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Kids flip out over tiny fingerboards

LOS ANGELES -- Eleven-year-old Michael Donato practices kick flips, pop shove-its and other skateboard moves right on the living room coffee table.

And his mom doesn't even blink.It helps that Michael's skateboard is only about 4 inches long -- a hot new toy called a fingerboard. Boys across the nation are snapping up the miniature boards for $6 to $12 a pop.

"It's really big," Michael said. "A really lot of people are into it."

Teachers' desk drawers are beginning to bear the weight of this new trend. The space for confiscated contraband that not so long ago was occupied by the likes of beeping Tamagotchis and collectible pogs today is filling with fingerboards and their tiny paraphernalia.

"Yes, we are getting them," said Larry Meyer, dean of eighth grade at George Ellery Hale Middle School in Woodland Hills. "It's just another item that's dealt with as a nuisance. The teachers take them away and send them to the deans. We require the student to bring a note from home that says, 'I realize they are a disruption and I will keep them at home.' Then we return it. I'm sure in a couple more months, when it gets hot, it will be squirt guns. These things come and go in cycles."

Don't be so sure it's just a passing fancy, say toy store owners.

"It's something that's very playable for a lot of kids. Even if they can't ride a skateboard, at least they can play with these," said Chris Quenga, who works at Acta Game Guys in Van Nuys. "A lot of kids come in here asking for Tech Decks and we have to tell them we're out of stock. Every time we get them, they go right out the door."

And fingerboard makers know how to milk a trend. Like Matchbox cars and Beanie Babies, these toys are collectible.

Escondido-based toy manufacturer X-Concepts, the maker of Tech Decks, has gone as far as securing licenses to duplicate -- in miniature -- the graphics on some of the hottest full-size skateboards made by companies such as World Industries, Zero and Birdhouse. There are 208 different Tech Deck fingerboards on the market and more on the way.

"Fingerboards have been around since the '80s," explains X-Concepts co-owner Tom Davidson. "What we did with Tech Decks is work to make them as realistic as possible. The graphics are the real graphics they put on real skateboards. They're a step ahead of what's been out there for a long time."

Davidson's fingerboards feature real metal trucks (the part that holds the wheels on), grip tape, bushings and wheels. They also come with tiny tool kits so kids can customize the wheels and trucks just like on real skateboards; the tiny parts make fingerboards an ages-9-and-up toy.

Fingerboards also raise the need for a full complement of accessories: mini concave ramps, tiny staircases and even finger-size park benches and picnic tables.

Then there's always the equally hard-to-find wad of wax that helps fingertips stick to the boards during flipping, twisting and other split-second maneuvers.

All the better to do tricks with.

And that, say kids on the cutting edge, is the real fun of fingerboards.

"Tech Decks are cool on the bottom, but doing stuff is a lot more fun than just looking at them," said Michael.

His current favorite, in fact, is not one of the realistically decorated Tech Deck boards but a plain, plastic demo model he got from a couple of guys who were at a local toy store demonstrating fingerboard tricks.

The board doesn't look as realistic as a Tech Deck, but its plastic top helps fingers stick to the board, and that makes tricks easier.

"The Tech Decks are really big now, but when these come out," Michael said, holding up his demo board like an old pro making market predictions, "the Tech Decks are out."

Then, again, there's a solution to every problem, and Michael's on to one: finger shoes.

Just like skateboard shoes help skaters stick to the grip tape on their boards, something similar for little fingers would make it a lot easier to do tricks with Tech Decks.

"Shoes for your fingers," Michael said, laughing. "That'd be funny."