When each of Tami Sorgente’s three children picked a sport, she had one request: “‘Pick something that goes to the Olympics,’” she remembers.
Middle kid Alessandro’s chosen pursuit appeared to be a non-starter, Olympics-wise. “I said ‘Skateboarding? Why skateboarding?,’” she says.
Surprise! Skateboarding, along with surfing, is one of the sports debuting at the 2020 summer games in Tokyo, and Alessandro, better known as Alex, is among the hopefuls to represent the United States. This summer, the Lake Worth native placed first in the Vans Pro Skate Park Series championships in Malmo, Sweden. Even though qualifications for the first-ever Olympic skateboarders are still being determined, Sorgente is excited for the possibility.
“The Olympics could push skating to the next level, and get more people into it,” says Sorgente, who has competed in Brazil, Australia and other places. “It’s a big stage, the biggest stage.”
Not only is the 18-year-old a local, but he learned to skate at the Olesner Skate Park at West Palm Beach’s YMCA of the Palm Beaches, from the time he was a six-year-old who couldn’t see over the counter.
“You could see he was a natural athlete,” says veteran award-winning skateboarder Mike Rogers, who managed the skate park at the Y from 1999 to 2006. “He would skate all day, take tremendous wipe outs, then get up and start doing it again. He has the chance to be one of the best.”
There are several types of skateboarding, and Sorgente’s specialty is park skating, combining “vert” skateboarding, which involves tricks done in bowls, as well as street skating features like stairs and rails. He’s currently sponsored by extreme sport industry giants Red Bull, Oakley and others.
Sorgente’s association with the YMCA’s skate park, built in 1999 but now outdated, should turn out to be beneficial to both. The recently announced $60,000 renovation of that park will not only provide a first-class facility for the hometown boy, but a renewed place for other locals to ride a board or a bike.
“The park set the bar for Alex,” adds Timothy Coffield, president and CEO of the YMCA of the Palm Beaches. “And now Alex is setting the bar for the park.”
“There were hundreds of kids who (found the YMCA) the only place that they could skateboard. It was amazing to have a skate park there, and the kids benefited from having it,” Rogers says. “That place is gonna go crazy.”
Sorgente’s introduction to the sport started at the age of six, when he got a skateboard for Christmas. He also had a dirt bike, but he became more and more drawn to the board “because of the individuality. There was no coach, no one to tell you what to do on the board,” he says.
So his parents took him to the YMCA, where the young skater could try his craft out relatively safely, swaddled “in hockey gear,” Sorgente remembers. That’s where he met Rogers, a former champion skateboarder and member of the Florida Skateboard Hall of Fame. He immediately recognized that the six-year-old “had a lot of drive for that age, and really wanted to be a good skateboarder,” he says. “He has a passion for it.”
Sorgente says he also drew inspiration from other kids shredding alongside him, like Alec Gaie of Boynton Beach, now 19, who recently moved back to the area after trying his hand as a professional skateboarder in California. Gaie says “we all pushed each other, and progressed off each other.”
Soon, Sorgente was hooked, attending skateboard camp and taking time to skate “every day until he was sweaty.” He then started entering contests, first in Florida and later Europe, where “he didn’t win anything, but it got him out there,” says his mother. By the time he was 14, he’d entered the X Games, the premiere competition for extreme sports. (He placed fourth this year.)
One of the most important things that Rogers taught Sorgente was “how to fall,” Tami Sorgente remembers, something he’d put into practice. Tami, an engineering professor at Florida Atlantic University, recalls the weekend that the two drove up to the Vans Skate Park in Orlando so he could properly master a 540. That’s a trick where the board does a 360-degree flip but then continues another 180 degrees.
“He tried it over 80 times the first day, and didn’t land it,” she says. “At the end of the second day, he got it, but he wasn’t sure about it. So we booked another night in the hotel so he could get it right a third day.”
“That’s dedication,” Sorgente says of his parents, who have spent years making sure he got to competitions. Until recently, his father, Luca, was his manager and official travel partner.
“He’s very determined,” Rogers says. “It’s so amazing to see his growth. He’s put a lot of energy into his goals, and he’s an example that you get out what you put in.”
His mother is immensely proud. Recently, a co-worker showed her a thrilling viral clip of three skateboarders taking on the insane heights of two temporarily drained water slides at a Dubai resort.
“And it was him!” she says. “He’s fearless.”
Alex isn’t the only athlete in the family. Sister Daniela, 21, competed as a gymnast and is now a collegiate diver at New York University, while Giovanni, 7, rides motocross. Alex, who also surfs, actually took a break from skateboarding at age 13 to pursue motocross “until I crashed,” he says. Then it was back to the board, where he was soon traveling so much that he got his high school diploma through a correspondence program.
Rogers notes that many American skateboarding champions are from California, so Sorgente’s status as a top-ranked Floridian makes him the skateboard equivalent of Cocoa Beach’s champion surfer Kelly Slater.
“We’re gonna see him in the Olympics, representing the U.S. and the state of Florida. For someone from South Florida, where we don’t even have a world class skate park, he’s proof that anything can happen if you put your mind to it,” Rogers says.
As a professional, Sorgente has had the chance to return the favor to Rogers, a two-time cancer survivor whose Grind For Life foundation provides financial support for families fighting the disease. The younger skater “saw me go through all my stuff. He gave me the drive to skate with him, to get me strong.” Sorgente now does appearances for Grind for Life.
Whether or not he makes the Olympics, Sorgente says he’s excited about having a career that he loves, that could potentially last until he’s in his 40s like Tony Hawk. In the end, he’s not in it for medals.
“Either way,” he says, “I’m going to keep skating.”