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Baltimorean on a roll

The Baltimore Sun

It's a typical afternoon at Charm City Skate Park. It's damp, dark and humid inside, and young skateboarders, drenched in sweat, filter in and out.

The front door swings open and a lanky 22-year-old saunters in. He wears a beige shirt with "IT'S MY PARTY" printed in charcoal black. His black jeans are snug, and the faded black hat he's wearing backward holds down matted, wet, brown hair.

Some younger skaters look starstruck when he enters. It's not surprising: These days, the skater known as "Gumbie" has star status at Charm City and beyond.

He's a professional skater and is competing on this year's Dew Tour. His skating has earned him sponsorships from five companies, and last year, his first as a pro, he earned about $15,000 in prize money and more than $6,000 in sponsorships. His skating talent has taken him to every state on the East Coast, from Maine to Florida, and he has traveled to Scotland and England.

It has been a long journey from South Baltimore for Mathieu "Gumbie" Therres, who got his first skateboard for $5 from Goodwill when he was 11. He basically lived at Charm City as a teenager. His routine was the same: go to school, come home and change, skate at Charm City until dark.

Charm City owner Jason Chapman said that depending on the season and the weather, the park attracts 20 to 80 kids a day.

Nationally, the skateboard industry makes $140 million to $145 million annually, up from $94 million in 1999, according to the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association.

Therres competed in the Dew Tour's Panasonic Open, which began yesterday and runs through Sunday in the M&T; Bank Stadium parking lot. His event, skateboard park, involves skating through a course and performing tricks off of ramps and rails.

The preliminaries yesterday were not kind to Therres and two other Baltimore skaters. Rodney Jones finished 17th, Danny Corrigan finished 19th and fan favorite Therres finished a disappointing 22nd. The fans still showed the skaters love.

"It was definitely awesome that the fans were here, and they were yelling loud for me. It was great," Therres said. "It's really good to see Baltimore guys in the contest."

Last year, Therres finished fifth at the Panasonic Open and ended up 13th out of more than 30 professionals on tour.

Because of last year's success, local kids revere Therres. The increased attention hasn't changed him or his relationship with kids who love to skate.

"When you sit with the kids and you talk with kids and you guide them, that's a real professional," said Chapman, a former professional skater. "He's a role model for kids. Everybody that knows him, they all love him."

Therres discovered Charm City shortly after getting his first skateboard. He rode in his alley until he found skateboarders doing tricks at the park.

"I went [to Charm City] and saw just people actually riding a skateboard, doing flip tricks and stuff, and I had never seen anything like that," Therres said.

From then on, Therres and his skateboard were inseparable. When he rode, he would flail his skinny arms, earning him his nickname.

"I was this little guy trying to skate the ramp, and I used to swing my arms a lot of the time," Therres said. "It started out as 'Stretch Armstrong,' and then somebody said 'Gumbie,' and it's been like that ever since."

Skating helped him escape a rocky childhood. He lived with his father, Michael, and sister, Lisa. The family moved between South Baltimore and Ocean City for much of his adolescence. Therres' mother had problems that kept her away from the family.

"People get caught up in drugs and stuff like that, and I think seeing that and knowing that it broke apart our family at an early age, I've always stayed away from it," Therres said. "I've always had my skateboard, and that was my drug."

Lisa left home at 16 to live with a cousin in Baltimore, and Therres lived with his father, who worked in construction, during high school. Charm City was Therres' sanctuary.

"That's where I think he benefited working with Charm City the most," Chapman said. "It always gave him a place to go and always gave him a stable family."

After high school, Therres occasionally worked construction jobs with his father and helped out around the skate shop to earn money, which allowed him to skate every day. He established himself as a skater by winning contests around the country, but the Dew Tour was his opportunity to gain mainstream appeal. It also allowed him to perform in front of his family and friends.

"Seeing him perform was great. I was at a loss for words," Michael Therres said. "It was just amazing, and I'm really proud of him."

Therres' performance last year in Baltimore earned him a tour spot for the whole year. His standings from last year qualified him for every stop this year.

After Baltimore, Therres will compete at the other stops: Cleveland, July 17-20; Portland, Ore., Aug. 21-24; Salt Lake City, Sept. 11-14; and Orlando, Fla., Oct. 16-19.

"He has a really great style and looks really comfortable and natural on his board," said Paul Zitzer, a former professional skater and an announcer for the Dew Tour telecast.

Back at the skate park, kids are scattered all over the course, doing their best impressions of the skaters they see on TV. About 40 skaters wander around the park, most of them in their early teens or younger. All wear T-shirts, tight pants and worn skateboard shoes.

"I always just wanted to skate; it didn't matter if it was professional or not," Therres said. "I'll always be doing something with skateboarding. Hopefully I'll be able to make enough money to open up a shop like [Charm City].

"I want to give back to the community so there's always someplace for the kids to come and skate."

Therres has made a positive impression on everyone he has met, including Irvin Sentz, 13, of Baltimore, who has been skating for six months.

"He motivates you, and he doesn't let you give up," Irvin said. "I really look up to him."

Nickname -- "Gumbie"

Age -- 22

Hometown -- South Baltimore

High school -- North County

Family -- Father, Michael, 48; sister, Lisa, 25; fiancee, Carlie Samson, 25

Skate park -- Charm City Skate Park, Canton

Event -- Skateboard park

Signature trick -- Nollie hardflip

Sponsors -- Charm City Skate Shop, Heaters Skateboards, Mobtown Wheels, Shmack Clothing, Ninja Bearings

Dew Tour standing last year -- 13th

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