In heaven I can skate

Can you land a nollie 180 with a crooked grind? All you have to do is mount a skateboard, swoop down a steep concrete wall, hop up on a rail (feet still planted on your board, naturally), “grind” along the rail with your board nose-down, then land smoothly back on the ground and coast away. Oh, and don’t forget to throw in a 180-degree, midair switch somewhere.

If this doesn’t sound like good American English, never mind. Come and try your wheels anyway at the Food Lion Skatepark Dedication and Skateboard Contest, the city’s first official skateboard event, to be held at the new park on Saturday May 4, from 2-6:30 p.m.

The contest has divisions for beginners, intermediate and advanced boarders of all ages.

Skateboarder John Birtch has been skating for 14 years, since he was about 10. Now a staffer at Boarders Paradise, a local shop, he confesses that skateboarding “is still in me; it helps you be a kid.”

Co-worker Richard Anderson adds that he “still gets grief” about skateboarding: “‘You’re all grown up — why are you still skateboarding?’ people will say. … I’ll still be boarding when I’m 90 — if I can still walk,” the young man says.

He remembers when the Salvation Army in West Asheville had a skateboard park, but the antics of some recalcitrant boarders forced its closure. Asheville Police strictly enforced an anti-boarding ordinance, confiscating boards and fining boarders, Anderson recalls. Most boarders are not lawbreakers and vandals, he points out, but a few bad apples made it difficult for the rest.

Tensions eased after city officials met with skateboarders and agreed to erect a temporary park atop the Civic Center parking deck. Then, several years ago, the city committed to sharing the cost of the 17,000-square-foot, $500,000 park on nearby Cherry Street.

“The new park is definitely a good thing. It gets the kids off the streets,” adds Birtch, noting that skateboard facilities have also cropped up recently in Waynesville, Brevard and Hendersonville. He also emphasizes the good people he’s met through the sport and the sense of cameraderie among boarders. Birtch particularly admires Rodney Mullen, one of the world’s top skateboarders — the kind of guy who not only sets the standard in skill but also demonstrates a good attitude about life and toward other people.

Krista Neri, who owns the skateboard shop Flipside, says boarding is a growing sport — both in popularity and in respectability. She bought Flipside (then a snowboard store) three years ago, but the rising popularity of skateboarding and the opening of a city park induced her to focus on skateboarding equipment and repairs instead. The new skateboard park, laid out by world-class design firm Team Payne, helps draw people from a broad area — a boon to local shops, Neri observes.

But skateboarders still struggle for a little respect.

The new park is great, says Flipside staffer Chris Dow, but it means there’s “zero tolerance” for street skating — which is both a sport and an alternative mode of transportation. He tells of having gotten a ticket once while skating to a doctor’s appointment. Then he teamed up with other skateboarders and city officials to help create Asheville’s new skateboard facility. “It’s a world-class park,” says Dow. Some boarders were disappointed that it’s not a street-style park with lots of obstacles, he notes. But it’s a good park, with deep bowls boarders can flow into and build up speed for tricks and rails, continues Dow.

“If I’d had something like this when I was a kid, I’d be a lot more competent in my skills,” says the 27-year-old, who’s been skating since he was about 12.

Up-and-coming skateboarder Matt Mercer helps staff the Food Lion Skatepark. The 19-year-old is one of those rising stars who will probably benefit from having a world-class facility here in town: Now sponsored by Flipside, Mercer hopes to move to Berkeley, Calif., where he can seek national sponsorship and perhaps make a living from his sport. The contest, he says, “is a chance to show people what we do. The point is to get people to come out and have fun and see what the skatepark can do for your skills, whatever your level.”

Mercer began skateboarding at age 13 or 14, after trying out a neighbor’s board. “I didn’t have much of an outlet, anything fun to put time into at the time. … I got addicted. Skateboarding is not like a team sport — you can do whatever you want, whatever you feel,” says the Reynolds High School graduate.

His idol is professional skateboarder/designer Karl Watson, “because he’s one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet in your life,” says Mercer. He also admires Watson’s entrepreneurship: The skateboarder founded and runs a design company, Organika, which Mercer would love to have as a sponsor.

Skateboarding, says Neri, is “a viable sport, just like baseball or football. There’s so much skill involved; it’s very technical.” Neri says she enjoys working the shop because she still gets to hang with kids — some of them former students. (Skateboarding, the former math teacher notes, is “all angles and geometry, but the kids don’t realize it because they’re having so much fun.”)

The Food Lion Skatepark Dedication and Skateboard Contest runs 2-6:30 p.m. at the corner of Flint and Cherry streets in downtown Asheville. There will be prizes and music provided by co-sponsors Food Lion, Mountain Dew, Doritos, Mountain Xpress, Charter Communications, 93.3 The Planet and Asheville Parks & Recreation. The entry fee is $2 for Asheville residents, $4 for all others. Spectators get in free. For more information, call 259-5800 or go to ashevilleparks.org.

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About Margaret Williams
Editor Margaret Williams first wrote for Xpress in 1994. An Alabama native, she has lived in Western North Carolina since 1987 and completed her Masters of Liberal Arts & Sciences from UNC-Asheville in 2016. Follow me @mvwilliams

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