When Tony Woodrum left his house yesterday morning, he had no idea he'd be witnessing a family first.
The Baltimore native, who brought his 7-year-old son, D'Angelo, to the Panasonic Open at Camden Yards Sports Complex so they could watch his favorite event, motocross, noticed a particular display in the festival village while they were waiting to enter the grounds: a dirt-bike track. Twenty minutes later, his son was riding a motorcycle for the very first time.
The display, sponsored by Yamaha, was a learn-to-ride program for kids 12 and under who wanted to take the plunge for the first time.
"He's been crazy about dirt bikes since he was 3 or 4 years old," said Woodrum. "He talked about it all the time so I had to get him over here to see if he would actually do it."
Outfitted from head to toe in safety gear, the youngster made his way around the track after being given his pre-ride instructions, which were surprisingly simple:
"Brake, brake, brake," said head instructor Danny Walker, owner of American Supercamp, a Colorado dirt-bike training facility and co-sponsor of the display. "I tell them, 'If you can ride a bicycle, you can ride a dirt bike.'"
The dirt bike track was one of several interactive displays on hand at the first stop of the 2008 AST Dew Tour season. This was the second year the tour - which features motocross, skateboarding and BMX - opened the season in Baltimore, and once again the focus was on luring kids away from traditional sports via intense fan interaction.
Camp Woodward, one of the nation's top action sports-training facilities, had a mini-skate park set up with a variety of jumps and ramps for kids to bust their favorite moves. Or at least try to.
Tor Nupen watched as his two boys, Erik, 10, and Noah, 5, navigated their way through the course. Erik picked up skating three years ago after watching other kids in the neighborhood.
"And, of course, Noah does everything Erik does," said Nupen.
At one point, Noah took a spill on his board and came off the course holding back tears. His older brother casually rode over to check on him while his dad offered him a sip of Gatorade.
"My wife was a little concerned about him riding so soon ..." said Nupen, his voice trailing off, suggesting the matter had yet to be fully resolved.
At another exhibit, one man watched as his two young sons picked out the temporary tattoos they would be sporting for the day: a lion and a baseball. A baseball? "It's black and has flames on it," said the younger of the two boys.
The opportunity to meet the athletes is another reason why more fans have taken to action sports. Mike Spinner, one of the more popular athletes on the tour, set up shop and signed autographs for an hour, making sure to shake each person's hand and stopping to pose for pictures when asked.
One enthusiastic mother, Regina Widdoes of Elkton, had trouble with her digital camera as her teenage son, Ryan, stood next to Spinner. After taking the picture and preparing to move on, Widdoes realized it hadn't come out properly. Spinner, unruffled, called the boy over again and posed for a second take. That one was good.
"He's the reason we came out here," said Widdoes, referring to Spinner's genial attitude toward his fans.
The Holy Grail of autographs, skateboarder Ryan Sheckler's, wasn't available until 4 p.m., but that didn't stop fans from lining up as early as noon.
In Sheckler's case, fans mean teenage and pre-teen girls, who made up more than 90 percent of the crowd waiting eagerly for the star of MTV's Life of Ryan to show up. The mention of his name over the loudspeaker drew high-pitched shrieks.
Not surprisingly, most of Scheckler's fan base could not care less about his talent, which had him skateboarding at age 3 and has him presently dominating his sport, nor are they action sports fans in general. They came for one reason and one reason only:
"He's really hot," said 12-year-old Noa Davis, who, along with friend Taylor Stern, was at the head of the line.
Taylor quickly corrected her: "He's really, really hot!" she said.