As the late afternoon shadows of the clustered fairground buildings chase the sunshine from the freestyle platform, the last of 16 finalists carefully places his arsenal of skateboards around the perimeter. Prior stellar performances by some of the best skateboarders in the world have pushed the judges' scores to within half points of the maximum allowed, leaving no doubt in anyone's mind that now only a totally perfect score could produce a victory. The pressure normally would be enough to choke even the best competitor.
Seeminly unaffected, a relaxed Russ Howell jokes quietly with the spectators around the rim of the platform. The intimidating horn signals the start of the heat, and Russ moves methodically through his predetermined paces.
Unfalteringly, his muscular frame goes through the difficult ballet-like phases of his freestyle routine, hardly touching the ground at all until the last horn sounds the end of the heat and contest.
The mingling crowd senses a close one, as Russ' score was, at the very least, near perfect, maybe even perfect. No matter who you pick to win, everyone agrees - Russ was "in there." When the results are announced, it becomes a certainty ... Russ has won another one. His eighth win out of ten recent contests to be exact.
A model competitor and genuine "good guy," Russ has done more than anyone to promote the credibility of skateboarding by taking it into the dance-art form stage. Although a skateboarder for 16 years, he only became actively involved in competition recently. As a physical education major at Long Beach State, he volunteered to help teach kids skateboarding at a park ("because it helps keep you young") and was talked into competing by his students. One contest led to another, and before long he had strung out five victories in a row, and became kiddingly referred to as "Granpa Russ" by his teammates, as his dynasty continued.
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