Maria and Apinya

Maria Tanori, left, and Apinya Imon are avid skateboarders and ambassadors for Action Sports Kids (ASK).

Maria sits quietly on the couch, ready to answer questions. Apinya bounces up and down on the same couch, barely able to contain her excitement.

Maria (Tanori) and Apinya (Imon) are ASK ambassadors. ASK (Action Sports Kids) is, in turn, the community ambassador for this weekend's Dew Tour skateboarding contests.

The Dew Tour is the dominant showcase for pro skateboarders from around the world, and Long Beach has been a stop for three years. If possible, this year will be even bigger as the first Olympics qualifying event — skateboarding is an Olympic sport for the first time in 2020.

"I was part of it (the Dew Tour) last year," Maria said. "We got to skate the pro course in the morning, then we got to hang around and tell people about ASK, skate some more, that kind of stuff."

This will be Apinya's first Dew Tour — she joined ASK in November. As a 13-year-old ("I'll be 14 in July"), Apinya's already looking to the future.

"The Olympics are going to be here in eight years," she said. "This is something I love — I skate every day…"

Maria is a worldly 15-year-old, attending Poly High. But her eyes light up when talk turns to skateboarding.

"I always did boy sports anyway," she said. "I was the one out playing soccer with the boys, stuff like that… Skating with them was just natural. I hope to keep doing it as long as I can.

"I hope the Dew Tour this year is going to be even funner. I want to be more involved in it this year."

Neither Maria and Apinya nor their peers were around when the first glimmerings of ASK came to life. Mike Donelon, ASK's director and godfather, was a City Councilman at the time. Kids skateboarding on sidewalks and private property were a nuisance, and with some prodding from those kids, Donelon decided to do something about it. He said the city should build a skatepark.

"It was 1996," Donelon said. "We started lobbying for a skatepark. I sent out 25 flyers about a meeting to talk about it; 50 kids showed up… We got 10 kids, each one of them knew what to say, and we went to meetings. They did the talking, not me."

The tactic was successful. By 2000, the first skatepark in Long Beach opened, at El Dorado Park. It's popular to this day.

Donelon and his young crew quickly became the go-to for skateboarding expertise. They had a hand in the design of all nine of the city's current skate parks, from the big bowls at Houghton to the street course at 14th Street Park.

They also became an organization, putting on contests, promoting etiquette and emphasizing peaceful co-existence. In 2009, they took the next step by becoming the Action Sports Kids Foundation, a nonprofit with its own 501c3 designation.

When the Dew Tour started looking for tour stops, the ASK connection was tapped, and Donelon went to Steve Goodling and the Long Beach Convention & Visitors Bureau. A deal was struck, and the temporary stadium went up in 2006 for the first time. ASK was the designated community ambassador then, as they are today.

There are some definite advantages. ASK members will benefit from school supply drives at all area Boost Mobile outlets (Boost Mobile is a Dew Tour sponsor), and that company will be providing tablets and smart phones as well.

Mountain Dew has created a skateboard deck (the board) for every state in the country to be displayed during the tour this year, and ASK will be the recipient of the California deck when all is said and done.

But despite all the attention, ASK maintains its down home feel and values,

"The whole thing is about helping kids, about being part of a family," Apinya said. "Everyone wants to be part of a community, and this is a good one."

"It's more than what we get out of skating," Maria added. "We work to do well in school, we help keep each other out of trouble… I'm going to keep doing this as long as I can."

Donelon said that this year, ASK gave out five $1,000 scholarships to members. And, he admits, it makes him feel pretty good when the kids call him Pops.

"When we're on ambassador trips in a hot, smelly van, it feels like family," Apinya said. "I believe skateboarding has saved lives. That's cool. That's family."

ASK will have a booth at the Dew Tour this weekend, and the members will be out in force. The event runs from today, Thursday, through Sunday. General admission is free, and VIP packages are available. For more, go to www.dewtour.com.

"And @asklongbeach is followed by young skaters around the world," Donelon said. "Check it out."

Harry Saltzgaver can be reached at hsalt@gazettes.com.

Harry has been executive editor of Gazette Newspapers for more than 26 years. He has been in the newspaper business for more than 35 years, with experience on both weekly and metropolitan daily papers in Colorado and California.

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