Markus Jalaber, an up-and-coming skater who grew up in Clearwater, competed in the Tampa Am last weekend.
CLEARWATER — As Markus Jalaber made his way through the crowded halls of the Skatepark of Tampa last weekend, many of the hundreds of spectators in attendance for the Tampa Am competition shouted well wishes and patted the 18-year-old on the back as he headed to the pro course inside the old building.
“Good luck today, Markus,” some encouraged.
“Have a great run, Markus,” others cheered.
Like everything else in his young life, Jalaber took the notice in stride. Despite the fact that he was about to go up against 300 of the best amateur skaters in the world, he remained as calm, cool and collected as if he was doing practice runs at his hometown skate park at Ross Norton Park Recreation Complex.
“It’s cool, all the attention and stuff,” said the soft-spoken teen, who moved to Clearwater from Tallahassee when he was 9. “I just want to do well so I can take my game to the next level.”
No matter what he achieves, Jalaber already has climbed a long way up in a sport that’s practiced by millions of American youngsters but perfected by only a select few.
Although he didn’t start skating until he was 10, Jalaber already has made his mark. Thanks to his smooth style, dedicated work ethic and determination to improve, he was making his third straight appearance in the Tampa Am, a sponsor-invitation-only event.
Still, Jalaber appears to have stayed grounded; while talking about his past, he’s quick to credit others who’ve helped him reach the point he’s at today.
“Right after I moved here from Tally, I met some kids who like to skate, so I figured I’d try it,” Jalaber recalled. “I started skating with them up and down my street all the time. Then when Ross Norton opened, we’d go there every day and skate.
“I owe a lot of my success to guys like Steve. He used to take us to Ross Norton all the time, and he’d give us Blow Pops if we got our tricks right. We all wanted those pops, so we’d keep practicing!”
Steve is Steve Campbell, a Dunedin resident whose son, Brennan, also is an up-and-coming skater on the local scene.
Campbell has spent countless hours over the years shuttling kids like Jalaber and Dunedin’s Nick Wallace to events and competitions all over the country. He said the attitude Jalaber displays is typical of those involved in the area’s thriving skating community.
“Everybody looks out for everybody else, and everybody supports everybody else,” Campbell said. “There is no jealousy and backbiting like you see in other sports. Everyone really wants the other skaters to be successful.
“Markus has gotten the national spotlight with his work ethic and skill, and some other skaters around here are right behind him. And they all support each other. It’s nice to see.”
On Friday, Jalaber was one of 147 competitors fighting to finish in the top 16 in order to make it to the finals on Sunday. Winning the Tampa Am is like writing a ticket to stardom, with a future in professional skating and appearances in events like the X Games almost guaranteed for the top finishers.
When the time came for Jalaber to make his run late in the day, all but three of the competitors already had taken their turn. As he circled the course, sliding down rails and flipping his board over ramps, he received loud ovations and rousing calls of “Markus … Jalaber!” from the announcer.
But after a few untimely slips and too many missed landings, his three-minute run ultimately wasn’t good enough to earn a spot in Sunday’s finals; he wound up 55th, his worst finish in his three appearances at the Am.
While he was disappointed, Jalaber vowed afterward he’ll be back next year in his quest to make it to the top of the sport he loves.
“I know I could do better, but I’m happy with how I competed,” he said. “I’ll just have to work harder and try to do better next year.”