Kamloops longboard facility inspires locals

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      There’s a hill at Vancouver’s Prince Albert Street and East 23rd Avenue down which longboarders like to ride. One of those skaters is Aaron Toxopeus, a high-school student who lives in the neighbourhood.

      At the top of the slope, the 15-year-old told the Georgia Straight that cops show up sometimes to say that some residents don’t want people skating around. That’s why Toxopeus thinks it might be a good idea for the city to look at what one Interior municipality has done.

      Last fall, Kamloops opened the world’s first dedicated longboarding park, featuring 350 metres of track on public land, plus amenities like a drinking fountain, toilet, picnic area, and benches. It’s also near a bus stop. “That will bring longboarders away from public roads and give them a spot,” Toxopeus said.

      Former Vancouver park board commissioner Sarah Blyth told the Straight by phone that she saw many people riding down that hill when she lived nearby. As someone who started her civic career by advocating for youth-oriented spaces, Blyth said she believes that the city should consider building a longboarding facility.

      Blyth, who likes to skateboard and longboard, suggested that Creekside Park may be a good place when it finally gets its long-awaited expansion and redevelopment. “We should have one in Vancouver for sure,” Blyth said.

      In Kamloops, Jeff Putnam, manager of parks and civic facilities, gets a lot of inquiries from around the world about his municipality’s longboarding facility. According to him, visitors from Vancouver and places like Whistler have been coming to the track.

      He related that when the town acquired a piece of land a few years ago, the local longboarding community came forward with a proposal for the plot. “It’s definitely an excellent investment,” Putnam told the Straight in a phone interview about the $140,000 cost to build the facility and the $2,000 annual budget to maintain it.

      According to Putnam, there were a number of close calls involving street longboarders after the sport took off in the Okanagan city. “The exciting thing is, it’s something that’s being used for a healthy and safe activity,” he said about the facility that was opened in October last year.

      Putnam added that with Kamloops’s status as Canada’s “tournament capital”, having a longboarding site is a “natural fit”.

      One previous visitor at the Kamloops track was Lee Cation, a Vancouver-based longboard-event organizer, advocate with the Longboard Coalition, and director with the International Downhill Federation.

      “It’s a great start,” Cation told the Straight in a phone interview about what he saw.

      He suggested that other municipalities should consider setting aside parts of their skateboard-parks budgets to build something for longboarders. “We love skateboard parks, but it doesn’t suit everybody,” Cation said.

      Longboards are similar to skateboards in that each has four wheels, but they’re much longer and travel more quickly. There’s a patchwork of municipal laws across the region dealing with longboarding, which is legal in Vancouver on secondary streets.

      Ryan Theobald says that many of his colleagues at Vancouver-based longboard company Landyachtz have skated at the Kamloops facility. “Everybody has a very positive feedback that there is actually something that exists,” the vice-president of sales and marketing told the Straight in a phone interview.

      Theobald suggested that the unincorporated University Endowment Lands west of Vancouver might be a good place to put a track. He also said that cities like Surrey, Maple Ridge, and Pitt Meadows have land for this purpose.

      “We’re definitely at a time now where municipalities should build that into their park infrastructure,” Theobald said.

      In the meantime, Landyachtz plans to open a store this spring offering bike repairs, coffee, and, eventually, a vertical indoor skating ramp in a building just west of La Casa Gelato on Venables Street.

      Last spring, the City of Surrey started a longboard pilot project by designating a pathway at the South Surrey Athletic Park as a place for beginners in the sport. The city will assess its impact before it decides if it will build a real longboard track.

      Mike Faux, who sells skateboards and longboards at his Surrey-based Authentic Board Supply Co., was part of a group that helped initiate the pilot project.

      “My biggest thing with longboarding is we need to create a safety aspect around it,” Faux said by phone. “It always worries me, you know. Like, any skateboard is the same, but longboards just go a lot faster, quicker, and…you got kids that don’t drive. Like, they’re not old enough to get a driver’s licence, they’ve never had road-safety training, and they’re out there in the streets going 50 kilometres an hour.”

      With designated parks, safety becomes less of a concern. “It’s a place for the young generation and the experienced generation to hang out and meet at the same place and create that sense of role-modelling and mentorship that, like, regular skateparks created,” Faux said.

      “And it also gives a place where we can put up signage about safety and street awareness.”

      Back in Vancouver, former park commissioner Blyth suggested that if dedicated sites aren’t going to be built soon, the city should put signage on streets where longboarders are known to ride to advise car drivers to be extra careful.