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Jonathan Bekemeyer pulls up to the Port Royal skate park in a sticker-covered Honda Civic to grind a few 5-Os on the mini-ramp before work last Friday; a routine for Bekemeyer since opening Killer Peaks Surf & Skate shop on Ribaut Road a year and a half ago.'
Skating keeps him honest, he says, plus he likes to keep an eye on the skate park.'
With a little help from local skaters, who capture vandals in action on their cell phones in exchange for store discounts, Bekemeyer is able to report the incidents to police and keep damage to a minimum. Bekemeyer spent two hours July 27 in scorching temperatures replacing a panel on a damaged ramp with the help of two skaters. '
"It doesn't seem right that the town should fix it," Bekemeyer says. "It seems like people who ride it should fix it."'
Growing up in central Florida, Bekemeyer, 29, dealt with a lot of stigmas surrounding skateboarding. '
"When I first got into it I was hassled all the time," he says. "When I was about 7, the neighbors pulled up in my driveway and took off with my skateboard because 'it wasn't safe.'"'
Bekemeyer said skateboarding has gained a lot of respect since his early days but that some still associate the sport with slacker behavior. '
He hopes his shop will influence local skaters in a positive way and keep them out of trouble.'
Tattoos cover Bekemeyer's arms, he wears baggy jeans, a skate T-shirt, cushiony skateboarding shoes and a large set of keys snapped to his belt.'
But his anti-establishment clothes are starkly dichotomous to the straight-edged personality that surfaces when he talks about his 2-year-old son, Brock; his wife, Becky; and his last job.Bekemeyer was a Marine for nine years and his service included fighting a 2004 battle in Fallujah, Iraq, that earned him two Purple Hearts after he was hit in the thigh and arm with shrapnel.'
He left the Marines when he saw his son for the first time after coming home from Iraq. '
Bekemeyer says he was torn between his vision of fatherhood and his love for the Marines. He explains that being away from his young son while on deployment would have prevented him from being able to focus on his mission.'
"It's hard because I respect all the fathers that are (Marines); it's just not what I want right now," he says. '
In the same breath Bekemeyer says he hasn't ruled out the possibility of one day returning to his military life.'
The shop is packed with surfing and skateboarding hardware.'
Bekemeyer also repairs surfboards and skateboards.'
He spends part of the day repairing a hole in a fiberglass skimboard, a board used to skim along the sand on a thin layer of water. '
And several kids come in wanting new grip tape for their skateboard decks, a $5 while-you-wait service that includes the grip tape. '
Bekemeyer also has lots of clothes, sunglasses and shoes.'
"I'm timid when it comes to buying clothes; it's very hit or miss," he says.'
The problem with surf and skateboarding apparel is that when something becomes mainstream, then it ceases to be cool.'
"Companies have to be careful not to become too popular," Bekemeyer says. "Look at Airwalk, for example, they used to be huge, then you started seeing them everywhere, and now where are they?" '
And what is hip depends on the age group.'
For example, Bekemeyer says that kids 10 and under love the skateboarding brand Element because MTV celebrity skateboarder Bam Margera endorses it, yet the teenage set hates the brand for the same reason.'
"It doesn't matter to them that Element is doing ground-breaking research and designing great boards," Bekemeyer says. "They want it because Bam likes it." '
And the sports' rising mainstream popularity has turned off many skateboarding and surfing veterans, Bekemeyer says.'
"I've seen a lot more frustrated surfers saying the industry has taken a turn for the worst," Bekemeyer says. "In '93 and '94, surfing became so popular, it became unpopular."'
But Bekemeyer says he loves passing the passion onto a new generation.'
Bekemeyer sponsors local 10 skaters. None has competed yet, but they receive store discounts and Bekemeyer says that when they're ready to compete, he'll cover their entry fees.'
So far, Bekemeyer is building the skaters' skill levels and laying down the ground rules for keeping their sponsorship: No bad attitudes and no drugs.'
"To me, attitude is more important than skill," Bekemeyer says.'
Last month, Bekemeyer hosted a skateboarding clinic for beginners; an event that drew in 50 new skaters.'
"There's a lot of talent," he says. "Skateboarding is definitely growing here."'
A TV in the corner of the shop perpetually plays skateboarding videos.'
While watching a kid work a half-pipe, Bekemeyer comments that skateboarders today are much more skilled than when he was a kid.'
"I can't talk about surfing or skating without sounding dumb," Bekemeyer says coyly. "What it means to me? I can't get that point across without sounding weird, you know?"