Not in the 'hood, as one might expect (and romantics might hope) but solidly suburban, the four -- count 'em, four -- courts in the southeast corner of this county park's 525 acres host the area's best-quality round ball. Local players make the trek from all over West Palm Beach and as far south as Boca Raton; collegiate talent on spring break and off-season visiting pros have been known to drop by. But even your run-of-the-mill pickup game here covers the full razzle-dazzle: the behind-the-back, no-look pass; the triple head fake, double-pump, pull-up shot; the long outlet pass and the finishing thunderdunk. Twenty- and thirtysomething guys hold the main stage, but there are enough courts to accommodate other ages and genders. A nice racial mix almost makes you think there's hope for the human race.
So your K2s are oiled, roller hockey just doesn't do it for you anymore, and you're ready to soar. Then head west, young dude, to the skate park in the Broward County Regional Park in Weston. Here, you will find a facility that's $100,000 worth of tubular. Back in December 2001, Weston commissioners -- who are unlikely to ever try this place -- approved the conversion of one of eight hockey rinks into a 'blader's dream. Ramps, pipes, and grindwalls manufactured from steel and polyethylene allow you to do things you've never done before. Indeed, you'll want to wear every pad in the house, and a helmet too. How risky is it? Parents of kids who dare to skate here must sign an injury waiver before junior can even enter. It's open 3 to 10 p.m. weekdays, 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. school holidays, and 10 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Sundays. Skaters pay variable rates to register and $6 for one-and-a-half-hour sessions. And, oh yeah, those wimpy, good-for-nothing skateboarders can roll here too.
The biking and jogging path in this 320-acre park is shaded and rarely crowded. Clean (or at least as clean as public gets) water fountains are plentiful, and bathrooms are located at convenient spots along the mostly concrete trail. Whether you're jogging two or ten miles, visit the basketball, tennis, racquetball, or numerous volleyball areas for cross-training or a cool-down. Smith Park also boasts a freshwater beach complex including a bathhouse, playground, and two 700-foot waterslides.
In with the good air, out with the bad. Breathe. Deeply. Let the fresh sea air fill your lungs. You'll soon need every molecule of it. Standing at Boca's South Beach Park pavilion on Palmetto Park Road and A1A, while looking out over the beautiful waves breaking upon the shore, do all of your muscle stretches. Once you're warmed up, start jogging along the wide, gray concrete A1A jogging trail, which runs north about six scenic miles. You'll pass tall, luxurious condominiums, spacious city parks and public beaches, wild vegetation preserves, exotic gargantuan mansions, and even a handful of snowbirds in cars, who seem to drive way too slow. Traffic is far from menacing here; a four-foot-wide swale separates the trail and the road for most of the distance. When the right moment comes (if your chest is aching, you've gone too far), turn around and jog back. Upon your return to your starting point, quench your thirst with a sports drink at the convenience store conveniently located on the corner of Palmetto Park Road and A1A. Hey, if this jog doesn't pump you up, nothing can.
OK, so this ain't necessarily the numero uno ride for you Lycra-wearing, Bollé-blinded, Bell-headed geeks who zoom through stop signs and endanger the lives of fellow riders. But it is nice. Relaxing and sandy. Kid-friendly too. On a recent weekend day, we started out at Hollywood Boulevard and the beach, headed north a few blocks and stopped at a shady playground for a cup of coffee, a bagel, and a rest. Spent an hour there, cooling our jets and watching the tykes frolic while talking with a Martian-like fellow who was playing some very interesting electronica on his boom box. Then we headed north, down a nice blacktop path, far from traffic, up and around a curve, and onto a quiet street lined with quaint houses and a secluded beachfront. Ended at Dania Beach Pier, where we partook of more shade and more food before swimming and resting another hour or so. Then headed back south along the same route (it would have taken too much energy to head west) and stopped at a shelter on Hollywood Beach, where a guitar player was entertaining a mostly Argentine crowd dancing the tango. Drank a little red wine while we listened and spent a couple of hours before heading south to -- what else? -- dinner at a Greek restaurant. Nice, huh?Quiet Waters Park
Buckle up, you adrenaline junkies, and let the ride begin. This former quarry turned park provides more than ten miles of gut-wrenching, heart-pounding, mountain-biking action. The trails range in difficulty from leisurely four-foot bunny-hops for the intermediate to 30-foot, hold-on-at-all-costs hills for the advanced. The trails run mostly among tall pine and eucalyptus trees, so shade is abundant. But, you equipment-obsessed wacko, you'll still need your camelback water supply in both summer and winter. There are plenty of obstacles, such as large rocks, slippery roots, and hanging tree branches that will keep all riders on their toes. The park also offers parking and bike wash stations at the entrance to the trails, which are maintained by Club Mud -- a group of local mountain-bikers and volunteers.
John U. Lloyd State Park in Dania Beach is the only place in South Florida where a park -- a real one, complete with trees, barbecue grills, picnic tables, and enough green space to throw a Frisbee across -- dominates a rise above the ocean. In true Florida fashion, the 310 acres of barrier island stretch from the Atlantic Ocean to the Intracoastal; it's one of the few places in the state where you can actually be a couple of feet above sea level yet near salt water. The place is big enough to find a quiet spot to hide. Or you can sit in one of the more populated areas and stare out at the water as you eat. You can choose between sun and shade, grass and sand, or throw caution to the wind and have it all. We like walking through the mangroves or sitting atop one of the picnic tables and looking down at the beach. Depending upon your level of courage and agility, you can climb down to the sand and walk a couple of yards to the beach, or you can just sit on the rise and watch the waves break.John U. Lloyd

State Park

An urban walk needs big-city grit. Problem: Downtown Fort Lauderdale doesn't have grit per se. It's too purty, and so much of it near the river is wrought with a Disney-esque sensibility. But just as Disney creates longing for small-town America -- minus the litter, the claustrophobia, the nosy neighbors, and the violence embedded in the winding sheet of the American family -- here you don't need the real thing to extract the finer parts. You need the symbols of it. The imagination will fill in the outlines. And sometimes it's better to experience these things as poetic apprehension. It tugs at memory and desire, making the moment more personal. Blurring the raw truth is better sometimes. Especially if you're taking a walk to relax. Riverwalk stretches along the New River on the north side for three quarters of a mile, from SW Seventh Avenue near the Broward Center on the west to the Stranahan House at SE Fifth Avenue on the east. There is the Auto Nation skyscraper for that we-are-but-human-ants feeling. Automobiles rumble over two drawbridges that cross the river. If you time it right, a Florida East Coast Railroad train might thunder past. Construction cranes growl and clang. You can feel the gnawing mouth of the military-industrial complex. By contrast, that fresh-scrubbed family clad in khaki taking an afternoon walk along the river sure looks good. Don't they look happy? The breeze off the New River feels sweet. Maybe grab a coffee on Himmarshee and sit on a bench for a while. Watch the kids race by on bikes. Read the paper. It's shady and surprisingly cool. The rhythm of the river aligns with the blood flow. Heck, why not just take a little spin on the Water Taxi? You won't be missed. Duck into the Fort Lauderdale Museum of Art. You must climb the stairs to transcendence, but it can start here, dude, down in the city with a river running through it and a place to walk and think beside it.
Debbie Black is not only the shortest player in the WNBA at 5-foot-3 but she also has suffered ten broken noses during her 14-year professional basketball career. Her fans at AmericanAirlines Arena sit together in a black-and-blue section, where they tally the number of times she hits the floor in a game. A huge banner sports one Band Aid-style cross for each crash; her record is 16, in the 2001 opening game against rival New York Liberty. She usually gets possession of the ball and comes up grinning, though sometimes stitches are required. Her dives are not in vain. Black, or "The Pest," as she's known to many fans, led the league last year for steals and was named WNBA Defensive Player of the Year. Her take on her lack of height? It's an advantage. "I'm the closest player to the floor," she says. Not that she's all sweetness and light. When Liberty guard Teresa Weatherspoon missed a shot just before the half-time buzzer on July 22 and shoved Black to the ground in frustration, our homegirl got up, turned around, and gave chase. Black didn't hit T-Spoon, but seven technical fouls split between the two teams later, the Sol guard had proven she's no pushover. Unlike the Heat, who occupy the AmericanAirlines Arena the rest of the year, the Black-led Sol made the playoffs in 2001, its second year in the league. Not bad for a team that was predicted to come in last during its freshman year; it ended that season with a double-overtime win and the best record of four expansion teams. Under Black's leadership last year, it became the first 2000 expansion team to make the playoffs.
At the Wednesday-night Jackpot Rodeo at the Bergeron Rodeo Grounds, local cowgals and cowboys show their stuff. Amateurs as well as locals hoping to make a go at a professional career come here weekly to ride bulls, rope steers, and barrel-race. If it makes your heart skip to see a pretty girl in a cowboy hat fly like a bat out of hell on the back of a muscular steed moving at a full-bore gallop, barrel racing is your thing. The crowd gets into it. Hot pretzels with mustard are the favored snack. And the prices are homespun. Adults: $4, children: $2. Starting time: 7 p.m.

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