Pivot with a Purpose

Skaters overcome serious obstacles to turn boards into art 

Jonathan Caple is reimagining the skateboard, inspiring a local venue to celebrate the art form.
Photo by Rachel Pressley

In 2001, Jonathan Caple was 28 and working as a signmaker in Virginia. But his true passion was skateboarding. He loved the adrenaline rush, soaring down steps on four wheels and half an inch of wood. “I was a good skater,” he remembers. So good, sponsors came to him. 

One weekend, Caple and his buddies set out on a road trip to Exodus Skatepark in Ocean City, Maryland. On the way, the driver lost control of his car and collided head on with a truck pulling a horse trailer. 

“It broke my left leg and put me in a coma for about six weeks,” says Caple, who also suffered a traumatic brain injury. “I was in shock trauma for 13 days and the hospital for 73.”

When Caple woke up, he couldn’t think or move like he once did. He lost his sponsorships, his job, and his house. Eventually, out of the darkness, he came to a revelation: If he couldn’t ride skateboards, he would design them. 

Caple now lives in Columbus, near Tryon, where he paints skate decks. Leaning into his graphic-design background — which includes two years of study at Pensacola Christian College — Caple mocks up elephant motifs, Taj Mahal scenes, and swirling patterns via computer software. He then switches to the plotter, which cuts vinyl shapes, and later adds a splash of color with spray paint. 

The result is bright, bold, and a little offbeat. One cobalt-blue board is wrapped in spider webs and the phrase “Finish what you started.” Another depicts a little girl being carried away by balloons. “I want my art to be vibrant,” says Caple, “not dull and boring.”

A collection of Caple’s skateboard art.
Photo by Rachel Pressley

Though Caple has painted functional decks in the past, most of his pieces use second-hand boards that are too cracked or worn for riding. This upcycling is what inspired The Skateboard: Re-Purposed, an exhibit at Tryon Fine Arts Center (TFAC). 

“Jonathan was the initial impetus [for the show],” explains Debra Torrence, marketing coordinator with TFAC. “But after copious research, we were struck by how clever and beautiful repurposed skateboards are as art.” 

The exhibit features Caple alongside six other creatives who have reimagined skateboards into extraordinary pieces. Case in point: Folke Duncker, a German skater who creates funky lounge chairs. 

There’s also Nicholas Harding, an English skater who makes small, joyful sculptures out of decks. Like Caple, Harding turned to art after a medical emergency — in this case, complete paralysis from Guillain-Barré Syndrome. Now in recovery, he creates with hopes of one day riding again. 

Though Caple has accepted that his skating days are over, he never stops thinking about the sport. 

“I’ll see a rail I want to ride or a set of stairs I want to jump down,” says Caple. “It sucks not being able to ride. But I’ll always be connected to skateboarding.”

The Skateboard: Re-Purposed runs through Friday, July 22. Tryon Fine Arts Center (34 Melrose Ave.) is open Tuesday through Friday, 10am-4pm, and for events (828-859-8322, tryonarts.org).

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