The crowd roars. A skateboarder drops into a vert, the polyurethane wheels a blur as he moves quickly down and across the ramp. He launches in the air, grabbing hold of his board as he completes two full rotations midair: a 720.
It's a common sight during the five-month-long AST Dew Tour. And this weekend, Baltimore's piece of that tour, the Panasonic Open, returns to Camden Yards after last year's rain-soaked event. The city is the first stop on the circuit, which will feature the top athletes competing in skateboarding, BMX and its motorized cousin FMX. There also will be food and freebies, and Good Charlotte is slated to perform tomorrow night.
Jason Chapman, owner of Charm City Skatepark in Canton, thinks the event is a boon for Baltimore. He says his park has held six skateboarding demonstrations to hype the weekend.
"Any time you get 55,000 people together is great," said Chapman. "Baseball isn't that good right now, and skateboarding is. Plus, it's better for you."
Chris Prybylo, vice president of events for AST, says more than 300 athletes representing 19 countries will be vying for the Dew Cup, the top prize handed out at the end of the summer-long competition -- which distinguishes it from the popular weekend-long X-Games. On the Dew Tour, athletes earn points at each site, much like NASCAR.
The Dew Cup is rewarded to the competitors who win in their specialties -- BMX vert, park and dirt, skateboarding park and vert, and motocross. At the end of the tour, the athlete with the most points across all of the disciplines wins Athlete of the Year.
"It's truly [about] how these guys judge themselves against each other," Prybylo says. "They look at how they're ranked against each other."
He adds, "It's great competition, great action sports, and it's overall a great festival."
While the majority of the athletes qualified for the tour through last year's Dew Tour standings, Baltimore is one of two tour stops where up-and-comers can try to earn a spot on the rest of the tour.
Prybylo said a couple of those newcomers have gone on to become tour champions.
This year, the field will face such athletes as Olympian Shaun White, who won a gold medal in snowboarding at the 2006 Winter Games in Turin, Italy; skateboarder and MTV reality star Ryan Sheckler and motocross rider Nate Adams, both 2007 Dew Cup winners; and Baltimore-born skateboarder Bucky Lasek.
Prybylo says Lasek made a push to bring the tour back to his hometown.
"There will be a lot of attention on the Baltimore guys," Prybylo says. "Bucky was lobbying ... to come back to Baltimore. He was a big part of the decision."
He adds: "We had a great overall experience in Baltimore last year."
Some of the other "Baltimore guys" include Matt "Gumbie" Therres and Dan Corrigan of Chapman's Charm City Skatepark. Therres prequalified for the tour, Chapman says, and Corrigan plans to vie for a spot in today's qualifying round.
However, the weekend won't be dedicated solely to competition. The Festival Village lets attendees try out a skate park and a mini-dirt track, play video games, get autographs and more.
A beer garden that will be next to the music stage is sponsored by 98 Rock in an effort to incorporate a bit more of Baltimore into the tour.
"We were looking to localize the event," Prybylo says. "We want the community to embrace the event."
As for Lasek, he says he hopes that his performance on the vert brings "some smiles and some good times."
"Hopefully, it's a good turnout and the weather is good," he said.
The tour continues next month in Cleveland and continues on to Portland, Ore., and Salt Lake City before wrapping up in Orlando, Fla., in October.
The AST Dew Tour Panasonic Open runs today-Sunday at Camden Yards. For hours and event information, go to ast.com. Tickets for tomorrow-Sunday cost $15-$100 per day. Tickets to today's qualifying competitions are not for sale individually; with the advanced purchase of any tour ticket, fans receive a free ticket to the qualifying rounds. Call 410-547-7328 or go to ticketmaster.com.