The history of skateboarding is the history of the built environment, and of the ruins left by overreach. Before there were purpose-built skate ramps, skaters in the ’70s and ’80s rode banked SoCal schoolyards, drainage ditches, flood-control infrastructure—and swimming pools left empty by drought. After liability issues shut down the skateparks in the ’80s, they started skating parking lots, loading docks, and the vast concrete plazas created by slum clearance and urban renewal projects. In the ’90s, we started building DIY skateparks on vacant lots under bridges, in the dead spaces left by urban freeways.
Economic trouble leads the way to skating opportunity. Pool skating went off after the financial crisis, especially in hard-hit areas like Las Vegas, Fresno, and Bakersfield, where skaters overlaid foreclosure information onto Google Maps and used the satellite imagery to find vacant homes with pools.
During the real-estate bubble, in the run-up to the 2008 financial crisis, developers in western North Carolina bought mountainside parcels and built roads up them in the hope of selling buildable lots to wealthy people for second homes or retirement properties. Then the Great Recession hit.
Ten years later, many developments remain completely empty, with none of the lots having sold. The extravagant houses that did get built are mostly unoccupied, except during a few weekends a year. As it turns out, not that many people want to live in the middle of the woods, half an hour’s drive from the nearest grocery store.
Private developments don’t have to meet strict road safety requirements and these developers wanted to minimize construction costs, so many of these roads are incredibly steep and narrow, with grades up to 25 percent and no guardrails. Some of them are slowly falling off the mountain as the underlying soil erodes.
A new generation of downhill skateboarders has sprung up around these abandoned roads, using them as private training facilities where they can hone their skills without the danger of uphill traffic.
For now, the roads stand as monuments to Bush-era real estate speculation, exurban sprawl, and the excesses of car culture.
Here, from Thomas Richmond of North Carolina Downhill, is live-action video of featuring some of these roadways.