When friends first asked Barbara Warne to park a curved slab of masonite in her back yard, she didn't have a clue what it was for.
She never would have guessed that the strange contraption would render her home Mecca in the eyes of a youthful underground of skateboard zealots. But within days of the skateboard ramp's arrival, four teenagers appeared in her driveway.
And in the ensuing months, they were followed by hundreds of others, all carrying skateboards, all with the same query on their lips: "Mind if we bust some tricks?"
Today, Warne has come to accept her role as keeper of the temple. In fact, on any given day, it's a good bet her yard will be host to a few dozen skateboarders.
Over the past year, Warne says more than 1,000 young people - mostly teenage boys - have made the pilgrimage to her home south of Auburn.
Warne has come to know the difference between a "boneless" (sliding across the edge of the ramp) and "air" (a jump). She subscribes to skating magazines. She's fluent in the skaters' dialect:
"You're sick" means you've done something really good, she explains. "Stoked" means excited; "bust" means to perform (as in "bust a rad trick"); and "bail" means fall.
The three youngest of her four children - ages 6, 9, 13 and 16 - have become avid skateboarders. Warne has tried it, but says minding the ramps doesn't leave her time to be a devotee.
As for the skaters, they say they're grateful to have a place
to practice their rites, free from security guards and glaring passersby.
"Skateboarders get such a bad rap. All the cities are down on it," said Olympia resident Adam Yanada-Craven, 20, who sports a baseball cap and earring.
"People think it's some fad, and say why not do football or something?," he said. "But football is pointless! You do it inside a square, you don't go anywhere! At least a skateboard gets you places."
"This is a good vent of energy - better than drugs," agreed Sage Bolyard, 20, a bead-wearing, ponytailed roofer from Portland. "Football, basketball, they've all got rules. You've got to stay in the boundaries."
Since Warne first brought in the 7-foot-tall ramp in November 1989, her collection has expanded to include a second large ramp and several smaller wood jumps. Last year, she used her tax refund to add blacktop to the yard, too.
The entrance hall of her home has a bulletin board covered with skateboard photos, magazine clippings and a dredlock (a gift from a skateboarder). There's a row of skateboards hanging in the dining room, a cookie tray of French fries on the counter, a copy of "Thrasher" skateboarding magazine thrown over a chair.
Skateboarders drink pop in the kitchen, watch skating movies in the den, and clearly view Warne, whom they call "Barb," as one of the brotherhood.
They say they can't understand why they get shooed from city streets, sidewalks, and most galling of all, the inviting slopes of underground parking lots. They contend skateboarding - like Boy Scouts - is a way of saving society from rambunctious youth.
"I'd probably be getting into trouble if it weren't for this - lots of trouble," said Josh Currie, an impish 17-year-old from Livermore, Calif.
Federal Way police spokesman Craig Sarver said that although skateboarding is not banned outright in most places, police often send skateboarders packing, citing loitering or trespassing ordinances.
"What happens is that we get complaints from property owners that skateboarders are monopolizing the sidewalk," he said. "After all, they've got no brakes on the things."
Persecution, and how to avoid it, is a popular topic among the skaters waiting their turn on Warne's ramp.
One says he's heard the police in Bellevue are easier on skateboarders, while another describes his late-night eviction from a Seattle parking lot by security guards.
Warne, who wears a pink T-shirt with the inscription "legalize skateboarding," said she was so overwhelmed by the numbers of skateboarders coming that, after the first few months, she and her husband decided to close the ramp and regroup. "We never knew anything about this, we didn't even know what the ramp was," Warne said. "But before we knew it we had a couple hundred kids coming here. We thought, what have we gotten ourselves into?"
Call her softhearted, but in the end the Warne decided to reopen the ramp, with only a few restrictions: No skating after 9 p.m. and, please, be careful.
She asks skaters to sign release forms and keeps in contact with parents, but she says she knows she still risks liability - a fact she accepts with quiet defiance.
"They've got to have someplace to go," she said. "And I love it. It's amazing how nice these kids are."
She says she's never had a problem with fights, drugs or drinking. Indeed, temperance seems to be part of the skateboarders' ethos. After all, they're not punks, they say, they're ascetics.
Central to their creed is individuality. They say they don't subscribe to any particular style of dress or type of music.
But they share a single-minded obsession with perfection, ever repeating the same moves, endlessly striving to execute that flawless leap or slide.
The trick to riding the ramps is to treat it like a swing, said Bolyard, who demonstrates with a few easy swoops up and down the sides.
"Push down, turn, push down," he yells over the clatter of the skateboard, then adds a few tricks at the top of each swing.
He slides across the rim, grabs the top of his board and does a hop, then does a quick hand-stand on the board.
"It's like floating, like flying, or dying. When you skate you sort of die," said Yanada-Craven, as he watched.