Photo by Mike Cincironi
Get out with your skateboard-flipping sissy street style; Bieringville is for old-school skaters who hunger for vertiginous heights.
These guys follow the waning sun to a place on James Island every day to sacrifice their bodies at the altar of the Vertical Rush. The art of vert skating is as much knowing how to survive as it is mastering gravity-defying motion on a board with four wheels. Avid skaters will do virtually anything for the fix.
"Skating had a lot to do with me and my wife's separation," explained Jimmy Leaphart, 29, one of the Beiringville locals and an accomplished skater who has competed internationally. He quit his job and moved to Charleston from Columbia eight months ago to be closer to Beiringville.
David Wagner, 28, better known as Roller Dave, moved to Charleston from Florida to skate. The entire Beiringville crew, known as the Grind Syndicate, has made supreme sacrifices to be able to skate - all for a sport that's dangerous as hell and holds few financial rewards.
A skater with health insurance is a rare bird; when Chris Chavis broke his arm at Beiringville he fell into an $8,000 debt which, he said, "I'm paying off a bit at a time - a very little bit at a time."
Family members generally think their skating son/brother/husband has lost his mind, and fire questions like, "You can't skate forever. What are you going to do with your life?"
Leaphart's standard reply to this dribble is, "I'm gonna do what I do until I can't."
SKATEBOARDING IS NOT A CRIME
The skateboard scene began in California sometime in the 1960s. By the mid-1970s, skate parks had popped up across the country, but the phenomenon was relatively short-lived. The parks began closing in the early 80s due to skyrocketing insurance fees.
Skating fell out of favor for a short time, but came back reinvigorated in an entirely new style known as street skating. Old-school skaters, who learned to skate pools and ramps, continued to skate at private locations, but skating increasingly became dominated by the newer street style.
Using urban props like trash cans, benches, steps and metal hand rails, these younger skate rats tore it up with new tricks. While a few vert skaters adopted the street style, a rift gradually developed in the 1980s between street and vert skaters.
Leaphart summed it up like this. "There's a dissing of each other. Most guys do one or the other."
Although street skating is the dominant mode, vert skating is making a gradual comeback, especially in Europe, where state-sponsored skate parks in Denmark, Holland and Germany have helped the sport along. Last year, some 18,000 people attended the World Cup in Europe.
From its inception, skateboarding has been associated with alternative culture and later the punk scene. Many cities have passed ordinances prohibiting skateboarding; universities and malls have a particularly bad attitude about skaters.
"Skate boarders are more ostracized than Harley gangs. I've been in Daytona where they've threatened to take me to jail for skating on the street. Police harassment stories of skateboarders are a dime a dozen," Leaphart said.
the eighth wonder
of the world
What's the attraction?
Speed. Flight. Grace. Acrobatics and a spirit of "thrash." Like a freak apparition, it's one of those things you can't explain.
A skater must have the courage to try what is possible, and the intelligence to recognize what is stupid and reckless. Skating is extreme, shattering reality into fractions of a second where every movement has finality.
Like a gymnast, the skater's body is flexible and graceful, but not overly muscular. Generally, skaters are not too tall, as height reduces flexibility and increases the center of gravity. Although skaters appear to glide effortlessly up a vertical wall, they have developed massive leg strength which allows them to briefly vanquish gravity.
"At the level I'm at, if I don't make a trick, I die," explained Leaphart, with some hyperbole. "My driving force is the adrenaline rush."
Vert skating requires extreme sacrifices in time and energy. The crux of the problem is finding or, more likely, building a vertical place to skate, a passion demanding more effort than finding a mountain to ski or a wave to surf.
The Beiringville bowl, as far as anyone knows, is the largest outdoor wood bowl in the world. For smoothness of transition, size and shape, it is unparalleled in the region. Leaphart pronounced it, "The eighth wonder of the world. I've traveled the world skating and it's one of the best things I've ever skated."
The 10-foot deep bowl is named after Hank Beiring, on whose property the elaborate construct now sits. The bowl was designed and built for an indoor skate park, the Hanger, which was open for nearly three years on Ashley-Phosphate Road in North Charleston.
Richard and Nancy Moore, former owners of the Hanger, commissioned Tim Paine to construct many its facilities. Paine, one of the world's preeminent ramp builders (who is currently in Taiwan building a ramp for ESPN) said the Hanger bowl is one of his favorites.
"I asked him what he wanted to build, and gave him free reign to do what he wanted, which is unusual," Moore said.
The lumber alone for the Hanger cost over $20,000, but the skate park never turned a profit. High insurance costs and the dominance of street style in skateboarding forced the Moores to announce in 1993 that the Hanger would close.
Undaunted, the skaters rallied. Beiring dropped $500 to buy the Hanger material. Over the next two years, a dozen dedicated skate rats dug deep in their pockets to rebuild the bowl.
Roller Dave moved to Charleston after graduating college in Gainesville so as to skate the Hanger regularly. Working odd jobs and living a humble existence, his most important expense was the $50 monthly membership fee for the skate park.
When the Hanger closed, Roller Dave was down with moving the bowl to Beiring's house. He said, "We told anyone who wanted to be involved in rebuilding the bowl, The initiation fee is $100 or take your weak ass back home.'"
Moving the bowl wasn't the hardest part; putting it back together was. They would need a foundation and a deck, which meant more money for lumber.
Six months after the Hanger closed the beast was finally ready to skate, but not as originally intended. "The bowl was designed to have three layers, but the third layer was masonite, and you can't use that outside," Beiring said.
Over the next year, the Grind Syndicate skated a bowl that was under constant assault by the elements. "We were continually replacing pieces of the second layer," Leaphart said.
By the fall of 1994 some had lost faith that the bowl could be properly restored to its original condition and had grown tired of donating funds. In September, when Leaphart returned from competing in Europe, he was dismayed by the condition of the bowl. A long period of rain had severely lowered the quality of the ride.
But after spending roughly $10,000 over the last two years and untold hours of toil, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Roller Dave summed up the prevailing optimistic attitude with, "As long as the will is there, it can be done."
For Beiring, life with nothing to skate is unfathomable, but he admits the bowl has been an economic strain on everyone. "We're paying the loan back, but it's taken a lot to squeeze the money out of everybody."
A predictable source of friction has been people dropping by to skate without contributing to the fund. Beiring does not turn anyone away, but he won't hesitate to ask for a few dollars.
Even among the core group there have been disputes." There are fights about who contributed the most," Roller Dave explained. "We are a family, fights happen, but then someone says, Just shut-up and skate,' and then it's okay."
Visitors are welcome and encouraged to skate Beiringville, but be
prepared to make a small contribution.
Call 599-3114 for information.
Call 599-3114 for information.
David "Roller Dave" Wagner
Photos by Amy Carter
© Copyright by POINT, 1995
Last modified 6/9/95