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Boarding School 

Asher, Dan and Camilla Pia-Needleman

Matthew Thorsen

Asher, Dan and Camilla Pia-Needleman

Until recently, my boys' only experience with skateboarding was riding our old skateboard down the driveway. I haven't been much help as a coach. My only advice? "Don't fall; I don't have time to go to the ER today."

So when my 12- and 9-year-old sons had the opportunity to attend a three-hour camp at Talent Skatepark this fall, they were thrilled. I was a little nervous about their afternoon of "thrashing," though. I envisioned them zipping around in a boys' club full of loud, sweaty adolescents with attitude.

But that's not what I found at Talent. The indoor skating center, designed and run by husband-and-wife owners Hannah Deene Wood and David Wood, was loud, and the kids were sweaty, but the park had a family-friendly atmosphere that was more supportive, and safety-conscious, than I had imagined.

David Wood designed the skate park, which is located in an old billiards hall on Williston Road. It's full of ramps, stairs and rails that appeal to experienced skaters and beginners alike. "The park is challenging," Hannah told us when we arrived, but it "offers basic structures for all little buddies to feel successful."

My "little buddies" needed to rent skateboards and helmets before they tried any tricks. Once they were equipped, they joined a group of about a dozen young skaters inside — including a few girls. I, however, had to wait in the observation area; I could only watch them through a window.

"We don't allow parents in the skate park," Hannah explained. "When the door closes, a sigh of joy, independence, freedom is exhaled!"

She said that the parent-free atmosphere gives skaters "a chance to talk about things that are eating them up, bumming them out or drowning their spirit. They know they will be paid attention to, listened to and guided if needed."

After describing the park's no-parent policy to me, Hannah called to a staffer in another room, "Make sure he gets wrist guards! Number one injury in skating."

David reassured me that Talent's skateboarding coaches are handpicked by the staff and have usually been "campers" themselves before being asked to come on board as "skoaches."

"Our focus in training coaches is safety, fun and progression, in that order," he said.

That day at camp, I saw skoaches at each of the stations, waiting to offer instruction. I can only assume my boys listened to what they had to say. I left for a couple hours, and, when I returned, I watched in amazement as my once-apprehensive boys showed those ramps who was boss.

They took turns on all of the ramps except the big bowl, a five- to six-foot-deep wooden structure meant to resemble an empty swimming pool — just like the ones the California kids used to skate in back in the early days of the sport.

I guess my kids had to leave something to conquer for next time. And I'm pretty sure we'll return. "When can we go back?" one of them asked on the car ride home. "Can I have my birthday party there?" asked the other.

I'm happily surprised to discover that skateboarding is a talent I want to encourage.

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