Part three of ‘Buried parks and broken bones,’ series about early skateboarding in Victoria and Vancouver
It was the summer of 1981 when Vancouver’s Graham Peat traveled with friends to Saanich with his skateboard, his camera and a pocket full of film.
Peat runs the Longboarder Labs store in Vancouver. Peat loved skating but is the first to admit he didn’t have the genetics to take it to the next level.
|An unidentified skater pulls a hand plant on the Saanich Skatewave on a summer evening circa 1981. Behind is the intersection of Cedar Hill Road and Finlayson/North Dairy. Saanich and Victoria skaters developed their skills at the Skatewave and went on to win trophies in the mainland during the first generation of competitive skateboarding in B.C. (Graham Peat Photos/Calstreets.com)|
“So I started taking pictures. You’re either in the skateboard competition, taking pictures or you organize it,” Peat said.
Peat took hundreds of photos including the trip to the Saanich Skatewave, which his business partner Rick Tetz has digitalized. The Skatewave was free that summer, a business venture that went sideways and a park that Saanich left open to all.
By that time, Peat had already assisted Monty Little with his Western Canadian skateboard contests. Capital and opportunistic thinking by Little put him at the forefront of B.C.’s 1976 skateboard explosion.
Little was an absolute godfather for the sport, laying the foundation for the competitive circuit when skateboarding spiked in 1976.
There had been skateboards around since the 1960s, but everything changed around 1975 when the craze took up in California.
“What happened was skateboarding blew up in California and in 1975, and by 1976 they had excess skateboards which were shipped up here,” Little recalled. “By that time they had better wheels and trucks in California, and they had sold all these first-generation boards to Canadian stores.”
The new style of boards were broader and more stable, allowing users to ‘carve’ downhill, go aerial in swimming pools and half pipes, and be aggressive with ‘flatland,’ freestyle tricks.
“Skateboarding went crazy, but no one here had learned to skate,” Little recalled. “There were accidents.”
Knowing Little could skateboard, the North Shore YMCA approached him and contracted him to run skateboard safety demos starting in 1975. He held the same clinics at the Vancouver and Victoria YCMAs and had instructed 2,000 kids by the end of the summer.
That’s when Little took it to the next level and held a contest in Stanley Park. It was the weekend of Sept. 11 and 12, 1976.
Bud Watt, who went to Oak Bay High, was part of the first generation of Victoria skaters. Watt ferried over and won some trophies at that competition. Later, Watt and Victoria teammates Craig Hall and Brad Carr were all on a skateboard team, competing at their home half pipe, the Saanich Skatewave, and traveling regularly to the Lower Mainland and Washington State.
Meanwhile, history changed at that Sept. 11, 1976 competition. CTV’s W5 television crew was there covering the new fad of “skateboarding.” The show aired the next week and the appetite was strong.
Later that week Little was working at his job on Grouse Mountain.
“I used to work the night shift. I worked on four hours sleep. I remember my boss called me back to work after that shift,” Little said. “Let’s just say, I was quickly leaving with two weeks severance. On my way out I saw the mountain manager and we talked about building a skate park near Grouse Mountain. He cut me a cheque for $500.”
When he got home, his wife said, ‘“Why are you back already?’” Little recalled. “I said to her, ‘I have good news. I don’t work at Grouse anymore. And I have great news. We’re going to California and Grouse is paying for it.”
Little traveled to California to see the skateboard contests and popular swimming pools that were a key trend of the sport’s rising popularity.
“When I got back I visited Grouse Mountain and there were offers from six businesses to take run contests,” said Little, who still runs an annual World Freestyle Round-Up in Cloverdale.
Little struck a deal to host competitions in about 40 of the 86 Super Valu parking lots in B.C., Alberta and the Yukon at the time. He was president of the Canadian Pro Am Skateboard Association and held contests all the way to Winnipeg and also at the CNE in Toronto.
“When we got to Whitehorse, they had literally shut the city down for us,” Little recalls.
Despite Little’s efforts and the fact that Victoria skaters Bud Watt, Brad Carr, Craig Hall and Steve Sandve (and more) kept skateboarding, the sport itself was upended in popularity by 1981. Some say it was displaced by the BMX craze.
Whatever the reason, it led to the burial of Esquimalt, Saanich and West Vancouver skate parks, the latter being the first in Canada.
But, as things go, the sport rebounded. In 1985, the Expo 86 organizers asked Little to arrange a demo.
“I had already learned, demos don’t work. I told them, we need a contest,” Little said.
It wasn’t extravagant prize money for the skaters but Expo 86 ponied up enough to for Little to contract a half-pipe as part of the Transworld Skateboarding Championships.
“The RCMP musical ride was on a break and the plaza area was free for about a week,” Little recalled. “It sat 2,000 people.”
Skaters from across Western Canada and U.S.A. showed up to see future-legends Rodney Mullen and Tony Hawk compete.
It was captured in the partially-fictionalized 1986 documentary Radical Moves.
To this day Little runs the World Round-Up freestyle competition but at Expo 86 he organized all disciplines of competition. Star skateboarder Rodney Mullen actually came second in the 360 contest to a Canadian but came first in the freestyle skating for $750 and $1,000 respectively. Tony Hawk won the halfpipe contest for $1,000. Christian Hosoi was second ($750), Steve Cabellero third ($500), Mike McGill fourth and Lance Mountain fifth.
All this happened within four years of Saanich, Esquimalt and West Vancouver burying three of the province’s, and Canada’s, first skateparks.
– Thank you to Graham Peat, Monty Little, Brad Carr, Craig Hall, Bud Watt, Steven Sandve, Kevin Harris and Bruce Emmett for sharing their stories.
Anyone with stories and memories they’d like to share about B.C.’s earliest skateboarding history, buried parks and more, can email firstname.lastname@example.org.