A large contingent of skateboarders, including Buddy, the skateboarding dog, will be back to participate in the 42nd annual Hampden Mayor's Christmas Parade on Dec. 6.
And this year, there's a new trick planned.
The skateboarders will be holding one of the parade's giant balloons, and parade organizer Tom Kerr, whose idea it is, said at least 20 skateboarders will be needed for them to to stay grounded, so the balloon won't lift them up, up and away.
Stephanie Murdock is game. She's the president of Skatepark of Baltimore, Inc, which raised the money to build a $180,000 skateboarding bowl that opened in 2013 in Roosevelt Park.. Now, Murdock's group is planning phase two of the project, a $400,000 skateboarding "street plaza.".
Construction of the plaza is tentatively set to begin April 2, 2016, she said.
Murdock, of Hampden, said skateboarders are always eager to try new tricks, but skateboarding while holding a balloon is a trick she's never tried before. And there's really no way to practice beforehand, because the balloons won't be delivered until the day before the parade, according to Kerr.
"We're really going into it blind," said Murdock, an aide to Baltimore City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke. But she said it's worth the risk because the Skatepark of Baltimore is celebrating its 10th year as a nonprofit organization and is trying to promote the skate park as much as possible — especially as the group prepares to build the plaza.
That makes it important to catch people's attention. "We have to go big," she said. "Now is a great time for us to increase our visibility and send the message that skateboarding is here to stay."
The parade will feature four giant balloons, including a Raven, a teddy bear, a candy cane and a dinosaur. Murdock doesn't know yet which balloon the skateboarders will be holding, but she said, "I hope it's the Raven."
Skateboarders from as far away as Washington and Pennsylvania, many wearing Santa hats and fake reindeer antlers, have participated in the parade for at least the past five years, often doing jumping tricks such as "ollies" and "kick slips," Murdock said, They're a big hit with crowds of thousands that line the parade route along Falls Road, 36th Street and Chestnut Avenue.
Especially popular are Scott Frias, of Charles Village, and Buddy, his skateboarding dog. Murdock said Frias and Buddy wow the crowds each year, and that Frias last year was interviewed on radio station 98 Rock to promote the parade.
"He's becoming a regular celebrity," Murdock said.
Frias, a data manager, said he got Buddy, an 8-year-old Jack Russell terrier and beagle mix, as a rescue dog when Buddy was about 1. Buddy had so much energy that he would pull Frias along on his skateboard. That led Frias to teach Buddy to actually ride the board.
"He's very comfortable now," Frias said. "He expects to get on and off it."
Buddy is the real star, Frias said, and when they skateboard around North Baltimore and at occasional fundraisers for animal rescue groups, passersby often stop to ooh and aah and incredulous little girls cover their faces with their hands.
"We like to say we go a thousand smiles an hour," Frias said. "He has his own Facebook page. He's got his own life going on. I'm just an accessory."
Skateboarding in the parade is always inherently dangerous, as the skateboarders try to steer clear of marching bands, floats and parade cars. Murdock said. Last year, for example, skateboarders were stuck behind a classic car and worried that their skateboards might "get away from them" as they did their street tricks, causing them to collide with the car ahead.
"We need a wide berth," she said. "We kind of go at a faster pace than a marching band might go."
Murdock is looking for more skateboarders and said they don't need to sign up, just show up at noon at the parade's starting location, the parking lot of Baltimore Polytechnic Institute at Falls Road and Cold Spring Lane.
"You don't need to be asked," she said. "If you think you can ride your skateboard down 36th and Falls without hurting yourself, come join us."
Already on board are youths, teens and adults from around the city who love being in the parade as much as paradegoers love seeing them.
"A lot of the kids see their friends cheering them on — and they go bananas when they see the skateboarding dog," Murdock said. "You really feel like a rock star. People are yelling out tricks for you to do."
Murdock said she isn't so worried about the pull of the balloon tiring out the skateboarders, as she is about cold weather. But she thinks that won't be a big problem, either, because participants will be having too much fun to notice.
"You're literally laughing the entire time," she said. "If anything hurts, it's your stomach."
"It sounds awesome," said Gary Smith, owner of the Vu skate shop in Hampden, who recruited a lot of the skateboarders for the parade and is helping to promote it on social media. He participated last year and said, "It was pretty cool. Everybody was waving."
He's not sure how it will work out this year with skateboarders anchoring the balloon.
"It seems a little sketchy," he said. "I guess I'll have to wait and see."