Bucky Lasek, dressed like a typical skateboarder in a plaid button-up and khaki pants, is in disguise.
"I just grew this beard and mustache," said Lasek, pointing to his scruffy facial hair. "I think that's why people don't recognize me."
Over lunch at the Costas Inn in Dundalk — Lasek's hometown — nobody seems to recognize the man who is usually a local celebrity.
Lasek, who visits home once or twice a year, hasn't lived in Maryland since 1998, when he moved to Encinitas, Calif., a suburb of San Diego. Lasek called San Diego "the mecca of skateboarding."
Thirteen years later, Lasek is returning to Maryland to compete in the Dew Tour's Pantech Open in Ocean City from Thursday through Sunday.
"I've been competing for so long. Now I just get to be in front of my friends again," Lasek said. "The good thing about doing it at home is, win or lose, you have a good time."
Over a fried softshell crab sandwich with a side salad, Lasek recalled memories of home.
"I'll have to work out a lot when I go back" to Encinitas, Lasek said with a grin. "Coming home is never good for my diet."
Lasek's skateboarding career started when his bike was stolen. Around that time, the popular Powell Peralta video, "The Bones Brigade Video Show," featuring skateboarding legend Tony Hawk and his crew, the Bones Brigade, came out.
"That was it," Lasek said. "I wanted to skateboard. I got one for Christmas. Done deal."
Lasek grew up in Armistead Gardens, later moving to Dundalk and then Essex. Downtown Baltimore and Dundalk were frequent stops for Lasek, who credits the halfpipes at Fisherman's Inn in Kent Island for sparking his vert skill. He also listed a mini ramp off German Hill Road as a memorable spot.
Paul Wisniewski, a famous skater in his own right, used to skate at Fisherman's Inn on the "Hell Ramp." It's where he met Lasek. Wisniewski was 19 and Lasek was 14.
"He was a little guy, goofing around all the time," Wisniewski said. "He was constantly laughing, always having a good time."
Wisniewski, who lives in Carlsbad, Calif., said the young Lasek mastered tricks quicker than anyone there.
"Bucky was so naturally talented," Wisniewski said. "Bucky would show up after school and in two tries make the trick. We would work all day on the same tricks."
"Skating was my life back then," Lasek said.
And it's largely been his life since. He skipped college to pursue his skating career. Now he hangs out with Hawk. He also counts Pierre Luc-Gagnon and Bob Burnquist as close friends. He was featured in the Bones Brigade 1988 skating video "Public Domain." He was a major player in many of the Hawk video games, though he acknowledged that he doesn't play much.
"I would play to test out my character, which was pretty accurate," Lasek said. "But I never really got into playing video games."
He's a titan of skateboarding, with 13 Summer X-Games medals (six golds). At 38, he is a 20-year veteran of the sport, which has gained immense popularity.
In his prime, Lasek was considered the best vert skater in the world. His element is gliding along the back-and-forth rhythm of vert, in which skaters blaze through a halfpipe, launching tricks as they soar into the air at each end.
A skater begins by dropping into the halfpipe. Tricks happen when the skater reaches the top, continuing past the safe confines of the wooden halfpipe — spins, grinds and tricks in which the skater grabs the board while in the air. And Lasek has mastered them all.
He doesn't consider himself a geezer in the sport; he likes to think of himself as "controlled chaos."
"I get wild, but I keep control," Lasek said. "I know my limits, my borders."
Lasek's wife, Jennifer, said she doesn't worry as much about the dangers of her husband's profession. But that doesn't stop her from fretting.
"I can't worry about the unknown," she said. "But he keeps me on my toes. I'm a mother, so the worrying never goes away."
They have three children: Devin, 13, Paris, 10, and Tenzin, 3. All three girls ride horses (Lasek says Tenzin rides a play horse). Paris is picking up skateboarding and also does gymnastics. Devin competes in equestrian events.
"She's gnarly," Lasek said. "She wins blue ribbons and everything."
They named Tenzin after the Dalai Lama, whose given name is Tenzin Gyatso. The Dalai Lama is the religious leader of Tibetan Buddhism, something Lasek said he and his family dabble in.
Among his hobbies, Lasek is most passionate about auto racing, specifically with Rebel Rock Racing, a group masterminded by Grammy-winning hip-hop producer Jim Jonsin.
Jonsin said when he met Lasek, he didn't have a clue who he was.
"All I knew was that this guy named Bucky was coming to race one of my cars," Jonsin said. "When he walked into the RV, my brother tripped out. He was like, 'Do you know who that was?'"
The two hit it off and kept in touch. Eventually, Jonsin decided to invite Lasek onto his team, which plans to eventually race in the American Le Mans series.
"Bucky's sick, man," Jonsin said. "Better than me. Way faster than I am."
Jonsin said the two are fast friends.
"It's cool to know the guy," Jonsin said. "He's a family guy, not just an awesome skateboarder."
Added Wisniewski: "I'm not brown-nosing or anything, but he's one of the best dads … I know."
Now settled on the West Coast, Lasek and his family are looking forward to the Pantech Open, which will feature all the equipment directly on the sand.
"I could honestly care less about the contest," Lasek said jokingly. "In all seriousness, when you're going to a city in their arena, it's just business. This is more pleasure."
Lasek will be in a field filled with his old buddies and some newcomers. Olympic hero Shaun White will compete in the skate vert against Lasek, along with Burnquist and 16-year old sensation Pedro Barros. Lasek and Barros will also compete in the skate bowl, a new event on the Dew Tour.
Lasek is familiar with the bowl. He has one in his backyard.
"I basically built the world's largest skateboarding bowl in my backyard," he said. "I love it. If I didn't have it, I would be so burned out on skating. There's nothing like it in the world. It's so unpredictable."
In the skating world, a bowl essentially is a huge hole in the ground, lined with concrete. Without a rigid ramp or area to jump, the canvas for tricks is immense.
Lasek said it's something that's coming back into style with the new generation of skaters — a generation that he said pushes the limits of tricks. He also said it pushes him to be better.
"[Skating]'s gotten harder. It's gotten bigger, more trying," Lasek said. "It's what keeps me going as I get older."
He hears the wisecracks about his age but won an event in 2010. Though he still competes at a high level, he plans to retire at 40, two years from now.
"You always have the smart comments. But they shut up quick," Lasek said. "It's all in good humor."
Meet Bucky Lasek
Current residence: Encinitas, Calif.
Six-time gold medalist in Summer X-Games
Others to watch
Two-time Olympic gold medalist (snowboard halfpipe); nine-time Dew Tour gold medalist; 11-time Winter X-Games medalist; gold medal at 2007 Summer X-Games (vert)
13-time Summer X-Games medalist; two-time Dew Cup winner (dirt)
19-time Summer X-Games medalist
21-time medalist at Summer X-Games
Where: Ocean City beach
Tickets: $24-$100 daily general admission, 3-day passes $74-$204 at allisports.com or ticketmaster.comCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun