THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH
Three weeks ago, the parking lot of the Flow Skatepark looked like the site of an archaeological dig. Mounds of dirt covered the asphalt surface, and shovels lay strewn about.
Since then, the piles have evolved into specifically crafted hills built for one main purpose: the Gatorade Free Flow Tour's stop in central Ohio.
The summer tour travels the country seeking the best amateur skateboarders and BMX riders younger than 21. It has been a staple in the action-sports community since 2005. This is the tour's third stop in Columbus in as many years, a two-day stay with park events in the skate and BMX disciplines, and a BMX dirt event for the first time.
A total of 21 skate parks are on the tour this summer.
Before the skateboarders drop in on Sunday, the Flow will debut its dirt-covered jewel today for the first runs of live competition. The dirt event - in which bikers ride a course made of jumps and perform high-flying tricks - made its first appearance on the tour in 2010. It's still rare among tour stops, with only three parks offering the event this year.
"We're one of the top parks in the country, and this is something we could do to give a little back to everybody who rides here," Billingsley said.
The temporary dirt track includes a half-dozen 6-foot jumps that took two weeks to build. Construction was hampered because of heavy rains that washed away days of work before Billingsley and his crew invested in several giant tarps.
The dirt event means central Ohio will be sending more qualifiers to the national finals at the end of the tour. The top finisher in each regional event wins a trip to the finals.
The dirt track also means a little less traveling for competitors such as Spencer Scott. The 17-year-old from Alexandria is back last year, when he had to go a bit farther to ride.
Springboro was the nearest host of dirt competition, which Scott prefers over park events. In park contests, riders are judged on tricks they perform while riding through the skate park and its rails, gaps and ramps. Scott's bag of tricks is much deeper if he's riding dirt.
"It's more my style," he said, adding that he's partial to tricks performed in the air as opposed to those on the ground.
Scott placed fifth last year but - because of the lack of dirt stops on the tour and because other riders ahead of him couldn't make the trip - he moved on to the finals in Salt Lake City.
Scott, who has competed in BMX for only a few years, said he feels a lot better about the competition this year.
"I actually know I can make it over the jumps this year," he joked.
Scott is shooting for a return to the finals, Aug. 13-14 in Portland, Ore. The skateboard winners will meet Sept. 10-11 in Salt Lake City.
As for the tons of dirt currently calling the Flow's parking lot home, the jumps will stick around through the summer. Once the weather starts to turn, Billingsley and some helpers will begin the dismantling process with hopes of erecting the 100-by-200 foot spectacle again next year.