In Tony”s Hawk”s autobiography, Hawk Occupation: Skateboarder, nearly two chapters contend with the frivolous popularization of skateboarding as an “extreme” or death wish sport like bungee jumping. But since the now renamed “X-Games” is an annual event on ESPN2, there is a huge market once again for the fringe sports. Despite the timing of Launch Boards” Nov. 3rd grand opening, perish any thought of the bandwagon. Launch may become the only retailer in Ann Arbor with a staff that doesn”t want to sell you the trend.

Paul Wong
Engineering junior and Launch Boards employee Eric Hardin (left) shows LSA senior Greg Larkin (right) some merchandise.<br><br>ALYSSA WOOD/Daily

Snatching up the prime vacancy left by Underworld Comics on South U., Launch Boards finally gives Ann Arbor a closer alternative to Modern Skate and Surf on Washtenaw Ave. A sweet location and competitive prices on complete decks for $115 should give Launch”s fingers some green. Mail-order companies like CCS or Skate Shack actually charge less, but tack on shipping fees and are notorious with a capital notorious for delays and out of stock merchandise.

To their credit, Launch has a variety of deck selections from companies that are committed to the sport. The big deal rides from California like Element, Consolidated, and Hook-Ups line the main wall. But the locals get shelf space, too. Choices from Daykare may catch your fancy since they”re coming straight out of Ann Arbor/Ypsi/ Brighton. Launch also has a strong set-up base that might include Indy trucks and Habitat wheels. All the gear needed for grinding the Dennison curbs or clearing the B-School four set.

In terms of snowboards, the sturdy picks like Burton and Allian are not yet on the floor, but will be soon. Because of a late start, Co-owner and manager, Chuck Nagy, told the Daily that the snowboard section is “not quite where we”d like it to be.” Bindings, however, like Tech-9 and Switch, and a fair share of goggles are already on display.

Clothes and shoe grabs are at the moment small, but still respectable. Volcom, We, Vans, 4ce, and Savier currently take up about three racks and a quarter of a wall. Nagy assures that the store will also carry staple skate shoe companies DC, eS and Emerica. Nagy also said that the store would carry girls clothing, as well.

Although, the twenty-something male dominates the popular image of skateboarding and snowboarding, the skate/snow parks that have recently popped up betray that image. When asked about customer base of Launch, Mike Tedrow, an LSA junior and Art Library handrail bomber, said that in only two weeks he had seen a broad base of Ann Arbor come into the store. Nagy added that many “older guys” had shown an interest in bringing back the long boards of the “70s. Immediately before answering that question, a man came in asking for a specific graphic on a deck for his young daughter. Nagy said he would try and find it.

One of the most recognizable features of any skate shop is a friendly, laid-back environment. Launch has this number dialed. A huge cardboard cutout of Brit-ripper Geoff Rowley welcomes you in with metal. The Clash provides the soundtrack. A local video of Flint skaters plays behind the register. Chairs and a TV with a Dreamcast sit conspicuously in a corner, open to all.

Engineering junior Eric Hardin, who skateboards and snowboards said Launch “won”t be just another place to shop.” Rather, the staff hopes for a place where kids can hang out, watch skate/snow videos, meet up, practice and learn tricks, etc. The staff even plans to sponsor local skaters for a Launch Boards team.

If you ask them, the staff of Launch will tell you the real goal of the store, in addition to selling merchandise, is to create a better environment for the Ann Arbor skate scene. It is an optimistic goal, considering that skateboards cannot even be used for transportation on campus, according to DPS. “The skate scene here is big, but it”s invisible. It”s not unified,” Nagy said.

Hardin agreed, “There”s nothing to bring kids together. Hopefully, the shop will bring people together and promote the scene.”

It is fitting that one must descend below street level to enter Launch Boards. Skateboarding is once again lifting its shredded palms, bruised hips, and unique athleticism to the surface of the mainstream, while somehow retaining that underground, fringe status. Launch captures this spirit by committing its counters, racks, and walls to more than just the trend.

Rest assured, the contemporary equivalents of Nash and Variflex will remain at Toys “R” Us, and Launch will do everything it can to not be “extreme.”

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