The Foundation

STORY AND IMAGES BY George Etheredge and Mike Belleme 




"The Foundation has soul. it's a canvas for us to build our dreams."

how the hell are we still getting away with this?

The second cement truck of the day winds its way past the rows of abandoned warehouses in Asheville’s River Arts District toward our group of skateboarders. The day’s mission is no easy task. Our crew will be playing the part of pro bono sculptors as we shape this concrete package into a 20-foot-long quarter pipe. It’s something we’ve been doing on an abandoned, off-white concrete foundation for eight years, during which we’ve created one of the best DIY skate spots in the Southeast. Yet with each cement delivery we continue to ask ourselves, how the hell are we still getting away with this? 

Spaces like this, forgotten by the rest of the world, offer the perfect balance between the raw grittiness of street skating and the ease and hassle-free aspects that we love about skateparks. Similar spots pop up all over the country, but because the idea behind them is to trespass and build illegally for as long as you can go unnoticed, they rarely last more than a year or so. 

We’ve seen two other makeshift local spots come and go in recent years. Although their loss has been disheartening, neither of them lasted long enough to gain the momentum and support of the Foundation. This particular concrete slab not only provides a place for people to ride their skateboards, but is also a home for a resourceful community that exemplifies the creative spirit of Asheville. 

Eight years ago when we started, we looked past the trash, tobacco-colored weeds and rusty nails that were scattered about seeing potential in this hidden space between the French Broad River and miles of train tracks. Early materials for Asheville’s Foundation were found on-site. Metal pipes became flat rails; salvaged wood was converted into ramps. Cinder blocks and granite slabs became smooth ledges, and metal scraps were salvaged for coping. We even found a way to make a satellite dish skateable. 

As the Foundation and its obstacles evolved, the place that was once a private haven for my friends and I became a well-known symbol in Asheville’s skateboarding community. The growth in popularity was a worry for many. In the past it’s been a hangout for taggers and lurkers of all kinds, including high-schoolers looking for a place to get drunk, do drugs, and fight. Unwanted attention presents a threat to this kind of spot’s survival.

But that growth in popularity has ultimately been a positive. The additional people who now cared for the Foundation enabled the spot to grow. More people with building experience began to take the lead, and more hands were available for assistance. When the slow deterioration of wooden obstacles became overbearing, funds were raised to build new setups with a longer life span. The first concrete ramp was poured about six years ago.

Alex Irvine, a skateboarder and artist living in Asheville, has been one of the few people to take charge in the progression of the spot. “The Foundation has soul,” he says. “Cast in that concrete is the spirit of what makes the River Arts District unique and interesting. It’s a canvas for us to build our dreams.”

Young kids work alongside seasoned skate vets, some with extensive building expertise and others who have never swung a hammer. What started with three dudes mixing concrete on the ground soon became a full-on construction site with multiple concrete trucks and more than 15 workers. Supporting builds of this scale requires regular fundraising. Irvine held a show at Asheville’s Push Skateshop, during which he displayed the rebar skeleton of a ramp and raised the money for its completion. Funds also contributed to renting a dumpster for a major clean up.

"It's a place where obstacles are overcome as obstacles are built."

The Foundation embodies what I love most about skateboarding, a community of people from various backgrounds who can embrace their differences and come together for the love of something so insignificant to those who’ve never stepped forward and taken a push on a piece of wood atop four polyurethane wheels. The Foundation “is its own culture,” says Ben Bradford, a local rider who now builds skateparks professionally around the country. “It provides a safe place for a lot of kids to go practice something they love, and it’s made by skateboarders for skateboarders.”

The land the Foundation sits on was recently sold to Brent Starck, a businessman from Austin, Texas. Although the long-term outlook on the Foundation is unknown, it looks like we will be able to hold on for the next few years. “As long as people respect the spot, clean up after themselves, and be inclusive and cool to one another, we'd love to have it continue,” says Starck. The (expensive) caveat here: We have to get our own insurance for the land.

Thankfully, Rob Sebrell, the owner of Push Skateshop, is in the process of working with local nonprofit Arts 2 People to get that done. “It seemed like a one-in-a-million shot this would happen,” he says. “We’re willing to do what it takes to make the new landlords happy.”

Without the DIY scene, I don’t know whether there would be much of a skate community in Asheville. Skateboarding is illegal downtown, where it is nearly impossible to skate from your car to Push without getting a ticket. The Foundation has become my home away from home, a place where where relationships solidify and obstacles are overcome as obstacles are built. 

It may not last forever—one day the Foundation may become the base for another riverfront warehouse or fenced off, littered with “No Trespassing” signs. But unlike concrete, the community that’s formed atop the Foundation—a place of personality, resourcefulness and optimism—shows no signs of cracking.