car.)

The Holy Grail of endorsements is to have a shoe named after you. "You have to be, like, superhuman for that," says Peterson. "I'm pretty confident that I'll never have my own shoe. But then, I didn't think I'd turn pro either."

Skateboarding has evolved since the 1960s, according to skateboard historian Michael Brooke, who chronicled the pastime's boom-and-bust cycles in his 1999 book, The Concrete Wave. Reached by telephone in his Toronto office, he notes that the current trend is different.

"There are an awful lot more pros," he explains. "Of course, you have 20 percent of the pros making 80 percent of the money." Today, there are an estimated 9 million skateboarders in the United States. World Cup Skateboarding, the group that develops international professional skateboarding competitions, lists rankings for more than 200 pros in North America. But in the Seventies, Brooke says, there were some 20 million skateboarders, and only about 50 were pros. "They were totally superstars," Brooke says. "Now you have lots of really good people, but few superstars."

Many of those Seventies superstars fell by the wayside when skateboarding lost its popularity, he notes. The giants of today--the Tony Hawks and Chad Muskas--are more likely to stay involved in the industry. Not only do they make money riding, but often they are part owners of companies that make skating gear.

In the Eighties there were only a handful of skateboard companies, most of them run by MBAs who didn't know anything about skateboarding. Today, however, there are many more small companies owned and operated by skaters. Beyond that, there is a more expansive infrastructure of independent skate shops that sell boards, shoes, and clothes; up to 5,000 in the United States, Canada, and overseas, Brooke estimates. "There is a viable skateboard industry," he says. "Wal-Mart will never get it."

And supporting local skate shops instead of giant, out-to-make-a-fast-buck chain stores is the rallying cry for skaters everywhere. An anti-establishment sentiment is central to skateboarding. It's partly pragmatic, to ensure the longevity of local shops that both bolster a community for skaters and sell quality equipment. And it's partly rebel mystique. Consolidated's mantra spells it out: "Less is more. Stay pure, stay poor."

Skateboarding's popularity, predominantly a youth culture, is likely to ebb and flow over time, Brooke notes, though each time it crashes, the fall is a bit softer. From about 1991 to 1993, skating hit rock bottom, he says--a contention supported by figures from the National Sporting Goods Association, a U.S. trade group. Sales of skateboards hit a high mark of $86 million in 1989. By 1993, sales had dropped to $18 million. Starting in the mid-Nineties, however, the trend started to reverse itself; in 1999, the most recent year available, sales were a brisk $69 million.

In the mid-Nineties ESPN decided to air the Extreme Games (now known as the X Games: It highlights "action" sports like skateboarding, aggressive in-line skating, and bicycle stunt riding), and with that came the current skateboarding upswing--the Fourth Wave, as Brooke calls it.

But the moment something once considered counterculture is embraced as mainstream, it's likely to be out again. "By the time skateboarding winds up on network television, a backlash starts to ensue," Brooke says. "Every few years the media latch on to skateboarding. It gets blown up, with Tony Hawk, NBC, ESPN."

But, he continues, the hoopla never lasts. "Football doesn't die. Baseball doesn't get unpopular. Skateboarding does. What's kept skateboarding alive is that real core skater who, when it gets really, really small, still skates."

 

At the downtown Minneapolis Fobia, everyone seems to know everyone. They may be different ages, with different backgrounds and desires, but most everyone who walks through the door shares the common bond of skateboarding. The population in the store, just like the overall population of skateboarders, is overwhelmingly male: According to the National Sporting Goods Association, more than 90 percent of skateboarders are males; more than half of users are kids under age 14.

The two-story shop is like a fashion show for the latest line of hip slacker-wear: Everyone is clad in enormous baggy pants, pulled down low to expose a couple inches of plaid boxer. The T-shirts are threadbare; baseball caps ride backwards. They nod to each other, grasp hands like they're going to shake, but then slide their palms back and end with a snap of the fingers. The rhythm is repeated around the shop: slap, slide, snap; slap, slide, snap. Then they compare spots, or talk about skating a backyard mini ramp in the 'burbs. They sit on the floor in front of the big screen TV, sip bottled water or brightly colored Jones Sodas, and watch skate videos, oohing and aahing as boards and bodies fly across the screen.

It's Saturday afternoon, and there's a larger-than-usual congregation in front of the TV. It's tuned to NBC, and the network is airing footage from the Slam City Jam skateboarding competition held in Vancouver, British Columbia, a few weeks earlier. As they watch the tail end of the street competition--a timed run around an indoor course peppered with street-style steps, rails, and ledges--the skaters at Fobia are duly impressed: "He's, like, the best contest skater," they insist, and "He's, like, the greatest street skater."

While the skaters in the competition are clearly revered, seeing them skate on a network sports show is another matter. As the commentators shout out statements like, "That is some serious board control!" or "It's bedlam in the stands!" there's a muted groan among the watchers. After the competition, NBC airs a quick-cut montage of interviews with skaters, highlighting phrases like, "Skating is not a sport, it's a lifestyle." Some of the crew at Fobia roll their eyes and guffaw, repeating the phrase in a mocking tone.

"I'm not sure how I feel about that," comments Dan, one of the managers at Fobia, himself a longtime skateboarder who's traveled all over the country. (He declined to give his last name because, as he put it, he's "just into the skateboarding community, you know, not the limelight.") "There's a little bit of over-dramatization, you know, to get people stoked on it. It makes us look like a bunch of burnouts, when that image is so over."

Fobia, Dan explains, is an alternative community center. "Everyone who walks through the door here has something in common," he says. "I can talk about skateboarding all day without it ever getting personal. People come in here and identify with each other and just feel welcome."

The door swings open, and two small, tan, red-cheeked boys come in, carrying skateboards that are almost as big as they are. One of them sports a familiar graphic--the Goat's Tit. A few minutes later, Peterson bounds through the door. He was out warming up with the two boys, Spencer and James, both 13; he gave Spencer his old board just today.

When they're out skating around downtown, the boys look up to Peterson, enthralled by the tricks he tries, banging the noses of their boards on the sidewalk to applaud his ollies and backside 180s. They ask him for advice: What is the best way to get off the rail? Peterson encourages the youngsters to push themselves as he films them for the Fobia video. "Just like that," he shouts to James as he hops from a marble ledge onto a wide, round rail. "Right away, clean! It's gonna look so good!"

It's the skateboarding cycle; just as a young Peterson learned to skate by trying tricks with older guys, so he pushes the next generation to attempt ever-tougher jumps. "These kids are the funnest," he says, nodding toward Spencer and James. "They're so stoked to skate with the big dudes, so it's fun."

Back at Fobia, Peterson flops into a chair and watches videos, sucking on a bottle of water. But the relaxation lasts scarcely a moment before another kid is standing in front of him, yapping like a puppy. He wants to know where there's a square rail to grind with five or six steps. "I'm thinking," Peterson says, and then shakes his head. "I can give you round."

"Is it harder?" the boy asks.

"Augsburg's eight," Peterson suggests.

It's more steps than the kid was looking for. "You can hit it both ways?" he asks, concerned about whether it's possible to skate down the rail facing both forward and backward.

"I don't know. I never hit it the other way," Peterson says. Then, with all the wisdom of his 22 years: "It was seven years before I started skating handrails. When I started skating, no one was doing handrails."

"So maybe I should wait till I have seven years?" the kid asks.

"No," Peterson says decisively. "You're part of a new generation of skaters. Because so much has been done already, you're gonna have to work your butts off to get where everyone is."

This exchange raises an interesting question: At what point does skateboarding become too difficult, too strenuous for the human body? Now that 12-year-olds are doing the toughest tricks imaginable, historian Michael Brooke asks, what's next? In the Seventies, there were several different genres of skateboarding, including street, vertical (or ramp), pool, trick, and slalom, but most of them have eroded, and street dominates. "That's great, but there's another side," cautions Brooke. "Skateboarding is about freedom. Now, freedom is the right shoes, the right board, the right tricks. All of a sudden we have a bunch of lemmings who look the same."

 

Almost 40 percent of the worldwide skateboard market is centered in California. There's a fairly simple reason for that: It's sunny year-round. "Everywhere you go, there's a skate shop, everywhere you go there's a skate park," Brooke says. "There are more kids drawn in, there are more boards sold, there is more marketing." And ultimately, he continues, every skateboarder who wants to succeed has to go there. "It's easier to be in California. That's where everything happens."

Still, he adds, there are lots of places far from California with vibrant skateboarding scenes, and Minneapolis certainly counts. "It's a lot harder to be a skater in minus-30 degree weather. In Toronto, or Minneapolis, there aren't that many shops. Everybody's pretty tight. You're at war with the elements, with a city council that doesn't understand skaters. There's a camaraderie that builds up out here. It's beyond blood. It's telepathic."

With the pervasiveness of the World Wide Web and digital video cameras, it's easier than ever to showcase your skateboarding talents to a large audience, even if you are in flyover country. That's how Peterson got picked up by Consolidated, a small skateboard maker in Santa Cruz, California. The company, formed in 1992, sponsored Peterson for a year and a half before offering him his own board model. "I had a catalog or a magazine or something with a picture of him, and one of the other guys on the team asked, 'Who is that?'" recalls Todd Bratrud, Consolidated's art director.

Bratrud has a first-hand familiarity with Minnesota skateboarding. Originally from Crookston, he lived in Minneapolis for four years before moving to California two years ago. He knew Peterson from his days here and had kept in touch. Intrigued, the crew at Consolidated looked at some of Peterson's videos. "Everyone that saw his tapes couldn't believe it. They were blown away," Bratrud says. "He was really good. It was just a matter of time before he got noticed."

In the four years since he graduated from Stillwater High School, Peterson has spent his winters in California. Although he could probably still live here and make it as a pro, it would be easier in California, so this fall he plans to relocate there, possibly to Sacramento, permanently.

"You could totally pull it from Minnesota, but there's no photographers, no filmers," explains Bratrud. "There's plenty of skateboarding going on, but there's nobody recording it. It could happen, but he'd have better luck out here."

But even though the Minneapolis scene is small compared to California, it's becoming increasingly well known. "It seems like the ones that are good in Minnesota, it's the real deal," Bratrud says. "You've got to want it in Minnesota, you know? You've got the winters. In order to be good there, you've got to stick it out in the winter. You've got to really want it.

"When I first moved here, it was like, 'Minneapolis?' They'd never heard of it," he continues. "Now people know. You mention Minneapolis, and people will mention, you know, Seth or Steve or Clint. They're really making a name for Minnesota, you know? They're doing it on their own."

 

Of all the places he's skated--east coast, west coast, Arizona, Mexico--Nicollet Mall is still Peterson's favorite. With its plazas and statues, storefronts and fountains, Nicollet is something of a magnetic matrix for street skaters. "At night," he muses. "There's just the marble ledges all in a row. Smooth ground." During the day, he notes, it can be relatively easy to stay hidden out in the open, lost in the crowds.

"I love the summers here," he says. "It feels like home. Three months of paradise." But the winters he hates. If only, he says, he could get his mother to move someplace warmer. For now, he's concentrating on turning pro, moving to California, and going to Spain this fall to film a Consolidated video. Next year, when he's a pro, he will probably return to Europe to compete.

For your average 22-year-old, life seems like a mere elongation of the present, and possibilities seem limitless. Amid a posse of Peter Pans who usually seem unable to plan for tomorrow, let alone that undetermined void of the future, Peterson emits a calm and confident maturity--albeit slightly scatterbrained. "You know, I probably shouldn't tell you this. I don't get as stoked as I did when I was their age," he says, describing some of the younger protégés he skates with. "It's just I've done a lot. It's not as fun the second time around, you know?"

And though he can't think of anything he'd rather be doing now, Peterson knows his skateboarding career won't last forever. "My doctor says I have the ankles of a 40-year-old," he quips. One day he might go back to school. In fact, he'd like to be a kindergarten teacher, he admits with a gleam in his eye that conjures up scenes of an older Slice skating around the schoolyard followed by a gaggle of tots trying to master the ollie.

But that's for later. Until then, Peterson will ollie and grind and kickflip and lipslide.

"I tell my kids to do all this stuff when they're young," Karen Kramer says (her two younger children, Frankie and Hattie, twins who are almost 19, are both in college). "I'd just as soon be doing what he's doing than going to school every day. I know him. If he needs to be responsible for another person, if it's time to settle down, he will."

Kramer pauses a moment, remembering her son's childhood. "When he was a baby, my husband would pick him up and throw him all the time. He loved it," she says, standing up and spreading her arms out to describe the way Peterson would float through the air. "You know how birds, when they fly, their wings kind of point? His fingers looked like wing tips."

Watching Slice speed across streets and leap over stairs and cement planters, it's not hard to extend that image and envision him defying gravity, fluttering toward the sun. For many of Peterson's friends, skateboarding and multiple tattoos go hand-in-hand. But Peterson sports only one small example of body art. It's a simple, roughly drawn outline of an airplane on his hip. "I always think that if I had one wish, it'd be to fly," he says, spinning the wheel of the skateboard he's hugging to his chest. "Maybe that's why I do this."

 

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