By Michael Gordon:
Skateboarding in Vancouver – try to make us illegal and we spring eternal
In Canada, Vancouver has been a centre of skateboarding for half a century. In the 1990s, Vancouver City Council attempted to erase skateboarders from the urban landscape by making skateboarding on city streets illegal – but it only became more popular.
Skateboarding thrives in Vancouver for several reasons. Our relatively temperate climate results in smoother pavement which makes the ride faster and safer for skating. The hills in the region are inviting for a morning ‘carve’ on your skate deck. Also, Vancouver as a host for alternative cultures makes it a more welcoming place for skateboarding and our culture.
The Vancouver Heritage Foundation approached us at the Vancouver Skateboard Coalition with a proposal to recognize the City’s oldest skatepark, China Creek Bowls near Clark and Broadway as a Place that Matters. So this will be launched with the unveiling of a plaque, and speakers at the Bowls on Saturday, July 16, the program beginning at 12:30 pm.
Skaters, heritage advocates, politicians and City staff will be among those sharing why they think the skatepark is a ‘Place that Matters.’ This reflects the evolving idea of what we call heritage. It now includes places valued by youth and the skateboard community and culture associated with it.
Observing skaters in a skatepark one might think it is a busy chaotic place. However, a foundation of skatepark etiquette is mutual respect, skaters taking their turn and being mindful of the ‘lines’ that each skater is skating – a series of elements, moves and tricks.
Two of the first two skateparks in West Vancouver and Riley Park (both 1978) were buried because of concerns from residents with noise and a perceived ‘party’ atmosphere.
It’s remarkable that the China Creek Bowls Skatepark built in 1979 survived given the history of burying skateparks in Vancouver.
It’s also remarkable that the reversal of the City of Vancouver By-law that made skateboarding on city streets illegal took less than a decade. When members of the Vancouver Skateboard Coalition heard in 2002 that City Engineering staff were going to Vancouver City Council with a recommendation to legalize roller blading on streets but not skateboarding, skaters felt indignant and marginalized again. So we requested a meeting with staff and soon were included in the proposed amendments.
But that was only the beginning. Skaters in 2003 successfully pressed Council to eliminate the By-law provisions allowing for Police to seize skateboards noticing that cyclists and roller bladers don’t have their bicycles and blades seized for contravening a City By-law. Lastly, in 2015 skateboarding was allowed in bike lanes and thereby recognized by staff and Council as a form of transportation.
Support for skateboarding was found amongst City Engineering, Parks and Planning staff and also from different parts of the political spectrum of Council with Jim Green (COPE and later Vision) and Suzanne Anton (NPA and future Attorney-General) vocal supporters.
On a personal note, skateboarding is one of the funnest things I have ever done and it was hugely impactful on my life, my friendship circle and my perspective on the city. When I first started skating, I realized I was looking at urban environments quite differently – the texture of the pavement, the angle of the slope and presence or absence of vehicles as well as moving into a state of zen while rolling down a hill or over a bridge.
The skateboard community, for me, has been a remarkably supportive and intriguing group of people who are defined by their love of skateboarding and how they look at things and the city very differently. Having wanted to skate since first observing it in the 1960’s, if I had never picked up a board and ridden it, I would have considered my life half lived.
Photos by Michael Gordon