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15 Apr 2022

Blood Sweat & Trowels: Goat Pen DIY

An integral element in the BMX bloodline.

Intro and photos by Rob Dolecki - Story by Seamus Mckeon | Originally published in DIG issue #2021

I know, I’m stating the obvious: DIY is by no means a new concept in BMX. It was essentially founded on this principle, back when a young teenager named Scott Breithaupt organized the first legit BMX race at vacant dirt lot in Long Beach, California, in 1970, and sparked the raging inferno that we call BMX today. Since then, everything from trails, to backyard wood ramps, to full-on parks, to media of all types, to bike companies... you name it; the DIY ethos has always been, and will continue to be, an integral element in the BMX bloodline.

Yet, despite concrete riding pioneers like John Palfreyman (who slashed both empty pools and pool poacher’s car tires with the true Dogtown crew in ’75) and Jeff Watson (who ripped hips and full pipes at southern California concrete parks with his non-mark-making red tires in the early ’80s), DIY concrete terrain never seemed to take root in bike riding. There have been some outliers, of course, such as the occasional random barrier mods made, a couple of pro concrete skatepark builders like Steve Hare from Canada and Chris “Baboon” Volkwine, and a small handful of full concrete builds like The Spot in London. But for the most part, DIY spots of the concrete nature haven’t really been much of a thing in BMX.

Times are changing. More and more concrete creations by bikers have been popping up in the wild over the last few years, like Clint Reynolds’ compound in New York and the Goat Pen in North Carolina. Both are as legit as it gets, and have a dedicated group of builders/shredders behind each. While not even close to the magnitude in size or accomplishment of either of the aforementioned, a dinky local DIY in Philadelphia called 9th and Poplar is also featured in the following pages. I’ve personally become a part of the ongoing progress there, so there is a little bit (a lot?) of bias with its inclusion here (though, it’s the only one featured not located on private land).

Unlike using other types of materials like dirt or wood, once concrete is poured correctly, there’s minimum to no maintenance required from that day onward. That is, if all the necessary prep work is done prior to - or occasionally on - pour day. It goes way beyond mixing up a few bags of substandard concrete and using a broken 2x4 to float some mud. It’s about proper knowledge, proper tools, and proper timing. It requires the correct mix either trucked in or mixed by hand to the proper ratios, and finished to perfection. That can really only occur if the skill and art of concrete finishing is studied, learned, and applied by those willing to create something better than a turd pile. Basically, it means becoming a concrete nerd (which I’m guilty of).

Just like the corner police at trails, those aesthetics resulting from taking the time to learn the skill and art of making a smooth and indestructible surface finish are worth it, on many levels. Nailing all those elements can result in a piece to be proud of, and last a lifetime. Or at least until the city comes and rips out all your hard work!

The following DIY spots to be featured hereare adhering to that process to a T. First up is Seamus Mckeon and the Goatpen, and there's be more to follow in over the coming weeks. Now go grab that mini pool trowel and get at it. -RD

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THE STORY BEHIND THE GOAT PEN

Mooresville, NC. Race City USA. Home of the bustling NASCAR industry, Rick Flair, and the Goatpen. Nestled between lush farmland and fields of cattle lies our sacred oasis, a place of refuge for asylum-seeking concrete connoisseurs and good-timing folk alike. We’re hidden deep in the thick Carolina Kudzu, and there is no address. There are only landmarks and context clues. If you see the cows you’ve gone too far. This overgrown sliver of land is an ongoing experiment on the communal power of strength in numbers and tireless dedication. But we’ll get to that. How the hell did we end up with a private concrete skatepark?

Some fifteen years ago, in my early teens, my parents purchased two acres of land and an old body shop to house equipment and supplies for their concrete foundation business. If I’d only known then what I know now. At that point I couldn’t be bothered to care about anything past where I’m riding next and who I could make out with soonest. My ragtag friends and I swiftly colonized the mostly empty building and filled it with all the ramps we could construct, a lot of the wood pilfered right under my parents nose. Parties ensued. I really skinned my teeth out there. Early experiences with weed, beer, debauchery, and sessions lasting into the mornings nearly drove my parents to late-term adoption.

I had a video premiere there once. We had a bouncer checking IDs, and over 200 people came. Regardless of precautions taken, lots of underage drinking went on. Myself included. I find it funny looking back now; me holed up behind a chicken coop swigging cheap beers exactly where the skatepark sits now. This area housed our two goats, one of which had three legs. He was aptly named “Third Gear”, and then years later the spot would appropriately adopt its locational namesake. (Fun fact, at first we called it the Mouse Trap until we realized that a spot with the same name already existed).

Anyway, I had just taken my last gulp of cheap beer and was ready to return to the crowd of drunken animals when I hear the scream of a teenaged young man bawling and running up the driveway. He’s got blood all over his face... I’ve never seen a place clear so fast. I kid you not, in a matter of a minute all 200 people hiked, biked, and motored up the driveway. I circle the building to find only my parents, fists clenched and pacing. My blushing drunken demeanor did nothing to uplift their moods. The bloody teenager, when asked by mom to not smoke in the building, responded with a “Who the fuck are you?” and shoved her on his way past. He might have made it two more paces before his nose met my dads chapped Irish fist. Party’s over. Things calmed down after that.

I spent a wayward decade or so outside my hometown, traveling and studying skateparks and DIY builds alike. My comrades and I had executed a couple small builds, some successful and some complete flops. A true moment of clarity struck me under a bridge in Atlanta. I had snuck to a secret DIY at 6am (the official hour of BMX sessions at DIY spots) in hopes to catch a few laps. Upon arriving, the place left me utterly baffled. 10 years of all hand mixed concrete work spanned the grounds and climbed the pillars. I need this in my life NOW. I don’t need to beg others for approval or inclusivity. I need my own. My epiphany timed almost comedically with the sale of my parents company. In its wake, piles of rebar, lumber, and equipment were left at the Goatpen to die. I knew back home we had the hands, a few homies with experience in the skatepark industry, and my family’s staggering support. I just needed to give myself over to this process. I high-tailed my ass back to the Carolinas.

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Seamus knows all too well that it’s a perpetual learning process, both with pouring concrete and riding it. He’s got both down well at this point, to say the least.

“You’re always on the concrete's time, and she is a fickle beast."

- Seamus Mckeon

I knew (even without really knowing how to do any of the work) that my friends and I could create a Mecca the likes of which have never been duplicated. A cooperative and inviting atmosphere has always been the goal. Another cardinal driving force for me is setting an example that skater/biker beef is a tired, archaic, bullshit sentiment that has never existed in my circle. We can get twice as much done together.

And boy do we ever have an eclectic crew. Ex-cons and doctors stack rubble side by side. People of all creeds, sects, and backgrounds are never above performing any number of menial, back breaking tasks with a smile. I’ve always considered the spot to be a piece of currency in a way. If we can be welcoming and inviting to all, then maybe the same will be the case when we wind up in your town. Never empty-handed of course. Libations are protocol and an unwritten rule for any visitor to a new locale. If you don’t want us there, that’s fine too. If you built it, it’s your spot/your rules.

If I’ve learned anything about myself through all this, it’s that I have a serious fucking case of ants in my pants. In some ways, it’s pushed the project along at rapid rates. On the other hand, my internal race to some kind of finish line has led to numerous revisions and re-do’s. We do it nice ‘cause we do it twice. I’ve knocked over a freshly stacked and filled cinder block wall, errantly framed major sections of wooden forms, added and removed too much dirt in some sections 3 times, dug trenches for no reason, miscalculated and forgotten steps more than I’d like to remember. We’ve even jack-hammered out and re-poured an entire hip. There are always friends around to remind me just how much I fucked up, but they’re also right there with me to help make things right. It has to be right.

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There was never any intention to entertain a “build a little, ride a little” methodology to the project. Armed with no more than a rough sketched plan, we just kept stacking and aimed for a full-blown park. Once walls started to wrap the perimeter and dirt started to look like ramps, more and more people of skill and knowledge joined up and provided much-needed technical affirmation and labor. More grunt workers made themselves present. Donations started coming in! The army was growing and my internal aggression to attack this project festered and pounded at the pits of my gut.

Rapidly, every other aspect of my life took a back seat to progress. Balance be damned. Building, printing shirts to raise money, hunting sponsorship, and stealing materials dominated and undoubtedly damaged my relationships, bank account, riding schedule, and sanity. This place is no longer a part of me, it has devoured me. It would require every eon of energy and time I can give. This place is my punching bag, shrink, and biggest critic. I come out here a lot just to sit and think. Because of this big picture approach I signed us up for, it would take years before the fruits of our labor were anywhere in sight. I’ve endured a lot of sleeplessness, uncertainty, and blind hope that shit would line up and work out. Nevertheless, we pressed forward.

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This ain’t no (half) pipe dream. Seamus McKeon, ripping out of his own masterpiece.

"There was never any intention to entertain a 'build a little, ride a little' methodology to the project. Armed with no more than a rough sketched plan, we just kept stacking and aimed for a full-blown park."

- Seamus Mckeon

Any time a work day is scheduled, I am utterly flattered by the sheer amount of bodies that show out. I’m completely riddled with anxiety leading up to pour days. We usually still have prep work to do minutes before the truck arrives. Hopefully enough skilled veterans show up. The concrete truck usually doesn’t even confirm delivery until the morning of! My worries are always alleviated the night before, when the tents of concrete champions from far and wide speckle the property like the ants that reside in my pants. Concrete people are animals. With hardly any reward more than the promise of a full belly and a cold beer perpetually within reach, they will work from sun up until the job is done. Sun beating on their backs, rain drenching their boots, you’d be hard pressed to hear a complaint. Mom makes a huge spread for lunch, sis gets a keg, dad and brother are finishing concrete, I’m running around like a complete maniac.

I’m not sure what karmic action I exuded into the universe to deserve it, but you can almost guarantee some act of god will happen either right before or during our pours. Rain, sleet, hail, snow, we’ve worked through it all. We’ve had an almost dried, nearly finished seven foot-tall quarter pipe collapse on us. It was so hot that day and the rapidly drying concrete almost forced us to chalk that entire pour up as a loss. You’re always on the concretes' time, and she is a fickle beast. We pulled that pour out of our asses. Always do. That is still our lumpiest quarter and we wear the bumps like a badge of honor. The clouds always seem to part just in time. As we streamline our methods, each pour is executed with less hiccups than the last. I’m usually completely bewildered and in shock by the end of the day wondering how the hell we pull this off.

The tomfoolery that follows is nothing short of legendary. As soon as the fresh pour is tucked into its plastic blanket to cure for the night, an orchestra of cans crack open in unison. Boards and bikes converge to the indoor mini ramp and satellite dish (both donated) on premises. Bonfires roar. The grill does too. Trowels are used as spatulas and skateboard decks for serving dishes. Laughs and howls echo to the heavens. Music blares. Outlaw country tends to dominate the speaker. I man the printing press late into the night until I’m too cross-eyed to continue. Making sure that every hard worker can exchange their concrete encrusted t-shirt with a fresh one is imperative. I am so humbled. I’m not sure I’ll ever be more honored and proud than on days like these.

The premises look like a frat house the next morning. Unconscious bodies line the ramp, the dusty floors, or wherever final resting place they could crawl to. As people come to, heads a-pounding, I’ve usually already unwrapped our plastic coated Christmas present and can do little more than stare and swear in relief and pride. We had Christmas five times last year.

As it stands now, we technically have an entire bowl to ride. The initial scope of work called for the entire layout to be a snaking, continuous flowing course with no section cordoned off to its own exclusivity. The decision to close in our first phase of work and change the plans was unanimously made without me while I was out of town. Kind of the way everyone talks about their boss when he’s not around. But I’m nobody’s boss out here. I might be a bit grandiose and maybe a touch neurotic, but you can’t say I’m not determined. I’m glad decisions can be made without me. We all need to get out of our own way sometimes. The decision was justified. We needed something to ride after three torturously teasing years of labor. I didn’t take much convincing. - Seamus Mckeon

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