Best Skate Park 2004 | Boardz-N-Bladez | Sports & Recreation | South Florida
In the 1980s, skateboarding emerged from burly, backyard pool sessions and into the world of popular culture. But as the decade came to an end, so did the sport's popularity. For skateboarding stalwarts, it was back to the streets -- and back underground. And in the early '90s, a new generation of skateboarding was born -- one that fused the board-flipping technicality of freestyle with the gnarly, high-flying daredevilry of vert skating. A few years later, skateboarding saw a huge resurgence with such mainstream events as ESPN's X Games competition. Add to that the burgeoning popularity of inline skating and the demand for skateparks has never been greater. But today's skateparks have a new responsibility: to accommodate both experienced skaters and the scores of beginners, many of whom are under age 12. Welcome to Sunrise's Boardz-N-Bladez. The 12,000-square-foot park has the right combination of smooth and steep transitions, whether you're learning how to fakie or touching up on frontside airs. The indoor facility features half-pipes (a six-foot mini and a two-and-a-half-foot micro), quarter-pipes, stairs, a quarter-bowl, fun box, rails, ledges, banks, and -- for the more ballsy boarders and bladers -- a vert wall; plus, there's a four-foot miniramp outside. A two-hour session costs $10. On weekends, you can pay $25 for a whole day. And all you need for protection is a helmet!

This 6.5-mile jaunt through the waters around Wilton Manors offers more for the voyeur than the nature lover. The waters are always calm, the folks who rent out the kayaks are friendly (they also organize Full Moon Kayak, a sporadic night kayak ride preceded by a winetasting at a local spirits store), and the trips let you spy on various waterfront residents of Wilton Manors and Fort Lauderdale while learning a little about the history of the area (the whole "loop," which includes Middle River, North Fork, and South Fork and surrounds Wilton Manors, takes about two and a half to three hours to paddle). If you're going it alone, the kayak rental costs $12 an hour; if you've got a partner in crime, the cost is $17 an hour. Kayak rentals are available Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., but if you have the urge to boat during the week, arrangements can be made.
This hospital-sized bowling mecca wins on quantity. Sixty-four frickin' lanes (56 in Tamarac). A pro shop, a huge lounge, a massive snack bar, an arcade with air hockey and coin-op basketball. The main room is so large, it could develop its own weather patterns. The high school kids, well, they flock here. You should see the glee on a pimply face after rolling a strike in front of the girls. They may not show it, but they notice. They always notice.

You want a straightaway. A long one. Maybe a few gentle curves to keep it interesting and challenging. You want something to look at -- tropical vegetation, a seascape, a glimpse of sand and waves. Mostly, you want a clear path so you can get a little momentum going. There's a Zen-like rhythm to distance skating. You don't want to be colliding with window-shopping tourists or nannies pushing baby strollers. So where do you go? North Beach Broadwalk -- north of Hayes Street. It's out of the tourist loop, which includes most of the rest of the Broadwalk. It's not a favorite with pedestrians (though watch out for bikers). It has a smooth surface and sea breezes. For the skater, it's freakin' paradise.
At its best, a swimming pool is a rectangular waterhole, an aquamarine gathering place where the social rituals are played out with all of the underlying rigor of village life in Kenya or Bolivia. There's something about a gently rolling body of water that promotes communal ties. Nowhere is this more evident than the 75-foot pool at the heart of Jefferson at Young Circle, a 235-unit apartment complex in downtown Hollywood. The morning begins with preschoolers taking tentative steps into the shallow end as nannies or stay-at-home moms compare kiddie notes. By midmorning, the first of the sunbathers are out. They stretch out on chaise longues and dig into magazines and bestsellers, with the Walkman plugs coming off as friends stop by. On weekend afternoons, the picnics and birthday parties get started under the shade trees near the back, and a few rowdy kids play loud games in the water. Lots of Spanish, lots of Portuguese, plenty of beer. In the late afternoon, a service supervisor from a local car dealership strolls out, cell phone glued to his ear, and eases into the Jacuzzi. On hot nights, the parties extend well past sunset. At 2 a.m., two young men from Long Island, stockbrokers in training, do cannonballs into the water, which is luminous with submarine light, to punctuate an evening of barhopping on Hollywood Boulevard. A couple of lovers ease their way, hand in hand, into the spa. Then all is quiet, and the pool lies still, its blue surface quilted with soft ripples. Of course, not everyone can enjoy this sublime calm. Want to get in? Rent an apartment in the complex, or get invited by someone who's a tenant.

They call Kevin Garnett "The Freak." They say he's in a class by himself. They're right. Nobody in basketball has so much height, shooting touch, quickness, and floor game in one package. But our man Odom can at least light a candle to K.G.'s brilliance. At six-foot-ten, Lamar's got size (including the best set of shoulders in the NBA), good handles, a decent shooting touch, and a high basketball IQ. It all combines to make him a smoother -- though still lesser -- version of the Timberwolves star. L.O. scores 17 a game, grabs 9.6 boards, and averages a little more than four assists. Those numbers betray awesome all-around skills; Lamar should have been named an All-Star. Next year, which figures to be his best season -- after struggles in Los Angeles (with the Clippers) and adjustment to Miami -- he'll almost surely be playing for the East in the midseason classic. But he's got a ways to go before any Garnett comparisons are taken seriously -- seven more points, five more rebounds, and one extra assist a game, to be exact. He'll likely never achieve those, uh, freakish numbers, but if he can find and keep a competitive fire, the rafters are the limit for what the 24-year-old power forward can do in the game.
The weather in South Florida is as extreme as it is unpredictable. Some days, it seems as hot as the surface of Venus. Other days, it's raining so hard that you'd think the ground would never lose its thirst. That spells trouble for local athletes. But there's a solution: Sports Mall. This 75,000-square-foot indoor sports complex in Deerfield Beach offers soccer and roller hockey leagues for children and adults. Adult leagues also include basketball, with young whippersnappers and players old enough to be their grandparents. But Sports Mall offers more than competition. It's also a damned fine place to grab a drink. Set in an island between the soccer and hockey fields is a bar serving beer and sports drinks. If you're not the athletic type, buy yourself a draft and have a seat next to one of the fields. You might be lucky enough to watch a face pancaked against plexiglass inches from your beer.

Marlins fans will spend the season bartering with scalpers to sit in the upper levels of what's really a football stadium. But fans further north know real baseball: Roger Dean Stadium. Here, all 7,000 seats are close enough to catch a foul ball, and the only scalpers will sell you tickets for less than the price of a hot dog. There are two home teams, the Palm Beach Cardinals, a farm team for St. Louis; and the Jupiter Hammerheads, a minor-league team connected to the Marlins. Tickets to the minor-league games are just $7 (not much more than a Bud from Pro Player Stadium), and season tickets run from just $100 to $300. The best seats in the house are straight down the first-base line, where fans can spread a blanket across a tiny grassy hill behind where the pitchers warm up. Big-league players often make rehab trips to Jupiter, so this is where, when A.J. Burnett gets injured again, you can tell him what a bum he is.

If this were New England, we'd be touting the "Best Place to Keep Warm." But it's South Florida, where trying to stay cool is the name of the game nearly year-round. And there are scores of people down here, all looking for the same relief. Many head for the beach. Just as many, it seems, head for the Rapids Water Park in West Palm Beach. But what's the fun of waiting in line ten minutes for 30 seconds on a waterslide? Especially after you've made yourself at least $26 poorer just getting into the damned place (stupid private parks). At least Palm Beach County's Coconut Cove Water Park doesn't charge $5 just for parking; parking's free, and admission is only $9.25 for adults, $7.25 for children ages 3 to 11, $3 for toddlers, and free for infants. With a 986-foot river ride, a sea monster walk lagoon, two 220-foot waterslides, and a children's water playground, Coconut Cove proves you can beat the heat without having to fight the crowd.

Rocks? In South Florida? Yep. Only 30 miles from downtown West Palm is the only outcropping along the southern Atlantic Coast, in fact. When big-ass waves break along the base of these massive chunks of Anastacia limestone, the salty spray is channeled up through narrow holes leading to the surface. During the highest tides and especially after rough winter weather, the plumes can reach heights of 40 feet or more, hence the park's name. The resultant display is seen by few, especially on weekdays, when visitors may just find large stretches of the ritzy, remote beach all to themselves. The tranquil nooks behind the monolithic stones are home to tidal pools and shells for scavengers and beachcombers. This wild, untamed, and no-frills nature sanctuary (open 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily, $3 entry, $37 for annual passes) contains one of the most rugged -- and certainly unique -- beaches in the entire state.

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