CARY — Cary High sophomore Mallory Curtis comes home from school, goes up to her second-floor bonus room and begins to unwind.
By the doorway is a big-screen TV, best viewed by flopping on the adjacent beanbag chair. But she's not up here to watch DVDs or play video games.
She heads to the back of the room, to stand near the bar that holds an elaborate miniature skate park. It was built according to Mallory's exacting vision for a hobby that has garnered her national - if only online - fame.
Mallory is a fingerboarder - someone who does tricks on a miniature skateboard with their fingers.
By placing the index and middle fingers on top the board, which is about three inches long, the person moves the board around. But getting it to make the jumps, twists, flips and ollies is harder than it seems. A quick push backward to get enough momentum to do the trick helps, but keeping the board from succumbing to gravity and falling away from your fingers isn't easy.
Unless you're Mallory Curtis.
The board seems to stick to her hand as it twirls rapidly in midair before board and boarder reunite with a slam back onto the wooden surface.
At 16, she's already won awards, attended national showcases and even earned sponsorships in this niche network of underground metacarpal athletes.
Mallory, who used to skateboard but quit after taking a few too many hard knocks, bought her first fingerboard in seventh grade. The purchase had less to do with trying to find a hobby and more to do with what was on the board - "Curtin-15."
It was just one letter off from her last name and it had her basketball jersey number.
"I had to get it," she said.
A few months later, she saw it still sitting on her desk and became curious.
After finding a few online videos and tips, she began trying tricks with the popular keychain trinket.
"I didn't think it was possible because it was so hard," said Mallory.
But just like other sports she excels at - she's been a varsity basketball starter and golfer - repetition led to mastery.
Her mom, Sandra Curtis, was apprehensive about how much to support her daughter's new pastime.
"I wasn't sure how productive of a hobby it would be," said Sandra. "But since then, I've found a number of pluses about it that I hadn't realized earlier."
The tiny board had Mallory's creative juices flowing.
She sketched out designs of her skate parks, half-pipes and other courses to build.
"I guess I have a good imagination," said Mallory.
Her dad helped her cut the wood, which has been sawed and sanded to precise inclines and slopes. Metal rails have been bolted onto the 3-by-6-foot course.
Soon, the hobby that could be used as meditation - or a way get away from the world - was instead being used to reach into it.
There aren't many local fingerboarders. Mallory knows of just two in the Triangle, both from Chapel Hill.
The hobby isn't as popular in the United States as it is in the United Kingdom or Germany.
Mallory began making videos of the tricks she was doing, and posting them on YouTube. Her following has steadily grown to 2,528 subscribers and 127 YouTube videos. Her most-watched video has more than 43,000 views.
Sandra says it's "a little unnerving" to know her daughter has that many views - and comments. But the production value that goes into each video has shown where Mallory's off-court talents lie.
Already an architect of her own skate parks, she's also a videographer.
"As she progressed through learning the tricks and posting them online, she learned a lot about taking photographs, videography, video editing, marketing herself, composing messages and composing a piece that would be on YouTube," said Sandra. "I think that may turn out to be a way she may want to go in her future."
An honor roll student, Mallory said she wants to study film or digital media.
Sponsors and contests
Mallory submitted one of her videos to an online contest, and finished third.
She's had multiple sponsors, the most recent being Flat Face Fingerboards - which includes Mallory as one of its 45 team members on its website. It gives her products, and she makes videos with them.
Flat Face will even pay some of her travel costs to help fly to Boston over spring break to take part in Rendezvous, a Flat Face event bringing together fingerboarders who don't normally have a chance to interact in person.
It will be her second conference. One day she hopes to go to the world's top fingerboarding convention in Germany.
Her new adventures in finger-boarding come at a time when her basketball days may be done. She missed three weeks during Cary's season with a concussion, her third. She came back in the conference tournament and received a fourth.
Mallory never put fingerboarding on the same level as basketball, but she did enjoy its free-flowing nature.
And as sports sometimes do, fingerboarding has taught her skills that will stay with her for a long time - even longer than her YouTube fame.
"It's totally opened her eyes to something that she enjoys doing," said Sandra. "It's neat that a hobby has grown into something that could potentially be her major or career in the future."