For people looking to start skateboarding this summer, or to just dust off their old deck, Halifax is the place to be in the Maritime skateboarding scene. The recently renovated Halifax Common Skatepark is the de facto place in the city to skate.
"The city threw down, they built it, and it's a great addition to the city," says Zach Tovey, co-owner of Pro Skates on Blowers Street. "People come from all over the Maritimes to skate it. Even guys I know who moved out west were thinking about coming back, because this is a sick park to skate."
The park, between Bell Road and Cogswell Street near the Halifax Common, underwent a $50,000 facelift in 2006 and a grand re-opening in the fall of 2007, adding 14,000 square feet of skateable surface to the existing park.
This was a huge boon to Halifax skateboarders, and an example of good consultation between the city and skate groups like the Halifax Skatepark Coalition.
Tovey describes the park developed in Cole Harbour in 2001 as an earlier, failed attempt by the city to get involved. "It's still there," he says. "But it's horrible. They came to us, we gave them a bunch of designs and they basically ignored our advice and modeled their park on the one in Moncton, which isn't that good, either."
With over 20 years on Blowers Street, Tovey's shop is a safe bet as a primer for the ins and outs of Halifax skateboarding. But honestly, Tovey says, just head to the park, board in hand, and that's your ticket to find like-minded skaters and new places to skate.
"There's always someone with a backyard ramp. Skateboarding is pretty self-sufficient in that respect," he says. "If there's nowhere to skate, then we'll make it.That's the way it is. Skateboarders will just skate anything."
That DIY attitude is a big part of skateboard culture, and it's most of the reason why the local scene is as strong asit is---and why parks get built in the first place. "Eventually there will be more satellite parks," says Tovey. "Chester is getting one. We're hoping Dartmouth, Bedford, Sackville."
Alex Keaveny of the Halifax Skatepark Coalition agrees with Tovey that the best place to get an introduction into Halifax skateboarding is by going to the Common park. From there you can get introduced to people, or maybe plan trips to the parks in Shearwater, Eastern Passage and Cole Harbour, or outside the city to Lunenburg or Homegrown Skateboards in Lahave.
Local skaters also have a presence on YouTube, so a good kick-off point might be to watch some videos to get a look at what some of the other parks offer.
The Shearwater Park opened in July 2007 on the Shearwater Base in Dartmouth, next to the Shearwater Fitness and Sports Centre. Designed by BC-based New Line Skate Parks, Keaveny describes the Shearwater park as a "street course," so while it's smaller than the Common park, ledges, rails and banks let skaters focus on street skating tricks. Helmets are mandatory and hours of operation are from 8am-10pm.
In 2006, the Heartwood Centre for Community Youth Development released a guide for youth and municipal government working towards building community skate parks. The guide---called "Ramping Up!"---cites the Halifax Skatepark Coalition as a case study of what it takes to get organized. It quotes a US skate group, saying "If your city doesn't have a skatepark, your city is a skatepark."
Keaveny agrees that street skating is where it all started, but there are no real fixed spots.
"They just skate where they can for a few minutes, and move on before they get kicked out," he says.
Jacquie Thillaye, former president ofthe Skatepark Coalition, says that was definitely the case before the Common park renos, that kids were "riding curbs and anything skateable."
"Now I drive by and see a wide range of people down there ," she says, "including parents with their kids and a lot more girls skating."
In fact, Pro Girl (Pro Skates' sister-shop, also on Blowers) organizes a weekly Ladies Skate Night Mondays at 6:30 at the Common park. June 21 is also the official skateboard holiday "Go Skateboarding Day" so locals will be out to be seen.
"It's just an awesome way to get around," says Tovey. "It's not about getting from A to B---it's the journey in between. You haveso much fun just cruising. You almost want to take the longest way to get to where you're going."
He points to a skate video playing on a TV in the shop and laughs. "Why take the stairs when you can take the handrail?"