Some things are just as they appear. Others, like certain art, require a closer look.
Cam Carrithers, 39, a longtime skateboarder living in Carrboro, recently figured out his own interpretation of a newer piece of Chapel Hill public art – and it’s helped him and a few of his friends to make some art of their own.
Last year, a long, metal sculpture called “Exhale” – created by artist Mikyoung Kim – opened to the public on the 140 West Franklin Plaza. Ever since, people have been guessing the meaning behind it.
Carrithers saw it often as he rode the bus between Chapel Hill and Carrboro.
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“I kept wondering what it was,” he said. “Then it hit me: It’s a wave.”
Even though he’s lived in the area for years now, Carrithers grew up moving around a lot as a kid, and spent a lot of time as a kid surfing on the East and West coasts.
The sculpture mists from time to time, turning and reflecting colors like blue and purple. It easily calls to mind an ocean scene if someone’s looking for one, especially at night.
“It’s a good wave,” he said. “Hollow. Formed well.”
Carrithers emailed the artist, asking if he was right. But the response, he said, was a little disappointing.
“It said something along the lines of, ‘Oh, it’s open to interpretation. Whatever.’”
He decided to use his other passion, photography, to prove his point.
An alumni of UNC’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication, he started Sidewalk Digital Media in 2003, and has been creating videos and photos with it ever since.
He got together a couple of his friends to create shots of them “surfing” the sculpture – on their skateboards.
One of them was Nicholas Shear, 19, from Durham. Shear’s been skateboarding at the Chapel Hill skate park since he was 10, where he met Carrithers.
Carrithers asked him to be a part of his little project, he said, because Shear was a good friend, a good kid and it was an opportunity to try out some skateboards Shear was making as part of his own woodworking service, Knick on Wood.
They each took a turn to create a photo illusion of themselves “surfing” the wave: Approaching from the sidewalk, coming down and carving into the wave’s pocket, before riding out. Not skating on the metal, just rolling alongside it and getting a feeling.
Carrithers posted the pictures on Facebook.
“A lot of my friends here have seen it and said, ‘Where is that? Dude, I wanna go there!’” he said. “Then they realize it’s right there in front of them.”
“It seems to have sparked the creativity of a lot of people,” Shear said.
A giant skate park
Mike Sinclair grew up skateboarding around Chapel Hill and Durham in the 1980s and ’90s. He moved west to San Diego, where he works as a director of marketing at Tum Yeto, a skateboard manufacturing company. He also manages pro-skaters.
In the mid-’90s, Sinclair was arrested on UNC’s campus for skateboarding around Kenan stadium.
“I ended up going to Raleigh a lot more after that,” Sinclair said. “Get into a little bigger town, where you weren’t always running into the same cops.”
Chapel Hill wasn’t always such a friendly skateboarding community as it is today, he said.
Today, he comes back to the area every chance he gets. And not just for friends and family.
“There’s a ton of great spots (to skate),” Sinclair said. “The scene back here is really good now.”
Shear said he still goes to the Chapel Hill Skate Park every chance he gets. And there are more people there when he goes now than when he started a decade ago.
But downtown Chapel Hill really lends itself to street skating, he said.
“The overall design of the town is basically a giant skate park,” Shear said. “Skateboarders like to ride curbs, railways, ramps, everywhere. The vibe of the city just completely lends itself to the sport.”
“There’s a lot of freedom in it,” he added. “Doing tricks in your own way, and getting through obstacles creatively.”
To Carrithers, surfing and skateboarding have an important connection. He loved both growing up, he said, and each helped him get better at the other.
“Skateboarding started because there were no waves one day,” Carrithers said.
“But today, all the things being done on skateboards are being done in the ocean,” he said. “And surfing created skateboarding, so it’s come full circle.”
Carrithers took the shots he and his friends took and sent them to the artist, sharing his idea about it being a wave again.
This time, he didn’t get a response.
“It’s a great piece of art either way,” he said. “It’s a cool thing to have here.”