Skateboarders from North Carolina are a different breed. Maybe it’s in the water, maybe it’s the rich red clay we’re molded from. Forgot all the hillbilly references and redneck crap, because while that may be a part of us, it’s not what sets us apart. People here have a certain underdog mentality. Being from North Carolina gives a unique perspective on the world and a chance to see skateboarding for what it really is–no more, no less. Outside of the fame game, outside of the hype, for us skateboarding is a reason to get out of bed in the morning. It’s a direction for your life that goes the opposite way of the herd. And while our roots run deep, we tend to have our eyes on the road–an obsession with traveling and seeing for ourselves what it’s like everywhere else. North Carolinians are magnets, they bump into each other all over the country and all around the world. The Tarheel diaspora is as far reaching as it is dense.
If you live in any of America’s urban centers, especially the skateboard Mecca ones, you definitely know someone from North Carolina. And if you know one, you probably know a whole pack of them–they tend to congregate around friends who pay rent. If you don’t live in the thick of it, but decide to hit the road one day, in your travels you’ll come across NC folks who are down for the cause, willing to do what it takes to skate the spots, to make it to the next destination, to keep it going as long as they can. While back at home, we collect postcards, we value some good porch time, we listen for the sounds of homegrown hip-hop and the crunch of punk shows in the living room. Some even listen for forgotten ballads sung to the mountains, or the rhythm of the waves crashing in the indigo Ocrakoke night.
Skateboarding in North Carolina is a little different than most other places. There’re not many urban metropolises to cruise, nor a ton of concrete parks thrown about. While that may change, these days skating happens on all kinds of terrain. Skaters here are resourceful. They’ll clear the vines out of an old ditch, jump the fence at the waterpark, steal a bench and take it to a smooth parking lot, and suddenly create an instant spot. In Greensboro, we walk down the train tracks to get to the skatepark, or show up at the PR lot in Chapel Hill and skate with more girls than guys, maybe head down to the Hampstead park and follow a bumpy dirt road through people’s backyards to a barn containing the most perfect wooden bowl you’ve ever seen. Skateboarding here lives and thrives just around the corner, back in the woods, off the beaten path.
We’ve got our own legends, too, people you’ll never hear of. Not the guys in the magazines, although many of them will become legends. It’s the guys who came before them, the ones they looked up to, and the ones who never made it into the spotlight and stayed behind for one reason or another. The California dream just wasn’t for them. They sometimes come from the bigger cities, but more often from the backwoods, places like Reidsville, Hillsborough, Greenville, Gastonia, Cullowhee, Fayetteville. They all ripped unbelievably–could ollie waist high, did 40-stair rails, and ten-foot madonnas. The stories go on and most of them are true. If you weren’t there, you know someone who was, and they swear by it. Every once in a while those nameless legends will creep out of the woodwork, show up at a demo or the skatepark, wreck the place, and leave the little kids scratching their heads. Older ones sit back and laugh, yell and scream during their runs, catch up on all the things in life that get in the way now, and pledge to skate together again soon.
There’re the legendary spots as well: immortalized not by classic video parts or back issues of magazines, but by the heated sessions that went down there. Like the Farm ramp jams, the toughest of the East Coast vert destroyers camped out for the weekend, raised hell, and blew minds on a 52-foot-wide ramp. Or the old Thomasville school, an abandoned gym kids filled with jump ramps and wall rides and went crazy. Leith, Golden Gate, the Bell banks, Kings, Swenson park–all saw their share of insanity.
Most of the old spots are gone now. There’s nothing to remember them by but faded snapshots and good stories. Will the new generation seek out their own legendary spots and create their own myths? Or will they be content to breathe masonite dust all day at the local daycare/skatepark, or lay more wax on the neighborhood ledge. North Carolina has a deep skating heritage, it’d be a shame to see it end with a generation brought up on extreme sports. But we have hope.
What does it mean to be a skateboarder from North Carolina? We ride on cast metal, poured urethane, and pressed hardwood like everyone else. We do similar tricks on similar obstacles. But to be a skateboarder from NC means something more, too. It’s the desire to get out, it’s shoveling snow off the ramp in the winter, and hot- concrete burns on skin in the summer. It’s living not in separate towns, but on one road (I-40) that snakes its way from Barstow, California through the blue ridge mountains over the Triad and the Triangle, and ends 2,554 miles later on our Atlantic coast. Skateboarding in the old north state means making yourself pull it, not for fame or glory or even the camera, but for yourself. It means riding chipped boards and busted shoes day in and day out at cruddy spots, because you know for a fact there’s no other activity in the world that’s worth your time. It’s about friends you’ve made, with whom you rise and fall, and through it all you’ll love them like brothers and sisters until your last days. It means rising above the bullshit, because you know things have never come easy in this state, and you know that if it isn’t hard, it probably isn’t worth doing. Sound like skateboarding anywhere else? Like in your home state or country? Good. That’s probably the best example of what it’s like to be a skateboarder in North Carolina.