Pipe Dreams

Leave it to a bunch of grown-up skate rats to turn a dance club into a part-time skateboard park. And leave it to club management to turn the concept into a marketing tool.

"When you walk into a club, you think how cool it would be to combine that music with a sport like skateboarding," says 24-year-old Charlie Dunn, a Hollywood native who works as a barback at the Chili Pepper in Fort Lauderdale.

Dunn shared that sentiment with his roommate, Brian Smith, one day, and Smith, the club's events coordinator, decided to pitch an idea to their boss, general manager David Silver. The result is a sort of "X-Games" lite. The Rollin Mini Ramp Jam Contest is a take on the popular ESPN alternative sports festival featuring skateboarding and other "alternative" sports. Serving as a soundtrack to the competition is a combination of punk, ska, and hardcore music, genres ready-made for aggressive displays.

For the next three months, the Jam will offer a similar show most Wednesday evenings. Starting time is 10 p.m., and the main events will be in-line skating and skateboarding, performed on a half-pipe mounted on the club's stage. Because Wednesday is "College Night," anyone age 18 or older is invited, but only those age 21 or older will be served alcohol.

"As far as the audience goes, they will be thrilled," says Willie Lopez, a long-time in-liner and skate instructor who will be one of the judges. He adds, "The skaters will love it."

So will Chili Pepper management, as long as the action draws a crowd. On a typical Wednesday, 800 to 1000 patrons show up but not till midnight, according to Smith. The skate show, he says, could drum up two extra hours of alcohol sales.

During the two-hour events, the DJ will forgo the usual Wednesday night electronic dance mix and pump out the hardcore music. In the meantime skateboarders and in-liners will take turns in the half-pipe, which enables a skater to gain enough momentum to pull off big-air stunts, like 360-degree spins and flips. Scores, doled out by five judges, will be based on degree of difficulty and execution.

For each of the first three weeks, $1000 in cash and prizes will be on the line. The following two weeks, bands will perform on Wednesday nights. But then the series picks up for another ten weeks, with the prizes yet to be determined, according to Smith.

By the way, for those still heading to the Chili Pepper strictly for the music, the half-pipe isn't a permanent fixture. It will be removed for band appearances. A good gig, after all, is a proven moneymaker.

-- John Ferri

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