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Posted on 01/02/2004 11:16:32 PM PST by Tarantulas
Success is a mixed blessing for San Diegan whose invention has pushed boards off the curb
By Conor Dougherty UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER
December 5, 2003
Five years ago, Chris Loarie invented a product that stops skateboarders in their tracks. He's been paying for it ever since.
Loarie's Skatestopper, a device that keeps skateboarders off curbs and makes it impossible to slide down handrails, has been embraced by thousands of customers. To store owners, school administrators and anyone else who doesn't like skateboarders hanging around public places or scratching up property, it's a great product.
But success has been a mixed blessing for Loarie, a native San Diegan whose company, Intellicept, is based in East County. Skateboarders have sent him tens of thousands of hate messages and occasional death threats for years. They come in the mail, by phone and over the Internet.
Skateboarders have tried to assault Loarie, and the FBI once had to track down a 14-year-old who threatened to bomb his company.
"He is, basically, the enemy of skateboarding," said Dave Swift, the former editor of Transworld Skateboarding magazine.
Loarie's standing as skateboarding's antichrist owes a lot to an unintended consequence of good marketing. He is not the only person to make a business selling so-called skate deterrents: the SkateBlock and SkateAbate products are similar to Skatestoppers and accomplish the same thing.
But the name Skatestoppers has become to the anti-skateboarding movement what Xerox is to photocopies, and skateboarders have channeled their hatred toward Loarie.
"I feel sorry for Chris because he does seem to take more of the backlash than we do," said Steve Mace, an owner of Ravensforge, which makes SkateBlock. "I don't know why. But I'm not going to argue with it."
Hate mail and threats have not stopped Loarie. About 400,000 of his Skatestoppers have been installed around the country. And as skateboarders have figured out new ways to remove them, Loarie has been equally crafty in making them (almost) tamper-proof.
The Skatestopper is a metal bracket that is attached to fixtures say, a marble bench. Once fastened, the brackets become a series of bumps along the smooth surface, rendering it unrideable.
Much of Loarie's hate mail sounds the same: Why does he hate skateboarders so much? Was he an abused child? Why does he have to be such a money-grubbing capitalist? One letter calls Skatestoppers "the most heartbreaking tool or weapon against the world."
Perhaps the loftiest accusation, voiced in a number of letters, is that by discouraging skateboarding Loarie is encouraging teenage delinquency and drug use.
"Skateboarding is and always will be better than drugs, prostitution, and robbery," David Schleith wrote in a recent e-mail.
Mostly, skateboarders warn Loarie that his efforts are for naught, and their letters often include intricate directions for disabling or destroying Skatestoppers.
"Your product seems to work well, other than the fact that it completely sucks," Jon wrote in a handwritten letter addressed to "Dearest Skatestoppers."
He continued: "Your product is easily cut of (sic) with a simple hack saw. You may think that you now need to make something newer and better, but it will never matter."
They're not bluffing. Skateboarders routinely conduct guerrilla missions to remove what they call "Nazi knobs" from their favorite skate spots. They use saws and power tools, and sometimes cellular phones to connect the demolisher to the lookout.
"One dude cuts and one dude's watching and one dude is ready to run with the generator," said Rob Dyrdek, a professional skateboarder who admits to removing Skatestoppers. "It's pretty ridiculous."
Once, while Loarie was installing Skatestoppers at a school in Orange County, a young skateboarder walked up to say he'd be back to tear them out over the weekend. Later, Loarie said, the Skatestoppers had been hacked off and human feces smeared across the wall. Three weeks later, Loarie installed a new kind of Skatestopper with an experimental anchoring system.
"I'm pretty sure they're still there," he said.
As the battle rages, it's tough to find a skateboarder who doesn't break into expletives at the mere mention of Skatestoppers. Few can fathom what has turned Loarie into what they see as an opportunist and a miser who hates children. Several skateboarders contacted for this story asked the same question: "Is he, like, a normal guy?"
Loarie, 33, grew up in San Diego County. He attended San Dieguito High School and is married with two young children. Before he invented Skatestoppers, Loarie worked for a company that manufactured electric vehicles and, later, a manufacturer of anti-theft systems for shopping carts.
Loarie founded Intellicept in 1998 after his brother, a police officer in Escondido, complained that he was spending much of his time chasing skateboarders away from a local church.
The first Skatestoppers were fairly crude and made from plastic. They were removed with ease, so Loarie worked on a metal product that is drilled into the concrete.
As the business grew, skateboarders took notice and Skatestoppers' phone number and e-mail address were printed in several skateboard magazines, along with notes encouraging skateboarders to contact the company.
Swift, the former magazine editor, said he doesn't apologize for publishing Skatestoppers' contact information.
"It was in our power to get this guy to kind of shy away from what he was doing," Swift said.
For his part, Loarie said he never set out to be a killjoy.
"I don't wake up every day with the intention of ruining some kid's afternoon," he said. "If we weren't doing this, somebody else would."
All the vitriol has forced Loarie to make some changes in his personal and professional lives. His home number is no longer listed, and Loarie and his wife have developed a new system for dealing with adolescent callers at Intellicept.
"Someone will call up and say, 'I put Skatestoppers in. I need the key to get them out,' " Loarie said. No such key exists, "so I say, 'I'm the granite guy. Let me transfer you to the concrete guy,' " he said.
At that point, callers are put on hold indefinitely, especially if the call is long-distance.
Not everyone is treated so playfully. Loarie threatened legal action after his company's booth was defiled at a 2000 parks and recreation trade show that was well-attended by skate park builders.
In that incident, two skateboarders approached him with a video camera and requested an interview. Loarie declined, so the pair loaded a 44-ounce cup with a cocktail of Slurpee and Mountain Dew. Hoping to draw him into a fist fight, one poured the liquid on Loarie's booth while the other filmed from a distance. Loarie grabbed the drink pourer by the arm, but both skateboarders took off. Weeks later, the video ended up on a skateboarding Web site.
"He sent me a cease-and-desist letter, so I took it off my site and I haven't heard anything about it since," said Louie Baur, who filmed the incident.
In retrospect, Baur said his stunt was "pretty weak." Had it turned violent, Baur said, the incident would have been worth filming.
Things got more serious in early 2001, when Loarie's brother received an especially threatening e-mail sent to Skatestoppers. The author of the message claimed to know where the company was, and subsequent messages from the same address detailed a plot to bomb the office.
Loarie disguised his storefront and passed on the messages to local law enforcement officials, who turned them over to the FBI. Authorities tracked the messages to a young skateboarder whom Loarie described as "some 14-year-old in Michigan." FBI Agent John Caruthers, who was assigned to the case, confirmed that the event took place as described but declined to comment further.
Intellicept's manufacturing facility is filled with loud machines that cut raw metal and turn it into Skatestoppers. Silver shavings cover the floor. On a recent tour, Loarie described the Skatestopper's evolution from the original plastic caps to the newer metal pieces and a line of custom-made screws designed to withstand the crushing blow of a sledgehammer-wielding skateboarder.
The most basic kit starts at 20 pieces for $100 and gets progressively more expensive.
Loarie is tireless when it comes to new designs, such as a line of decorative Skatestoppers that resemble things such as cable cars and sea shells.
On a computer screen in his office, Loarie showed off a forthcoming Skatestopper he calls the "future of skate deterrents." The piece, made from aircraft-grade aluminum, looks like a mooring with deep anchors and can be installed directly into wet concrete, making it impossible to remove without destroying the bench or curb in which it is imbedded.
But for now, skateboarders continue to find ways around Skatestoppers.
Eric Dill, a loss control analyst for San Dieguito High School Loarie's alma mater said a group of skateboarders recently removed a batch of Skatestoppers and then used quick-dry cement to repair the damage.
"It's kind of funny," Dill said. "They did such a good job, we left it as is."
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