Skateboarding

So you don’t think skateboarding is a real mountain sport, eh? Think again, my friend. Now in its fourth year of competitive action, the Mountain Sports Festival presented by RBC Centura has decided to get in touch with its inner city, acknowledging that some of the finest sport in these mountains has nothing to do with trees, rapids or even rocks.

A purely urban sport, skating emerged some years ago as the city boy’s (and now, increasingly, the city girl’s as well) defiant yet fiercely athletic answer to the concrete jungle surrounding them. The skater hones a craft that is as difficult, as competitive, and as beautiful as any other. And despite a little blood and bruising along the way, Asheville skaters have placed their once-shunned but now often celebrated sport of choice center stage at this year’s festival.

These days, Asheville doesn’t just draw tourists for its scenic mountain locale — or even just for all the more usual mountain sports that come with it. Instead, many visitors and locals alike are converging here to grind rails, pull kick-flips and catch some serious air at the Food Lion SkatePark — the site of this year’s MSF skateboarding events (happening Saturday, May 8 from noon to 5 p.m.).

Built in 2001, this one-of-a-kind skater’s paradise has placed Asheville firmly on the map as one of the region’s best skating destinations. And this year’s skating competition — a collection of events presented under the apt rubric Food Lion SkatePark Mayhem — promises to serve up some of the most awe-inspiring, jaw-dropping displays of skill, determination and grit to be seen at this year’s MSF.

“It’s a great thing to highlight skateboarding at this year’s festival,” says Athletic Director Jeff Joyce of Asheville Parks and Recreation, the staff director for this year’s events. “We’re glad to see skating turning into its own mountain sport.”

Locally, skating has emerged as one of the area’s more popular pastimes, notes Flipside Boardshop co-owner Krista Neri. Her shop, just around the corner from the state-of-the-art skate park, is seeing more and more business from young skateboard studs hailing from points near and far.

Flipside sponsors a team of local skaters who’ll stage a pro demonstration at 2 p.m., following the dedication ceremony. Team Flipside knows better than anyone that the future of their sport rests in the hands (and on the decks) of the younger boarders. The embodiment of that ideal is team member — and local sixth-grader — Luke Dannemiller, whom Neri describes as an awe-inspiring prodigy.

Of course, there’s also plenty of room for young (and old) beginners at this year’s event. Timed runs in the “street course” section of the park will be held for beginner, intermediate and advanced skaters. The competition promises to showcase some of the region’s most radical skaters, each armed with their own bag of gravity-defying tricks. Participants will be judged by number of tricks, skate style, overall use of the course, and degree of difficulty. Come ready to be amazed: It’s nothing short of scary what some folks can do these days on a piece of wood with four little wheels.

The competition, promises SkatePark Manager Mike Buckner, will also feature plenty of out-of-town talent. In fact, this year’s Food Lion SkatePark Mayhem will kick off a whole series of competitions at the park that will run through the summer, concluding around Halloween. Participants can carry cumulative points into subsequent competitions, and the idea is to nurture a healthy but heated competitive spirit among local skaters.

Another interesting component of this year’s boarding events will be a competitive round of “SKATE,” the bastardized cousin of the basketball classic “HORSE.” Instead of putting the ball in the hole to avoid racking up another dreaded letter, SKATE players must try to imitate the competition’s tricks. Advanced, sponsored boarders will be on hand, seeking to prove whose bag of tricks is the real deal and whose is “just for kids.”

“Can’t do that sick-o ‘frontside indy’ like I can, you chump? That’s an ‘S’ for you, my friend. Now, what have you got up your sleeve? Oh man, a superfluous ‘frontside board slide’ on the rail?!? I guess I’ll take that ‘K’ after all.”

On a more somber note, a 2 p.m. ceremony will dedicate a new flagpole at the park to the memory of the late Justin Abell, a former Asheville High student and dedicated SkatePark patron who was killed in a tragic car accident.

“I used to skate with Justin way back in the day,” recalls longtime boarder Alex Gundlach. “He was as genuine of a guy as there is. He always had something positive and intelligent to say, always had a smile on his face. It’s true what they say, you know: The good really do die young.”

All told, this year’s inaugural Food Lion SkatePark Mayhem will be a welcome addition to the already diverse lineup of events at the Mountain Sports Festival. So grab your deck and helmet, or even just a camera and a smile, and come be a part of this groundbreaking (board-breaking?) monster event.

Food Lion SkatePark Mayhem

Noon to 5 p.m. on Saturday, May 8 at the Food Lion SkatePark. Beginning skaters are slated to go from noon to 1 p.m., intermediates from 1-2, advanced riders from 3-4, and “sponsored boarders” from 4-5. The Team Flipside demo will be at 2 p.m., following the flagpole dedication ceremony. All skaters are required to wear helmets and full pads. Rental helmets are available at the park.

Directions

The Food Lion SkatePark runs along Cherry Street between Broadway and Flint Street. It’s on the fringe of downtown Asheville, just north of Interstate 240 at the edge of Montford and down the hill from the Asheville Civic Center.

Registration

The fee is $5 per person; registration begins at 11 a.m. on Saturday, May 8 at the Food Lion SkatePark.

Awards

Prizes (including trophies, cool skate gear — and, of course, bragging rights) will be awarded to the top three finishers in each category. Event sponsors Scapegoat Skateboards and Character Skateboards are donating prizes and providing staffers to help coordinate and judge the Mayhem.

Best viewing spots

Anywhere inside the park. Spectator seating is limited, so get there early — and bring some shades and sunscreen because, dude, trees don’t grow inside skateparks (not this one, anyway).

Want to skate?

If you leave this year’s competition eager to grind some rails of your own but not knowing where to turn, don’t sweat. Lessons and workshops are an ongoing part of the activities at the Food Lion SkatePark. Call 225-7184 for details.

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