Skateboarders letting their fingers do the 360s

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Skateboarders letting their fingers do the 360s

Skateboarders are known for a devotion to their sport, a loyalty that verges on the religious. They talk skateboarding, they wear it, they listen to it, they live it. And some even miniaturize it.

Take a look at a fingerboard, a miniskateboard, and you're likely to dismiss it as a toy for a tot. But to members of an Incheon-based fingerboarding club, the boards, called "Tech Decks," are tools that enable their imaginations to skate wild.

"With the fingerboard we can visualize tricks that would be impossible to do with real skateboards," says Baek Sang-un, owner of a skateboard shop in Incheon and a member of the club, called "Can." "We also use the fingerboards to practice some of the skills that we observe by watching skateboarding videos." Mr. Baek proceeded to flip through a few tricks with his fingerboard on the floor of his tiny store, which is packed with imported skateboards and snowboards.

"Yeah, the fingerboard is a toy," Mr. Baek said. "But it's not that simple; to do the right tricks with fingerboards you have to know all about skateboarding moves."

Many members of the skateboarding club use Mr. Baek's store as their hangout, such as Jung Sang-hyeon and Seo Chung-hyeon, a couple of college students. The two had just shown up with their skateboards under their arms.

"What are you doing?" Mr. Jung asked the shopowner.

"I'm showing the reporter a few tricks," Mr. Baek answered.

Mr. Jung and Mr. Seo plopped down on their boards and took out their own fingerboards, and started to show off some moves.

Many skateboarders keep a fingerboard or two to play with, and some use them as accessories, say to hang off their backpacks. Mr. Seo said he was thinking about drilling a hole in one and making it into a necklace. Mr. Baek said, "When they were first introduced everybody thought they were acessories, but they've turned out to be useful."

Nobody is quite sure who introduced fingerboards to Korea, but they were invented on a rainy day four years ago by a Californian teenager, Stephen Asher, who was frustrated that he couldn't ride around outside on his big board.

Korea already has several fingerboard clubs, which connect via the Internet, but you'll never see them playing outdoors. Mr. Baek said, "It would look ridiculous to have a group of grown-ups sitting around on the streets playing with fingerboards."

Indeed, playing with your fingerboards in public can attract unwanted attention. "I'm often looked at as a weirdo when I play with my fingerboard on the subway," said Kim Yeong-kwang, another college student who was hanging out in the shop.

"Some of my college friends think I'm being immature when they see me playing with fingerboards in my room; and my mom gets upset when she sees me with what she thinks is a toy."

Mr. Kim was busy doing "ollies," a trick in which you use one finger to pop the tail of the board down, bringing the board off the ground, then another finger to push down on the front of the board and land it.

The members of the club don't really meet just to play with their fingerboards. Usually they play with them when they're tired of riding skateboards, or while watching new skateboarding videos Mr. Baek orders.

Korean skaters like fingerboarding so much that some even organize contests. "I never heard of a fingerboard competition in any other country," Mr. Baek chuckled.

But one aspect of fingerboarding reminds these men about being a boy with a favorite toy. "It's irritating when someone else is playing with a fingerboard and you're not," Mr. Baek said. "I often yell at people playing in the shop to stop."

by Lee Ho-jeong

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