In anticipation of a reunion with skateboarding friends overseas, I found this article I wrote back in 2005 about the time I drove across Canada…
I have always wanted to do the cross-Canada drive, to acquire a first-hand impression of how vast this country is. When I received an email from a francophone friend in Victoria BC, that she was returning to Quebec and was looking for company on her journey, I immediately decided to join her. What would be unique about our trip was the fact that we were both avid skateboarders and aimed to stop off at skateparks along the way. While I preferred skating obstacles that mimicked the street, such as flat banks, ledges and rails, Rebecca had a passion for riding the huge 14 foot vertical ramp.
Rebecca had competed at the annual North American Championships called “Slam City Jam” the day before we departed, as the only Canadian female against a gang of Californian divas. Rebecca had been skateboarding for just three years, trying vert skating for the first time the previous year, which is an incredible feat considering the experience of her competitors! I had entered the first two years that Slam City offered female categories, in the street course, which was relegated to the early hours of Sunday morning in a jam format. The level of competition was pretty amateur, with the exception of Elissa Steamer, but it quickly changed as more female sponsored riders participated.
We were also accompanied by Rebecca’s dog Circa, a black lab crossed with a chow chow, making for a strangely skittish yet affectionate animal, and another skateboarder named Ethan from Victoria on the roadtrip. Ethan’s main role was to cuddle with the dog in the back seat, create sandwiches for us from a make-shift kitchen while we drove, and help diffuse the cost of gas which was particularly painful over the Labour Day weekend.
We had a week to accomplish our mission, to arrive safely in Montreal and hopefully meet other female skateboarders. Skateboarding as a subculture is male-dominated, but there is an impressive network developing of those girls who do skate, often isolated in their own city or town. To make connections and offer support several websites like “The Side Project” (now known as “The Girls Skate Network”) have been established to cater to girls who skate, as well as videos, zines, and girls only contests and companies.
It still surprises me when I am approached by a male skater or a pedestrian who exclaims that I am the first girl or one of few girls that they have ever seen skateboard, since I feel like I am part of a thriving community. And yet, I realize that visibility still remains a real issue and problem, as the more popular skateboard magazines and videos rarely feature girls who skate, if at all. It might seem to most, even girls who are just starting out, that our population is miniscule. Hopefully this will change.
After packing up the jeep we decided to start our journey at the Hastings bowl in Vancouver, which is an impressive series of concrete bowls near the PNE. Rebecca was in her element, cruising the steep walls, grabbing her board mid-air, and “grinding” the lip of the bowl. Before we hit the road we were met by a girl named Alison Matasi, nicknamed “Nugget” from days gone by when she was a pre-pubescent little skate rat, and her friend Sophie from Belgium.
They had also competed in the Slam City Jam contest, in the street course contest, and were exhausted from the weekend’s festivities. Alison is considered a leading female talent in Vancouver, as she had a feature in the all-girls skateboard video, “Getting Nowhere Faster” (2004) sponsored by Element Skateboards. Vancouver is considered the mecca of Canadian skateboarders, boasting over thirty free outdoor concrete skateboard parks in the lower mainland, and a progressive attitude since skateboarding has been legalized as a form of transportation. Female skaters are also a common sight, but we would soon discover that this was not always the case across the country.
We finally began driving mid-afternoon and made it to the Kamloops skatepark the following day. I was in awe of the beautiful concrete design. It was my ideal street set-up and obviously the city council had made an effort to consult with actual skateboarders, rather than waste their money on useless obstacles that skaters cannot utilize. It was a fun session and I was feeling really confident, landing kickflips and launching myself over a gap. The only downfall was when Rebecca injured herself in an unfortunate way, when her board popped up between her legs.
Injuries are definitely a reality of skateboarding, and often times the cuts and scars are displayed with pride, as a symbol of our commitment. I would even go as far to say that these scars suggest a rejection of a society that still promotes the idea that women should remain flawless and passive, covering-up any unsightly flaws or utilizing photoshop. Rebecca was probably not thinking about such ideals, as she was apparently bleeding and had gone blue “down there.” She insisted that stitches were not necessary, but told me a horror story of another girl who actually needed five stitches after a similar accident. Yikes!
Our skate session was cut short that day, so we continued traveling east through the scenic Rocky mountains, eventually arriving in the tourist haven of Banff. At first glance the Banff skatepark seemed pretty ghetto, with deteriorating wooden obstacles at a cost of $6 per session and a mandatory helmet rule. We decided to go for it and were rewarded with a surprisingly decent mini-ramp with a beautiful back-drop of mountains, majestic in the distance. I was also pleased to see three girls under the age of twelve encouraging each other, and hoped that Rebecca and myself made an impression upon them, skating with confidence and experience.
We were excited about our next destination, the Calgary Millennium park, which had been proclaimed to be Canada’s largest free outdoor park. The strange thing was that despite the park’s grand size I actually had more fun skating the intimate and basic park in Banff. Calgary’s park was an example of overkill with an emphasis on quantity rather than quality. Despite this initial reaction I was happy to meet up with Laura, a competitive street skater who had recently moved to the city and asked us all to crash at her apartment.
This invitation definitely beat freezing the night away in my flimsy sleeping-bag outside in our tent. As a well-traveled skateboarder I was familiar with the international code of skateboarding hospitality, which is especially the case as a girl skater. For example, while visiting the Czech Republic I met two female skateboarders and despite a mammoth language barrier these girls were so excited to meet me that they arranged for me to have my own apartment in Prague for two weeks and took me to their family cottage in the country! This became my experience repeatedly throughout Europe, Australia and New Zealand.
The following day Laura took us to a natural street spot, at this bank under a bridge. We had a short session, before I lightly sprained my wrist and slammed on my hip, calling it quits for the day. We had a long drive still ahead of us, and it wasn’t until we reached Regina that we tracked down another skatepark. This park was located next to a highschool, and a mob of teenaged boys were constantly circulating. I couldn’t help but overhear one boy mutter to his friend that Rebecca and I were better than him, which his friend enthusiastically confirmed.
The vibes were good, and another girl eventually got up the courage to join us and invade the fraternity. Emily explained that she was the only girl skateboarder she knew of in Regina and was really excited to meet us. Our male traveling companion, Ethan was soon offering his expertise, teaching skate tricks to Emily. Rebecca and I wondered about Ethan’s true motives since Emily was a cute seventeen-year old, but she seemed appreciative of the advice and had a new selection of tricks to practise.
Our bodies were weary, yet thankful for the opportunity to stretch and have some physical activity, so we drove on through the night. Driving through the prairies was actually a highlight of the trip because the sky was filled with a swirling haze of green light. My first viewing of the aurora borealis – the Northern Lights! I will confess that I never smoke weed, but when Ethan offered us some to enhance the spectacle, Rebecca and I did not refuse. It was actually pretty fun, although in hindsight a little worrisome after discovering that Ethan was transporting quite the stash even though he was recently on parole. Ouch.
Manitoba flashed by in a day while Ontario loomed before us. The rugged land and fresh water lakes were a delight, but our progress was slow even though we felt like we were so close to our final destination. Rebecca had a sister who lived on a farm in Wakefield, just north of Hull, so we pushed ourselves to get there after driving over fifteen hours straight. Catrine greeted us with a cup of hot chocolate and a shot of Baileys, and all the tension in my back eased away. Catrine’s rural home was so lovely, with horses, puppies, and farm animals. We slept well and were revived by the country air, giving us new motivation to skate the brand new Ottawa skate park.
We whisked past the Parliament buildings heading east near Algonquin college, and were thrilled that our capital city would provide such an excellent example of money well spent. The park had all the right elements, not to mention three other girls who were ripping it, landing boardslides down the hand-rail, and competent flip tricks. Apparently there had been a recent girls’ competition in Ottawa called “Chick Flip” that had been a success and proved that the future for female skateboarders in Canada was strong. The contest had been dominated by the girls from Montreal, including Margaux Walker and Anne-Sophie Julien who are sponsored skaters. Girls are finally getting recognition from skateboard companies as a valid and valuable market, which means that more women will have the opportunity to make skateboarding their profession.
The final leg of our journey was upon us, and we successfully arrived within our week-long timeframe. I had studied in Montreal and had a network of female skateboarder friends known as the Skirtboarders. While living in Montreal I had been studying at Concordia University and actually wrote a thesis paper in 2003 (called “Female Skateboarders and Their Negotiation of Space and Identity“) about my experience as a female skateboarder, subcultural theory, and my friendships and the development of our crew.
I was invited to stay with Mathilde, who had taught herself to film and edit, producing an all-girls skateboard video called “Boy” in 2003. Our second night in town Mathilde organized a barbeque, which reunited me with several friends including Louise, a competitive street skater, and Erika, who created four editions of a zine called “Armpit” that highlighted local female skate talent.
These women had realized that it was up to them to create their own visibility and community, and ignore the many obstacles they face that might suggest that skateboarding is an inappropriate activity for a woman to pursue. This attitude is changing and the proof is in the numbers, for example the sixty-five girls and women, even some moms, who participated in the “Skateover not a Makeover” clinic in March (2005) in Vancouver at the RDS skatepark. I would like to believe that as women continue to network and encourage each other to try skateboarding that even in the smallest Canadian town the sight of a girl skater would hardly be a novelty, but accepted and celebrated.