Squamish skate culture is plenty more than kicks and tricks

In Canada’s outdoor recreation capital, a skateboard means freedom without the cost.

The sound at the heart of one of Squamish’s lesser-known outdoor pursuits is concrete impacts and cheering. The Squamish skatepark is a whole world of its own – a place to find both guts and wisdom for kids from ages one to 40.

Skateboarding can be intimidating to outsiders – it’s fast and loud, it has it’s own sense of style and etiquette, and the only way to learn is to jump in. But it’s also more accessible than many sports in the Sea to Sky Corridor.

You can of course, spend plenty on a nice setup, but a used board can also be picked up off Craigslist for $30.

Compare that with the hundreds of dollars needed to get started in mountain biking, snowboarding, outdoor climbing or kite surfing, and skateboarding begins to look more welcoming.

It doesn’t take much to get started and the board is easy to transport — all things that attracted Kelly Dyer to skateboarding almost 30 years ago.

“It’s a global thing. Anywhere else you go – Seattle, you meet a skater, you can bond instantly over that,” he said.

Now when the Squamish resident hits the skate park, his biggest motivation is to encourage his son, 8-year-old Adam.

Dyer introduced Adam to the board at age three, slowly working on his skills, from cruising on his knees to standing up. The boy rides with kneepads and elbow pads, but Adam flies over the rim of the bowl in his yellow helmet with no hesitation and no fear.

There’s no avoiding the occasional scrapes and bruises, but it’s not a bad thing for kids to learn, says Dyer. “It’s hard, it’s not a quick skill to learn. But if you can skateboard, you can do anything. The balance transfers over to any sport, the courage transfers over too,” he said.

Dyer also grew up skateboarding, but he was roaming a bigger city.

“My favourite thing to do is just skate around, that’s what we used to do in Toronto. Go downtown, grab our boards, and with no fixed destination, we’d just go skating,” he said.

Squamish is less of a concrete jungle than cities like Toronto or Vancouver, so the skatepark is king here.

Technically the district has three – a challenging DIY masterpiece under a bridge in the highlands, an older facility near Brennan Park in need of an overhaul and the sprawling and busy facility behind the Squamish Youth Centre.

The Squamish Skate Park, behind the centre, was built in 2005 and has been expanding ever since, mostly thanks to a strong and dedicated community investing a lot of time and passion.

“It’s a mix. It’s a place for everybody,” says Mike Quesnel, describing the downtown park.

Quesnel is the owner of Stuntwood skate shop on Pemberton Avenue, and is one of those dedicated people who help maintain the park and rally the local skateboarding community.

Every big city in the northwest, including Vancouver, has it’s own distinctive parks, big names and large communities. In a place like Squamish, dedicated skateboarders are more tightly knit – most people know each other, so it’s less cliquey, according to Quesnel.

Pretty much everyone in that community, from pros to beginners, can be found at the Squamish Skatepark. The park is bright blue and grey, divided into three separate sections with a number of different features, from gradual slopes to stairs and rails.

The big park is quiet in the morning and during most of the day. Things start to pick up after school, with kids showing up early and working on their skills.

On a cool September weeknight, the mix is unique – there are people on boards, scooters and bikes. A few people are just watching, taking a break from walking their dogs, chatting with friends, or snapping photos.

Jeff Hannig, of Portland, introduces his 16-month-old daughter Georgie to a skateboard for the first time under mom’s careful watch. – Haley Ritchie

Visiting from Portland and checking out the park on the way down from Whistler, Jeff Hannig is introducing his 16-month-old daughter to a skateboard for the first time.

On the other side of the park, a pup is being introduced to four wheels with a similarly high amount of caution.

Once work gets out for adults and the skilled, older skaters arrive, there’s more incentive to show off. Despite having a smaller community than big cities on the coast, Squamish has its share of talent.

When he’s not studying at Quest, longboard racer Byron Essert is a regular face at the park. He’s been skateboarding for 13 years, and is part of the university’s LEAP program for young high-level athletes.

“I love this park, it keeps growing. It’s just good vibes,” says Essert. “Everyone is here to have a good time, and it feels like home.”

Sincere high-fives and fist bumps abound at the skate park for both the skilled pros and the shakiest rookies.

Encouragement is usually loud – especially when someone is close to landing a difficult trick.

Sometimes the advice is quieter, when a kid is looking for some wisdom from an older skater to resolve an argument with a friend or a difficult situation at home.

“Some of the kids, all they have is that skateboard,” said Quesnel.

“Many of the kids who have nothing but skateboarding accelerate the most. They get so good so fast. They make the most of it, they push it. That’s what makes skateboarding strong, the kids that persevere and they go so far.”

Fourteen-year-old Ka’eo Kass, lanky and cheerful on a board, lives around the corner from the park. “I’ve skated a lot of Canada,” he says, “and this is one of the best spots. We have an amazing park here. Skateboarding is like water and food. You need it. Without it, you won’t feel so good.”

Squamish’s other skate spot, Slashiter Cove, is discreetly located under the Mashiter Creek Bridge in the suburb of Garibaldi Highlands.

Tucked underneath the bridge, the sound of skating is almost indiscernible from the cars traveling overhead.

It’s quieter than the big park. The walls are steeper and tighter here, and there’s only really room for one person at a time.

The DIY project began under the bridge in the cover of night, without a permit from the District. What began as a small ramp eventually escalated into a massive fundraising effort and lobbying to win over district officials, which eventually worked.

On Thursday afternoon, it isn’t locals, but instead two visitors to Squamish checking out the spot.

Friends Josh Paul and Jay Smith, of Saskatoon, have been frequenting the cove all week, but whether it has been the wet weather or the challenge, they’ve mostly had it to themselves. “It’s unique, the scenery is special. The spirit behind the DIY projects are making what you picture, having your own spot,” says Paul.

Quesnel, who was one of the leaders in making the park a reality, said it was meant to be different from the big park.

“It’s one of the coolest spots,” he says.

While Airhouse now sponsors a team of young Squamish skateboarders, led by coach Mike Leblanc, for most of the kids participating, there are no teams, no formal practice, no age divisions, no training camps, no coaches or rulebooks.

“It’s not soccer. It’s skateboarding,” says Quesnel. “It’s growing and it never ends. There are no written rules; we all have to coexist. There’s a dynamic where skateboarding is a weird place, with room for misfits and everybody.”

Mostly, says Quesnel, the skate park operates in a constant state of organized chaos. The culture will always be a bit anti-authority, he explains, and the park will always attract a mix of people and age groups. “For me it’s the freedom of being on the board,” says Trevor Doyle, who’s been greeted by several people in the span of a short interview at the edge of the park.

“We all pump each other up, we all are stoked for each other. You find a new trick, you land it, you ride away clean, it’s just the best feeling.”