I’m a little surprised the “kids” weren’t more hostile. Some “old” guy comes around with a tape recorder and a camera asking questions about skate culture — they probably thought I was a perv. But they were great; John (18, below left), Sarah (16) and Jason (16) took the time to fill me in on what it’s like to hang at Ontario’s largest skateboard park and to be a part of Toronto’s well-established skateboard culture.
Although it’s not complete — there’s a bowl going in and hopefully some lighting — Beach Skateboard Park opened on October 2 at Coxwell Avenue and Lake Shore Boulevard East. The cement slopes, steps, ramps and railings are proxies for street skating challenges: “That piece there is like Commerce Court,” says John, directing my gaze, “and that over there is based on the SkyDome plaza.”
Like most youth movements, skateboard culture boasts a powerful streak of rebellion. “In the winter we skate in the PATH,” says John, “not because we’re dying to skate but more because it’s so fun to mess with the security guards.”
Finding great skate spots is such a passion there’s actually a website dedicated to it and you can bet Toronto is on the map. In fact, according to my trio of informants, Toronto has a pretty good reputation in the skateboarding world. Los Angeles is king thanks to its skate-friendly climate, followed by New York and Barcelona.
“Toronto’s good,” says Jason, “we’re not at the top but we’re in there. We don’t really have a big name pro in the city, most of our talent gets exported. Most people, when they become really good, go to California. That’s the best place to skate, that’s the centre of it.”
Toronto has centres of its own, skate parks like the Beach, Alexandra Park at Bathurst and Dundas and the indoor park, Shred Central, on St. Nicholas Street. Shops like Hammer Skateboard (2225 Queen Street East) and Shred are popular hubs.
“Every shop has its team,” says John. “Usually the team makes a video that the shop sells. Hammer is our shop because it’s here in the neighbourhood but for sure we buy the clips from Shred, we want to see everything. It’s not a grudge thing. There’s definitely a lot of hate but that’s more an individual thing that happens on message boards and nobody really cares about that. Most teams are down with everyone and no one really has a grudge.”
Skateboard filming and photography is a HUGE part of the culture. My little Lumix point-and-shoot might be good enough for culture blogging but it’s lame by skater standards where 16-year-olds pack $1,000 cameras with equally expensive specialty lenses.
“Fisheye lenses are made for skateboarding,” says John. “Century Optics’s 0.3x lens is called the death lens by skateboarders. There are famous skate filmers just like there are famous skaters. The footage gets mailed around or posted on YouTube. Filmers buy and sell clips, you can try and get sponsored.”
Eighteen-year old Stephen, who’s been sitting nearby listening, decides it’s time to throw his opinion into the mix. “Skate culture is definitely a culture,” he says. “You perform for yourself. It’s a hobby and like most hobbies it has conventions, meetings, groups of people who are into it. We’ll obsess over different tricks and whatnot, just like a hobbiest might obsess over a model train.”
Going into this story I imagined skateboard culture had its own music and fashion but my little gang says, “it’s not really like that. Most of the younger skaters listen to rap but pretty much anything goes. Fashion is the same — some people are really into it and other people couldn’t care less.”
At the end of the day, states John, “It’s about performance, absolutely. That’s the attitude, more than not getting caught. Skateboarding has a little bit of everything. Your skateboard is going to take you around the city and show you everything there is to see. It’s going to make you friends with all kinds of different people all over the city, even all over the world. You can hurt yourself, so it’s dangerous, but it’s also completely free and there’s no rules, there’s no coach.”
Top and bottom pics by Emma Feir, all others by Christopher Jones