By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By David Villano
By Jose D. Duran
By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Luther Campbell
Hey, Super Bowl tourists. The only topic the sports pages, TV, and Internet want to discuss before the February 4 Super Bowl is Peyton and Rex. The unstoppable offense versus the brick wall defense. Chi-Town versus that other pueblo next door.
But forget about that stuff. Down here we have some real athletes. And some real sports.
And we don't mean Dan Maroone ... um, Marino.
Robert "Raven" Kraft looks like a regular 56-year-old freckled, sun-damaged complexion; slightly sagging skin; long, dark locks peppered with gray; nearly white chest and facial hair.
But the legs are awe-inspiring.
They are neither unduly muscular nor enviously shaped. They are long and lean, and function like well-oiled pistons. Over the past 32 years, they have powered his slender frame nearly 94,000 miles. "I'm on a mission," he says from his apartment on Ocean Drive and Third Street in South Beach. "I'm on a journey to make people healthy."
Raven is not paid a whopping salary, and he has no sponsors. He has never possessed a driver's license, never flown in an airplane, and never had a full-time job. He does not party. He rarely leaves his home.
Running is his life and has been ever since he set himself a personal goal January 1, 1975: Run every day on the beach for one year.
More than 117,000 days later he has yet to falter.
"It took me awhile to find out what I'm supposed to be doing in my life," he says. "And this is it."
Like clockwork, he departs from the sand next to the Fifth Street lifeguard station at 4:00 p.m., dressed from head to toe in black headband, baggy shorts, calf-length socks, and sneakers. From there he runs an eight-mile loop.
He has run through 82 pairs of sneakers, six presidencies, two Gulf Wars, three decades, and the advent of global warming hurricane-force winds, sleet that made his skull bleed, torrential subtropical downpours, and scorching sun.
And he is not about to stop.
"Hard to imagine," he says. "I'd be like a vegetable."
Who is the greatest jai alai player alive? Ask the little old lady sitting in the stands at the Miami Jai-Alai arena and she'll scoff.
"I play by the numbers," she answers, waving the program like scripture. "If you play by the numbers, you have to bet on Goikoetxea." The plump little man taking dollars at the door will tell you the same.
Inakai "Goikoetxea" Osa is the best jai alai player in the world, and few people in Miami know it. Goikoe himself refuses to acknowledge what his stats he wins a quarter of his matches and places in more than half of them confirm. He is the golden boy of the moribund sport.
Goikoe's modesty might stem from the fact that he never wanted to play jai alai in the first place at least not professionally. He grew up in the small Basque town of Zumaia, on the northern coast of Spain. He surfed every day and began playing pelota only when his brothers gave him a cesta. It was his father, a fisherman, who pushed him to travel to Milan at age sixteen to play.
Six months later he began competing in Rhode Island and then moved to Orlando. In 2003 he came to Miami.
Milan's and Rhode Island's jai alai operations have shut down, along with Connecticut's and five of Florida's consolidating only the best of the best players in the few poorly attended frontons still remaining. At age 26, Goikoe trumps them all.
But the spoils are few. Salaries seldom top $100,000, and groupies no longer exist.
He lives with his girlfriend, an optician, in Doral. He plays seven times a week, evening games and matinees. The late games are poorly attended. Few enthusiasts like to drive at night.
In the basket room behind the court, Goikoe refuses to acknowledge his greatness. He waves a friendly hello toward the card table crowded with players and tall stacks of clay chips. Then he heads back to the locker room to stretch.
"It is a beautiful sport for me," he says. "I feel bad; I wish it was like twenty years ago. If the people came, I think they'd like the game."
Brian Delatorre began skateboarding in the cul-de-sacs of Kendall when he was thirteen years old. In seven short years, he's gone from the suburbs to a two-page spread in Slap magazine, one of the skating world's most popular reads.
He's also been featured in many skateboarding videos, with descriptions like this: "Brian Delatorre has a name that sounds like a mafia cat, but his style is anything but mob. He rips hard and has some bangers that were hard-hitting as hell."
Whatever that means, it must be good. Companies have sponsored everything from his clothes (Planet Earth) to his board (Creation Skateboards). Other contracts are in the works.
Brian, who is nineteen years old, doesn't have a job or go to school. His life is skating.
"You're free to come and go as you please," he says. "Free to learn new tricks every day."
In the past few weeks, he's been touring Florida from Miami to Jacksonville with a bunch of other skaters. The tour will end February 4 at M.I.A. Skatepark in Doral.
"I don't make much," he says. "But it's something."
Lance-O answers the door with a surfboard in one hand and an apple in another. He's raw, which means he eats no cooked food. He also has dreadlocks, just like a lot of the guys in his favorite reggae bands. But we're not writing about him because of his hair or musical vibes or eating habits.
Lance-O is a surfer. A Miami Beach surfer. Not easy.
"Being a surfer in Miami, you become a good weatherman and a good traveler," he says and then takes a bite of the apple.
He has surfed Hurricanes Wilma and Frances. Once a week he ventures north, to Palm Beach and beyond. Each month he goes somewhere out of state (his new favorite surf spot is in Nicaragua). Recently speaking outside of his Miami Beach home, he said he was on his way to San Diego. He was shirtless, tan, and wide-eyed. A bit of apple found its way into his fuzzy beard. He brushed it out. It's all good.
He has surfed Miami's fickle waves since he was four years old (he's now 41), and generally can be found in the waters off Nikki Beach. When he's not surfing, he's listening to music Jazid's reggae nights on Sundays are his baby and he owns Kulcha Shok Muzik, a reggae production company. He recently opened Kulcha Surf which, according to his Website, "incorporates the soul of surfing with the essence and vibe of reggae. Combining the two to create harmony on Earth for the love of people. Music brings life, and surfing adds soul."
It is a mind-blisteringly fast game of balletic athleticism and peculiar ferocity. Oddly the sport's most ardent devotee in Miami is a balding, bespectacled 54-year-old with a paunch and a penchant for nudie bars.
Dave Zarco doesn't see any contradiction between his physique and his tireless promotion and playing of badminton. "It makes me have to play using every resource I have: my wits, my experience, my skills, albeit limited, and all of my competitive fire."
A 2003 National Senior Games doubles champion and third-place singles player, Zarco preaches the gospel of badminton at area high schools and at a free weekly clinic of sorts. As the regional director for USA Badminton, Zarco helps organize the annual Southern Pan-Am International Badminton Tournament in Miami Lakes one of only two international badminton events in the country and tutors aspiring shuttlecockers at area high schools. "Almost every coach who's teaching high school badminton in Dade County is clueless," he says.
Zarco can barely contain his kidlike enthusiasm for the sport, and carries extra rackets to events in case passersby want to give it a go. He revels in revealing the game to the uninitiated. He especially likes beating the piss out of anyone foolhardy enough to call badminton a "puss game."
Zarco is on a mission from the god of badminton. Turns out that god likes to have a good time. During a pause in last year's Pan-Am games, Zarco took a group of international players to his favorite Miami attraction: Tootsies Cabaret, a warehouse-size strip joint in Miami Gardens.
In the heady world of adult team kickball, Patrick Soto is a force to be reckoned with. His Biscayne Bashers compete against other, usually lesser teams in the Florida Coastal Division of WAKA World Adult Kickball Association. They've made it to the finals twice; Soto has come within inches only two outs away of pitching a perfect game. His team is so imposing, he says, that it is known informally as "The Empire."
Adult kickball is usually noted for the beer-drenched, Viking-style, let's-get-laid-in-these-T-shirts raids upon local bars that invariably follow each match. But under Soto's leadership, the Bashers have taken the sport and broken it down to a science.
"The rules of kickball say that ball has to bounce once before it reaches the plate," explains Soto, who's 27 years old. "What we found is that you don't really have to throw the ball underhand you don't have to roll it, you don't have to do anything gentle. So we slowly developed it from an underhand to a sidearm, to eventually just overhand pitching, just whipping the ball."
With the new season beginning the week after the Super Bowl, Soto says the Bashers' foes can expect more punishment and reconciliatory beers. "We've got a couple of seasoned players coming back," he says, crossing his arms, "with big legs and big hands so we're expecting big things out of them."