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In the News Index

Source: Philadelphia Inquirer
Date: October 9, 2004
Byline: Art Carey


Board takes her places — 'good places'

When Summer LaClair was in eighth grade, she ran the 800 meters with such fire she was undefeated.

When she was 15, her athletic ambition swerved. Her mother was the cause: She bought LaClair a skateboard.

LaClair did not live in skateboard country. Her home was in the mountains of upstate New York, 10 miles outside of Watertown, on a two-laner busy with semis. LaClair practiced on the shoulder and a paved turnaround for fire trucks. Sometimes she'd bike into town to hone her skills at a parking garage.

At 16, she broke her back snowboarding, ending her running career. Dad was not pleased. Her infatuation with board sports was leading her astray, he was sure. But there was no dissuading her. The walls of her room were plastered with skateboarding pictures and posters.

"It was taking me to good places, not bad places," LaClair says. "It kept me out of trouble and gave me something positive to focus on. The kids back home who didn't have a passion got into drugs and are still back home."

LaClair was eager to bust out. In her senior year of high school, she took a road trip to Baltimore. On the way, she stopped in Philadelphia and skated LOVE Park, the mecca. She fell for the city and vowed to return.

For the last year, LaClair, now 24, has been living in South Philly. She works at the Sweater Outlet on South Street. When not working, she's skateboarding. She's a regular at FDR, the skate park "built by skateboarders for skateboarders" under I-95.

"Because of FDR, this is the city to be at if you want to excel," she declares.

In the tight community of skateboarders, LaClair is well-known. She's a top-tier amateur (in July, she won best trick during the Mountain Dew Free Flow Tour at Borderline Skate Park in West Chester) and has attracted several sponsors, including Threds & Sleds and the Powder Room, both skate shops in Haddonfield.

"You're looked down on if you're not good, especially if you're a girl," LaClair says. "But once you start getting more style and tricks, you gain respect."

That was clear one day recently at FDR. When LaClair swooped through the maze of ramps, jumps, verts and transitions, other skateboarders watched in admiration. Her style was distinctly feminine, reminiscent of the balletic grace of a figure skater.

"I don't push. I let the board go so it doesn't look forced. I try to make it flow, to feel the wall, to cut a line that's clean, smooth and natural."

The challenge: to make the hard look easy. "It takes a while to build up your confidence. The biggest barrier in skateboarding is that you think you can't do it."

Along the way, there have been falls and frustration aplenty. LaClair has torn up her knee, inflamed the tendons in her wrist.

But she's addicted to the high: "When you're working hard at a new trick, and you're totally eating it, and then you finally land it, and everybody around you is watching and they're happy, too, because everybody is feeding off each other, that's a kick."

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