Six hundred pounds of TNT and the upper ring of the Pontiac Silverdome imploded into dust on the morning of December 4, 2017.
For four years, the 93,000-capacity stadium had stood derelict after an illustrious history that had seen it host the Super Bowl, the 1994 World Cup, WrestleMania, Elvis Presley and even the Pope. The 2001 departure of the Detroit Lions brought about the beginning of the end for an arena treasured by so many in Michigan and across the United States.
However, in its final years, it had become one of many examples of an abandoned location to host sporting pioneers and adventure athletes. From BMX riders, to climbers and general urban explorers, it was a site steeped in sporting history and tradition right until the explosives were laid.
The Silverdome is far from an isolated example. Abandoned sites across the world have become playgrounds for all manner of adventure disciplines and especially those birthed by the streets and urbanisation.
Along with the growth of social media and the spread of ‘extreme’ sports, it is a trend of great meaning as well as excitement. Skateboarders and scooter riders rushing through hollowed buildings and stadia, adds a distinctly modern touch to locations left behind by their era.
They also provide some of the rawest obstacles, challenges and settings for a great deal of adventure sports that simply aren’t achievable in skateparks, motocross courses and wave pools specifically purposed. It does, after all, firmly place the word ‘adventure’ in adventure sports.
And, as means of celebrating the very literal new grounds they cover, it is only befitting to look at some of the spots given rejuvenation and new life not by funding but sport.
Victorian storm drain – wakeboarding
Beneath the streets of Sheffield, northern England, are a series of cavernous storm drains from the Victorian period that became a playground for wakeboarders in July 2016. As part of a project by Salt Street Productions, Josh Tomlinson and Brad Beech explored the brick-built arches known as ‘The Megatron.’
The athletes skimmed along 19th century railings, parted the dark waters and ducked and dived beneath the structures in an enthralling short film. It also serves as a rare but increasingly common example of abandoned-location sports on water.
Wakeboarders aren’t alone in taking to the labyrinthine drains, however, with hikers and rafters also making the journey from the city centre to the river Don.
Abandoned New Jersey mine – mountain biking
Few adventure sports boast athletes with the tenacity and fortitude of mountain biking, and that was no more apparent than when a group of Red Bull athletes took on an abandoned New Jersey mine in 2016. Aaron Chase showed his downhill prowess across a number of terrains with free rein over the site.
Shot from an adrenaline-fuelled first person perspective, Chase is seen traversing the old mine building itself, often on his back wheel, before heading for the surrounding woodland. A seemingly innocuous opening in the geology quickly became a remarkable stunt under boulders, archaic ladders and out through the smallest of chasms.
At the hands of a man who descended a mountain without his chain and brakes, there was always going to be fireworks.
Abandoned ship in Lanzarote – slacklining
When you watch slacklining for the very first time, you’re instantly draw in and no more so when performed on an abandoned ship. Early 2018 saw a group of daredevils try out their somersaults and flips across lines connecting the ship to shore, as well as across its flooded hull.
Performed on the rusting vessel, the group of friends stayed the night after removing rigging to prepare for their stunt. As one of the performers, Markus Casutt, aptly put it: “All in all, this is the most unique slackline I have ever seen rigged,” and all on an abandoned gem.
It’s a unique feat also achieved, in part, by Ryan Paul Robinson who slacklined his way to the geologically abandoned - an infamous 105-foot dolerite formation known as the Moai Tower - for his YouTube channel.
And, like many of his fellow examples, social media and technology have been crucial in spreading the trend. Products like LifeProof’s FRE phone case prove a perfect supporting act with its water proof, dirt proof, snow proof and bounce proof qualities making ever-present smart phones as durable as their users.
With the shots captured and the relationship with social media carrying equal importance to the site and skills, it exemplifies technology’s vital role and no more so than in the unpredictability of abandoned places.
DIY skate parks in Sydney – skateboarding
The use of abandoned locations for adventure sports aren’t simply reserved to one-off stunts, as exemplified by a growing trend in New South Wales. Skateboarding is one of Australia’s most popular sports and Sydney has recently bore witness to a rise in ‘DIY skate parks’ in the unlikeliest of locations.
Dotted around the northern beaches, abandoned schools and factories are converted into bowls, vert ramps and kickers with ‘Portside’ proving the most famous. The location’s harsh and rougher nature sees it marry well to the origins of skating and its relationship with an urban lifestyle.
DIY skate parks are also common across the United States, too, with Rich Gilligan’s book on the sensation only helping to spread its appeal and acknowledgement.
Pontiac Silverdome – BMX
Just two years prior to its demolition, Red Bull took BMX rider Tyler Fernengel to the Silverdome for the site’s most exhilarating sporting display since its closure. The Detroit native flipped down stairwells, glided past turnstiles and through booths that once held A-list celebrities, all overlooking the peeling pitch below.
A number of obstacles were constructed for the video, including a breath-taking ramp stunt that saw Fernengel finish his pursuit in the very centre of the arena. Given its jarring demolition since, it’s an incredibly poignant snapshot into a playground of sport during both its golden age and final months.
Winter sports facilities in Sarajevo – street luge
Across the Balkan nation of Bosnia and Herzegovina are a series of decaying winter sports facilities that were left to rot upon the dissolution of Yugoslavia and the conflict that followed. Now that peace has returned to the region, however, adventure sport has found its place in the empty hotels and blighted ski jumps.
Above all the apparatus left available, the old bobsleigh course has proven particularly popular and especially with street luge fanatics. Given the course’s atrophy since the 1980s, users have taken it for the concrete structure it is and have rocketed down its vicious bends on their backs in the summer heat, as opposed to the winter snow.
Moreover, one of the abandoned hotels at the resort was masterfully transformed into a freestyle skiing paradise for Chris Laker and Karl Fostvedt.
Miami Marine Stadium – free-running
The aforementioned Silverdome isn’t the only abandoned arena continuing to house sport beyond its dereliction. The idyllic Miami Marine Stadium has also seen adventure athletes, and especially free-runners, make the pilgrimage.
Once the world’s only stadium designed for boat races, YouTuber ‘Parkourplayhouse’ glided through the graffiti-clad structure with ease and supreme athleticism. The video appropriately finished with him summiting the unique hyperbolic-paraboloid roof and looking out across the famous city that turned its back on it.
This particular instance also raised an important message surrounding the phenomenon with the explorer in question raising awareness for the stadium’s rejuvenation. It was a campaign excitingly realised in 2016 with the return of the annual boat show.
Orlando Power Station – bungee jumping
Perhaps one of the last places you’d expect adventure sports would be an abandoned power station but that’s exactly the case in South Africa. Decommissioned in 1998, the two cooling towers have since become the largest mural in the country and a site for bungee jumping and BASE jumping.
A remarkably precarious platform has been built between the two structures with adrenaline junkies paying for the 100-metre jump. The admirable repurposing of the site has also seen it become a business centre and, on occasions, host to zip-lining, pendulum swinging, SCAD falling and even rap jumping.
Abandonment, by definition, describes something as deserted or left behind and for many, that’s how a lot of old sporting venues and social sites remain. For a swelling wave of adventure athletes, however, these ‘abandoned’ locations are spaces waiting to be filled with creativity and talent.
Whether grinding down a railing, flipping upon a tight rope or hurtling to the ground at 100mph, the idea that sport can be found anywhere, really is no joke.