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The corporate embrace of in-line skaters has been selective in other ways as well. Looming over the sport is the Aggressive Skating Association (ASA), which dictates who is considered professional on the X-Game and Gravity Game circuits as well as a growing number of other competitions. This issue of who exactly is a professional can be sticky: Many poorer and minority kids depend on the competitions to earn a living, but the ASA's restrictive rules don't helpeven if you jump through hoops.
New York street skater Ariel Surun, 22, for example, has skate equipment and clothing sponsors and has taught at a prestigious skating camp, but even that wasn't enough to qualify him as a professional by ASA standards. His credentials include two years skating for the Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey circus after being recruited with about 12 other kids at Mullaly Park. Surun, then 16, went to Florida for two months of training, learning to perform a skate act that included jumping through hoops on fire. The $35,000 a year helped his mother to buy a house.
"I was 16 years old and being paid $650 a week," Surun recalls. "I never had that much money living in the ghetto with my mom and two sisters." As far as the ASA was concerned, however, he wasn't a pro until he qualified in one of its own events.
"They [the ASA] shouldn't be the governing body for all the industry and be able to decide who is and is not a professional skater because of a good 60-second run over a designed course," says Kelly Mathews, and that's not sour grapes. Mathews was the only American woman aggressive skater on the X-Games tour this past summer. She says the X-Games events are too rigidly structured; she prefers competing on the Panasonic Shock CORE Tour, which is free to fans and also has live bands. (A CORE Tour event in late August at Jones Beach drew several thousand skaters and fans.)
"The ASA limits the number of girls in competition, while the CORE Tour actually calls me up to see if I can get as many girls as I can to compete," says Mathews. "It's also a better vibe because everyone who competes screams for each other."
She started street skating at 12 on the ledges of the Lackawanna train station near the Hoboken waterfront, where she grew up. She soon graduated to the streets of New York, skating at Mullaly and at such places as the Brooklyn Bridge and (before September 11) the World Trade Center, where she received a ticket from the cops. Now 19, she has developed a fluid motion filled with fakey in-spins, grinds, wall stalls, and rail slides. While these tricks and styles all bode well on the pro circuit, where she receives cash stipends along with other perks, plus anywhere from $1000 to $9000 for every competition she skates, she keeps her street credibility by hanging with the NYC street crowd.
"I'm not a full-on pro," she says. "I just like to chill out and skate. If something comes along and I feel like doing it, I'll do it. I'm just trying to make money for college. To me, a pro is someone who if you took them to any spot, they'd be able to skate and grind no matter what the situation."