Chairman of the board


Brian Robinson throws his skateboard over the four-foot-high metal fence behind his Bero Street house in Lansdowne.

His hands now free, the 10-year-old, clad in a sleeveless, black T-shirt with the likeness of pro wrestler Stone Cold Steve Austin on the front, jean shorts and black sandals, climbs over the fence and lands softly in the grass on the other side.

Brian, like most of the 16 other boys at the Lansdowne skate park, knows about Bucky Lasek, the best skateboarder to come out of Baltimore -- and one of the best in the world.

Lansdowne was just one of the spots around the city where Lasek, a professional skateboarder and Dundalk High graduate, honed his skills after he started skating at the age of 12.

"Yeah, I know Buck," Robinson says.

In fact, he tells you, he was just watching him skate in California yesterday.

All it takes is a lighthearted threat to ask his mom the truth, and Robinson sheepishly admits his lie.

"But I wish I could go to California and see him," he says.

Lasek, 27, reached at his home in Carlsbad, Calif., last week, says he has good memories of skating in Baltimore: taking the bus to skate downtown or in Fells Point; hanging out at Sports Elite, a skate shop in Highlandtown that sponsored young skaters but no longer exists.

"We had our own little crew," says Lasek.

Now, Lasek is ranked the second-best vert skateboarder in North America, behind Bob Burnquist, by World Cup Skateboarding and has traveled all over the country and the world -- Germany, Australia, Japan, Canada and Mexico -- to compete in the sport he loves.

This week, he will compete in the vert contest at NBC's second annual Gravity Games, which started Saturday in Providence, R.I.

Like ESPN's X Games, which began in 1995, the Gravity Games feature an array of extreme sports, including skateboarding, biking, aggressive in-line roller skating, freestyle motorcross, street luge and wakeboarding.

Vert skateboarders ride on an 11-foot-high, 42-inch-wide, crescent-shaped ramp, performing aerial tricks in 45-second sessions for a panel of judges positioned on a nearby tower.

The vert prelims for the Gravity Games, which will begin airing on NBC on Oct. 8, will be held Friday, with the finals the next day.

Lasek, who has been skating professionally for nine years, finished second to Burnquist in the first Gravity Games last September, but comes into this year's vert contest with a load of confidence.

This past June in St. Petersburg, Fla., Lasek grabbed the top vert spot at the ESPN X Trials Competition, making him the favorite to repeat as champion at the Summer X Games in August in San Francisco. Burnquist, meanwhile, fell during his last run, finishing sixth.

"He's mine now," Lasek says, half-jokingly. "I'm taking him out."

Lasek is a fierce competitor, but he's also aware of his status as a professional athlete. He is routinely recognized by young fans at skate parks in California, where he has lived for almost three years, and welcomes the opportunity to talk to them and sign autographs.

"He's definitely a very positive role model in skating," says recently retired pro skating legend Tony Hawk, a good friend of Lasek's. "There are a lot of pros who take their status for granted. Bucky really realizes his position and effect on kids."

Josh Burger, 11, sits on the curb of Eastern Avenue in Highlandtown, waiting for Charm City Skateboard Shop to open on Wednesday afternoon. He knows about Bucky Lasek, too.

"If I could get Bucky to autograph a picture, that would be so cool," Burger says, his skateboard beside him. "My friend would be so jealous."

Inside the shop, owner Jason Chapman, 26, plays old video footage he took of Lasek on the big-screen television on the wall. There's Lasek, skating at Lansdowne in 1994, while Frank Sinatra's "Young at Heart" plays in the background.

"He's probably one of the best in the world," Chapman says. "Most people have to work for this. Not Bucky. He could not skate for six months and then go out and skate and be fine."

Lasek has been doing more sitting than usual recently. Nagging knee injuries have made it difficult to skate. Plus, he wanted to be with his wife of four years, Jennifer, who just delivered the couple's second child, Paris, on July 1.

Lasek says some people might be perplexed by the idea of a skateboarding family man, but he has no use for stereotypes.

He makes no apologies for being sponsored by a number of companies, including Birdhouse Skateboards (headed by Hawk), Billabong, Genetic Shoes, Arnette Sunglasses, Clive Backpacks, Pro Tech Helmets and Independent Truck Co.

He is also one of 10 skateboarders featured in Tony Hawk's Pro Skater, a video game, the sequel to which will be released in August. "Selling out? What I'm trying to do is support skating in a positive way."

Ernest Beckinger, manager of Select, a skateboard/snowboard shop on Thames Street in Fells Point, where two skateboards autographed by Lasek hang on the wall, testifies to Lasek's support for the sport.

Beckinger, 26, was part of Lasek's crew at Sports Elite and grew up skating with him. He says Lasek has helped young local pros like Matt Martin and Brandon Novak get their starts by hooking them up with sponsors.

"He was always looking out for people out of the area," Beckinger says.

Back at Lansdowne, a boy hops in the air, flipping his skateboard over with his feet before he lands on it with a slight wobble.

"You're a pro now," says another boy who looks 12. "I'm going to sponsor you to be a pro."

He's kidding, of course.

Then again, maybe he's not.

After all, Bucky Lasek once skated here, too.

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