Duty Now For the Future Retrospective – Ben Ashworth

DUTY NOW FOR THE FUTURE RETROSPECTIVE

BEN ASHWORTH

INTERVIEW BY JIM MURPHY

PHOTO BY JOHN FALLS

We started the Duty Now for the Future articles to honor those skateboarders building concrete for other skateboarders. These skaters are dedicated to building skate structures, day in and day out, where quality is job one and money doesn’t matter as much as the finished product. They are the ones carving the future for generations to come and we want to bring their stories to you in order to understand what goes into building those killer parks that you get to ride! We want to thank these skaters for all their sweat, hard work and dedication to skateboarding! They’re not afraid to lay yards of pool coping down, so get out there and grind it up!!! That is our Duty Now For The Future! D-E-V-O. We dedicate our Duty Now For the Future Retrospective to Bob 2 aka Bob Casale. R.I.P.

What is your favorite backyard/DIY spot to skate?

My favorite DIY spot would have to be The Run in Richmond, VA. It’s DIY in the purest sense. It wasn’t built to skate and this is not an evasive answer. It’s pointed and I’ll tell you why. It’s all about flow, exploring, intuition and the obvious answer at the core of what we do, and an interconnected web of overlapped activity that links our factions. I grew up outside of Richmond, VA, skating a halfpipe in a soybean field with Greg Aigner (his dad built a solid halfpipe for us from Thrasher ramp plans), and searching out whatever we could find to ride in the country east of Richmond along the James River. That equals a slick tar spot on a crushed gravel road and getting pulled behind a motorcycle, riding a drainage ditch, or building ramps, and increasing our circles daily from skating distance, biking distance, bus distance, car distance via whoever got a license first. At some point, Greg got a car. We told our parents we were crashing at one another’s houses, and we searched all night for a Richmond Mecca of Skateboarding simply called The Run. My crew at the time would all give radically different renditions of this history and I embrace and find that fascinating. The Run starts with hopping a fence and taking a hand-operated valet elevator, which is essentially a giant belt hooked to a motor with footholds that transports you up five or six floors of concrete parking decks via holes in the ceiling. This is super sketchy dangerous and exciting for a 15-year old. You pop out up top and it’s all downhill from there. I remember spiraling right forever with a pack of other skaters crashing into one another, ducking an exit gate, being spit into an alley, and then continuing downhill from street to sidewalk, to whatever hits were downhill from the next. Each time you find a different line down the mountain and it’s like cutting fresh powder because the city is an empty and open canvas. Here’s the crazy part. Flash forward 25 years, and I’m working on the warehouse bowl at FCDC and Jay Henry shows up. He camps out for a week helping out, just doing what we do. After a particularly long day, we were talking shit about how every city has a downhill skateable pinball machine or what I call skateable putt-putt. I think San Francisco has the Back-Nine, right? Anyhow, that’s how the conversation is going and Jay says, “I invented The Run! I busted my ankle and discovered it while rehabbing and riding my bike around exploring Richmond.” He continues to tell me that he and all the Virginia Beach Windsor Woods Fork Crew would have barbecues on top of the parking deck and use it as their own personal ski/skate resort. My point is that the city, backyard pools or any space can be the ultimate DIY spot. It’s all up to your perceptive abilities. The best-crafted DIY spots physically formed by our hands are a conglomerate of experiences injected into a mutant hybrid form.

Who is the one person that influenced you the most in building skateparks?

This little kid I handed a portable bandsaw to and said, “This is how you use it. Now go cut all of those fence posts down.” There is no single person. Every person who picks up a tool and starts making mistakes influences me the most in building skateparks. There is no past tense. It’s just duty now that informs the next step.

What’s your favorite skatepark now?

GSL is good. It’s coping is finally getting ground down to a more user-friendly lip. Crap and I set the Federal Stone way too far out and folks with baby wheels have had to just deal with it. I don’t think I have a favorite, but Green Skate Lab is always like coming home. So many of us poured so much time and energy into it and then moved on to other experiments. My favorite skateparks these days are the ones we make out of whatever is around us, whether with subtle modifications to the streets or just by rethinking them. I turn 40 years old next month and, honestly, I feel 16 again, searching out drainage ditches and empty fountains around DC and then I let that inform whatever I build. Malcolm X Park is one of DC’s best ready-mades with 15 or 20 pools that waterfall from one to the next. They are empty in the winter and there’s always some new random pack of kids skating, hanging out talking trash, people running around, shadow boxing, and just people being people running into one another. There’s that and the Paris banks under a bridge in Arlington, VA. John Falls, Tommy Alabama, this neighborhood kid and I put a parking curb up top, and, voila, skatepark. I can’t really answer this question, because my favorite skatepark changes week to week.

“I believe the biggest innovations have come out of adversity.”

What do you think has been the biggest innovation in skatepark building over the years?

I believe the biggest innovations have come out of adversity. The DIY ethic is where it’s at. I’ve spent a lot of time on skatepark steering committees trying to direct the bids to skater-owned and operated design/build companies that would be proud to ride what they build. All too often the bid goes to modular prefab companies who got in on the game and build awful, no flow, concrete deathtraps and called them skateparks. I spent a lot of time complaining about poorly designed parks before I realized that it’s the best thing that could have happened. As a response, the folks who really ride formed their own companies and started building amazing parks. It goes back underground into warehouses, backyards, under bridges and under lakes. Crews form, up and comer skateboarders jump on the team and learn how to build from the ground up in wood, ‘crete, steel, lava rock, or whatever and then move on and pass that knowledge to the next apprentice. There’s also the community that forms to push projects through. There are the ramp parties, bands, art shows, material donations, legal advice, etc. where everyone comes to the table with their own skill set to push it along. There’s an empowerment and pride that comes with that experience. When the community that built it shows up to ride, relax, and hang out, they have a sense of ownership and respect for the space and one another. You drop in and think, “I made this.” It’s incredibly empowering and ripples into other aspects of your life.

Where do you see park building going in the next ten years?

I don’t have a clue. I know where I would like it to go. My favorite spots are those that are allowed to evolve. You raise some money, build some and skate some. Different people come and go and the structure embodies all of those different sensibilities. It really comes down to who shows up to work. That’s the radius that the builder wants to ride, so that’s the radius that gets cut. I believe that the ideal model for park building is being realized in backyards, under bridges, and other non-spaces. That logic just hasn’t made its way into the public realm. Parks and recreation departments want a static blueprint for what they are going to get. Don’t get me wrong, I love some of these parks that are built by skater-owned companies, but they don’t allow room for the design to evolve the same way that DIY projects do (i.e. The Pond at Jaime’s, FCDC, Pat’s or the Cardinal Sins Bowl in Richmond, FDR, Skatopia, Tom Risser’s defunct Black Ramp in NC (with the skate-able outer beltway!), Burnside, Washington Street, etc. These are living breathing spaces that are constantly morphing, changing and evolving. There are multiple layers to this unfolding approach to building. You get a constant shape shifting form dictated by the sensibilities of the different builders and an environment where apprentices are allowed to fuck up and learn the value of failure. Those apprentices then move on and start their own projects and form their own communities. It’s like spreading seeds and there is constant cross-pollination.

Do you see skatepark building as a long-term trend?

I have no idea how many parks are being built right now, but if it is a trend that’s slowing down, I’m sure the underground scene won’t miss a beat.

What innovations have happened in skatepark building that have become obsolete and aren’t being built right now?

I skated Reading’s asphalt snake run with you (Jim Murphy), Pat Bodor, Psycho, Longboard Lee, and Jaime in P.A. and I loved it. I’ve always wanted to ride a mellow snake run through the woods, like Tom Risser’s Black Ramp in Charlotte with all the weird creatures in the woods. A skate track with a giant xylophone section would be fun. Weird skate trail winder wander…

What is your favorite pool shape and why?

The kidney is the ideal form, big, mellow, and mean. I always come back to it. Artisan built a mammoth kidney at Veteran’s park and I love it. I skated it with Mark Emond, Sam Boo and Packy two weeks ago. I hadn’t seen Mark in about 12 years. Dude was just cruising at speed through the other people riding as if they were just moving cones. Yeah, the kidney is my favorite. It’s the kidney, only if it is a freestanding structure. My favorite indoor shape is dictated by the structure it inhabits. If you have a certain floor plan for a warehouse space and you imagine a heavy snowstorm, then you have a basic idea of what I mean. That was the concept for FCDC. It had been a strip club before we moved in, so the first thing we did was build a wall ride and a transition up to the lip of the existing stage, and a transition on the DJ booth opposite the stage. Then we skated and let our lines determine where to build the next transition. Throw bands in the mix, with people bringing random coping, steel, billboards, and bulletproof glass and it really gets interesting. You get a self-realizing skateable creature.

Favorite pool coping?

My favorite coping is Federal Stone, but I’m also partial to logs, kegs, and experimental mixes. Didn’t Delaware Grant and Chad put flints in their coping? I remember scavenging Federal Stone coping for GSL with Terri, Crap, Andy Neal and Jaime. That car was so f-ed up and bottomed out from dragging that coping around.

What is the one thing that hasn’t been built to skate yet that you’d like to build?

It’s top secret. Jaime and I would have to kill you if I told you. What I can share is that I’m interested in microbes or enlarging microorganisms to a skateable size, and slicing them long ways as you would a kidney bean to get a kidney pool, but then painting it to be viewed from outer space, so you can skate it or view it as a work of art with satellite imagery. There is no one thing. I’ve got all sorts of ideas. I’m looking to everyone slinging concrete under bridges, building behind strip malls and all the places between just figuring it out. My job is just to encourage them and say, “Why not?”

Who is on your crew? 

Everyone who is willing, and I’m on their crews as much as they are on mine, working shoulder to shoulder generating space. I’ve been working with John Falls, Tom Ashcraft, of WorkingMan Collective, Peter and Alisha of Albus Cavus, John Clinton, and Mike Mascelli on BridgeSpot in DC and am about to build a bowl for an event at the Kennedy Center with Jason Moran, Dave Mutarelli, Devin McGuire, Wes Meadows and whatever community forms. There’s a constant throwing around of ideas and trying to help one another realize our collective vision. I’m envisioning the Kennedy Center bowl as a symbiotic organism attached to the exterior facade and is part of a creative exchange with Jazz musician Jason Moran. He developed a similar version at SF Jazz in 2013. It seems an exercise exploring the creative parallels of Jazz and skateboarding. Cynthia Connolly wants to bring people over to square dance and play bluegrass. Why not?

Anyone you want to thank?

ECRW, Workingman Collective, Albus Cavus, FCDC crew, Artisan, all the folks that ever came through Jaime’s, and FCDC, and the ones that let us crash at your spaces. The underground is alive, well and birthing new forms.

What is your Duty Now for the Future?

I’m looking at the up and comers struggling and building away making a mess. My duty is to encourage them and say, “Why not? Let’s see what happens.” Have I said “Why Not?” enough? I blame Devin McGuire. Whenever I said, “What if we…?” He would say, “Why not?”

DUTYNOWRETROSPECTIVE-13-14-ASHWORTH

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