History

Neal Unger — Calgary Skater

You might know him as “the old guy who rips” or the guy that does all the crazy hand flip tricks. Neal Unger is his name and he’s been skating since the 1960s.

He has worked all over the world and lives in California. But he has a Calgary connection– he went to high school here and lived in Bowness!

Neal tell us that he “cried for two years” after he moved from California to Calgary, until he realized he could ski at Paskapoo Slopes (now known as Winsport) right near his home. “I froze my fingers for two years!” he tells us. He also remembers going to a skatepark with a snake run but it was “pretty hairy and scary”.

 

Neal has filmed commercials in Central America, South America, Europe, and Africa. He’s also been in a few movies.

This video features Neal at Millennium Park, showing his stuff and skating with his grandson and some locals. Watch for the vintage footage of Neal surfing on the Bow River (2:20):

 

He says he hopes to visit Calgary again soon and is excited at the prospect of surfing on the Bow river again. Neal is a dual Canadian/American citizen and his parents still live in Calgary.

Interview: Jay Balmer

I can’t remember exactly where and when I originally met Jay but he has had a huge influence on my life and business. We worked together for many years as he was the executive producer of Slam City Jam and we were the guys that were designing and building the course. During the course of that event we had a short time running ‘The Project’ together which was an indoor skatepark in Burnaby and the headquarters of Slam City Jam for a brief time. Jay was also the key driver behind getting ‘Skateboard Week’ officially established in Vancouver and getting skateboarding legalized as a legitimate form of transportation in the City (which eventually led to the symbolic moment of the last 3 skateboards ever confiscated being handed back to a cheering crowd at Slam City Jam by the chief of police).

Jay has always been a high level thinker and encourages people to think and dream big. He has always had a huge heart for the global skateboarding community and is still pushing hard to see that we are represented well in the eyes of the world.
–Kyle Dion, New Line Skateparks

Where did you grow up and when did you start skating?

My kid years were spent in Kitchener, Ontario. Dad brought home 3 skateboards for himself, my brother and me.  It was 1976 and I was 5 years old. My first board was a yellow banana board and then I moved up to a California 500 with a nose and kicktail. Since then I have always had a skateboard ready to ride.

Our family moved to Calgary when I was 12. It was there that I was introduced to the wide boards of the 80s and it quickly went from fun hobby to my obsession.

Riding his first skatepark in 1977 in North Carolina

Was there a reason you started skating?

Skateboarding really was a gift from my Dad. He had a beautiful aluminum Quicksilver himself and we all rode together in our driveway and on trips. He would take a group of us to the mall on weekends to ride the loading ramps.

For me it was the simple joy of rolling and carving that was my reason to skate. I feel blessed to have started skating before I was exposed to the tricks and possibilities. It was just about the fun with no expectations beyond turns and crazy turns.

First session on the Snoboard Shop ramp in the backyard, pre-stain and railings

Can you tell us more about the ramp you had in your backyard? Was it before or after the ramp bylaw was put in in 1986?

We did have a ramp in our backyard. It was actually the Snoboard Shop ramp, but they had to move it out of their parking lot. My brother and I were both part of their team and our house was nearby on 11th Street in Kensington.

We had some inside knowledge that the bylaw was coming and we moved it the day before the bylaw was passed. It was grandfathered as a pre-existing ramp so we could keep it, as long as they didn’t get complaints.

Our parents made sure we talked to all the neighbours before we moved the ramp in. We agreed on hours, maximum amount of time per day and that we needed to ask around before having a long day or late night session. We also sound-proofed it as much as possible with layers of carpet hanging under the transitions. We avoided complaints and the ramp stayed until after my brother and I had moved away.

Jay carving at Seylynn bowl (North Vancouver) on Canada Day during the Bowl Series

Where did you skate back then? Were there any parks?

My inspirations were videos like the Bones Brigade Video Show, Future Primitive, Wheels of Fire and Hokus Pokus.  So, skating was about the adventure of being out on the streets finding places to skate. That also meant a lot of night skating when the good spots were empty. The ramp was really just a bonus to come home to.

We skated downtown and the Kensington area mostly. Parking lots, parkades, Stephen Avenue Mall, City Hall, James Short, SAIT, Riley Park wading pool, Bowview Pool and the abandoned construction sites that were all over Calgary back then. One building was just a concrete skeleton and there was a ramp a few floors underground and obstacles a flew floors up. I think it is now the Catholic School Centre.

Calgary did have a mobile vert ramp program back then, but they were really sketchy. After Animal Chin came out we also started building launch and wallride ramps that we rolled to nearby parking lots.

Frontside air on the Imra ramp at The Clubhouse, opened by Jay and his brother after the first Slam City Jam

You moved out west. Why?

The simple reason for moving to Vancouver was for the skateparks, like Seylynn in North Vancouver.

On one of our family vacations in the 70s we drove past skateparks in North Carolina. The next year we brought our skateboards with us, but most of them were already torn down. We did find one that was closed and climbed through a hole in the fence. That was my first experience with transition and the magic of skateparks. Finding out there were skateparks in Vancouver meant that was the place I had to be.

With the skateparks, local hills for snowboarding and skimboarding at the beach, moving to Vancouver felt like moving to my home.

High speed double grab over the top hip at Seylynn (North Vancouver)

How did you start working in the video game industry?

After a few years in Vancouver, I started focusing on what I could do for skateboarding. That led me to become the Producer of Slam City Jam, to be a co-founder of New Line Skateparks and help cities like Calgary understand the reasons why they needed to build skateparks.

I felt like I had accomplished my goals for skateboarding when a friend at EA asked me if I was interested in a career in video games. As it turns out, they wanted to make a skateboarding game and were looking for someone to lead the charge. The result was the EA Skate franchise.

Slam City Jam 1998 course overview

What keeps you busy these days? What’s Session Games all about?

Four of us decided to launch Session Games in September of 2016. We all share a passion and background in what are often called ‘Action Sports’. At Session Games we created a place where we get to do what we like to do and work with the people we want to work with. Our primary partner is Red Bull. We have been creating a series of games with them and have more planned for the future.

It has now been 14 years in the video game industry and it has given me some great experiences. It also allows me to help out skateboarding when and where it makes sense without having any financial goals.

The announcement of skateboarding in the Olympics has definitely sparked a new round of excitement and interest in skateboarding. My hope is that it leads to fresh wave of new skaters and for cities to start supporting or building more indoor skateparks, like they provide indoor facilities for other ‘sports’. With all the new skateparks in Calgary there will be a lot of skaters looking to keep riding when the weather changes.

Do you still skate?

I do still skate and have no plans to stop. It is a less frequent now because I like to fully recover between sessions, instead of just charging everyday. There are still tricks I want to learn and places that I want to ride. Last year we went to Hawaii for a week of skateparks and ditches.  That little kid who got his first skateboard over 40 years ago is still in me looking for that next adventure and the next crazy turn.

Hawaii, carving the Stoker Hill ditch in flip flops

Any thank yous or shout outs?

I feel ridiculously thankful for all the places and experiences and friends that I have gained through skateboarding. My thank you list would be huge from my Dad who always supported our interests through to the guys who I still ride with and call me to get out for a session.

My shout outs are to everyone who has stepped up to make skateboarding better from C.A.S.E. to anyone who helps keep the parks clean or gets out there for some DIY, to the champions within the cities that help turn our dreams into reality and the crews that build the parks.

In the end, it will comes down to the survival of the fittest community and it is up to all of us to keep building our skate community. Keep killing it out there!

Recent Bertlemann tribute to Natas Kaupas at Bonsor skatepark in Burnaby, BC

Video: 4 Down

Rob Thorpe’s fourth Calgary skate video, 4 Down (2005), is now on our Vimeo page. Please watch, enjoy, and share!

4 Down from Calgary Skateboarding on Vimeo.

Video: Collective

Rob Thorpe’s third skate video, featuring Calgary skaters Devin Morrison, Brett Rehman, Sean MacAlister, Trevor Miller, Keegan Callahan, Beau Larson, Jonathan Lachance, Justin Cahill, Kyle Lovstrom, Ryan Curry, Ryan Oughton, Olara Obina, Luke Callahan, Bill Cowan, and more. Originally released in 2004.

Collective (2004) from Calgary Skateboarding on Vimeo.

Video: Still Down

We’re happy to present Rob Thorpe’s second video, Still Down. This one is from 2003. Enjoy.

Video: Stay Down

Rob Thorpe is an OG Calgary skater who made a series of skate videos featuring the best Calgary skaters. Rob has donated copies to us so that we can put them on Vimeo.

The first video up is Stay Down (2002). Enjoy!

Stay Down from Calgary Skateboarding on Vimeo.

 

Interview: Enoch Chan

“Over the course of the last 25 years, Enoch has been blazing a trail of quality through the clutter of medocrity. Through skateboarding, art, and confidence, Enoch has been constantly elevating standards with a style and flair that has taken him all over the globe. In a world full of one trick ponies and two dimensional views, it’s so refreshing to still witness his relentless gift of progress. His contributions to skateboarding in Calgary were cemented long ago, when claiming “doing it yourself” wasn’t a flag of pride to wave around, but the only way things got done.
-John Boletta

Where were you born and when did you start skating?

I was born in Montreal, Quebec 1974. I started skating around 1986 but still rode freestyle BMX most of the time till about 1989.

Why did you start skating?

In grade 7 I started at a new school (Queen Elizabeth Junior/ Senior High School) and had to take bus/train to get there and wasn’t gonna walk so I started riding my skateboard (Jesse Martinez SMA).

Queen E was a big school so there was a lot of skaters from different age groups that would go skate, practicing grinds on parking curbs, ollieing over garbage cans etc. There were a lot of good spots right around school. Seeing all these other skaters motivated me and challenged me to prove to them that deaf guys can skate too!!!!!

Another reason I started to skate was being sick & tired of repairing hundreds of flat tires on my bike.

You were part of the Underworld crew. Can you tell me more about that?

What do you want to know about it? There is lots to tell. If you know anything about the Vancouver Red Dragons, Underworld was Calgary’s version on a smaller scale.

Do you still keep in touch with any of those guys?

I’m still in contact with one guy. “Cue” was his tag– Rob Brandt.

Did you have any sponsors?

I was first sponsored by FreeWheelin’ when Chuck Bell owned it by Wendy’s on 17th for a few months but he closed down. Then in ’92 or ’93 a new shop opened in Kensington called “THE SOURCE”.

I was only team guy for about a year then The Snowboard Shop got bought out and turned into MISSION. I went to ride for them cause they gave me better deals. I’d get free Mint decks anytime, they told me I was on Vans team but never got any Vans gear. I remember a contest in Chinatown for some reason I didn’t have my board so I borrowed somebody’s and got booted from team.

Shortly after that in about ’95 I moved to Hong Kong partly cause the heat was on too much from cops about the manslaughter case that another Underworld member was involved with. I came back to Calgary in ’97 for some reason lost motivation to skate, most of UW guys were gone and other friends that skated were doing other things.

Did you compete at all?

A few street contests.

Where did you get your first board from?

My first board was a Sims Steve Rocco, a birthday gift from my Grandma.

What were your favourite spots to skate?

The court house (gone now) was the most popular spot in the city. Petro Canada building, James Short parkade, Eau Claire. Hong Kong had killer spots– best I’ve been to.

 

 

Do you still skate?

Not really, once a month maybe.

What keeps you busy these days?

Ive been tattooing for nearly 8 years and continuing… making art and sometimes spray painting walls around the world.

 

Are Skatepark Staff Needed in Calgary?

Do you think Calgary’s skateparks should have staff?

The mobile skateparks are staffed, Westside Rec Centre skatepark has staff, and Millennium Park had staff from the time it opened in 1999 until 2008.

The word “staff” can give the wrong impression. These aren’t “park narcs” that will tell you to put your helmet on or stop swearing. The staff at Millennium Park were all skaters and loved skating at Millennium. They had access to the small office in the building at in the middle of the park. There, they replaced bearings and hardware, tightened/loosened trucks, and did first aid for minor injuries. Usually they had extra helmets and wax for whomever needed them. Most of the staff were quick to grab their broom and dustpan and sweep out areas where debris blew in– before the Parks staff got there. They also called 911 in the rare case it was needed.

millennium-t-shirt

Another function of the Millennium skatepark staff at was to record how many people were using each area of the park: beginner, intermediate, expert, and general observers. This was done hourly. These statistics are valuable as they actually show how well-used the skatepark is.

Perhaps the most important job of the “skatepark hosts” was educating users and observers. Whether it was telling someone why they shouldn’t sit on a ledge or spit where everyone stands, the hosts made a difference. Etiquette was at the forefront of their duties, including teaching newer users the flow of the park and how to take turns. Novice users would be directed to beginner areas where they could hone their skills at an appropriate level. We know that the Millennium skatepark staff taught more than a handful of skaters how to drop in.

They also taught observers about the history of the park and even helped introduce some of them to skateboarding.

Let us know: should Millennium and the newer skateparks have staff?

City of Calgary Ramp Bylaw Updated!

ramp

Evan Woolley photo

30 years after a City of Calgary councillor helped pass a the bylaw prohibiting ramps on private property, our current council has updated the bylaw to allow them.
Thanks to Councillor Woolley`s notice of motion filed last year, council voted 8-6 last night in favour of the bylaw updates which include: ramp size limits (6M by 5M by 1.5 M), location rules (backyards only), and setbacks. See full bylaw breakdown below.

rich-ramp

Richard Coumont photo

 

Here`s what was passed last night and will take effect November 21st, 2016:

PROPOSED AMENDMENTS TO LAND USE BYLAW 1P2007

1. The City of Calgary Land Use Bylaw, being Bylaw 1P2007 of the City of Calgary, as amended, is hereby further amended as follows:

(a) Delete and replace the text in Section 13(130) with: “(130) “skateboard and sports ramp” means structure(s) that provide a surface upon which an individual may use or operate a skateboard, bicycle, scooter, roller skates or other similar devices. Skateboard and sports ramp structures may include re-purposed furniture or other skateable or bikeable above grade surfaces, but does not include at-grade surfaces such as, but not limited to, soil, grass, wood or concrete.”

(b) Add a new subsection to section 25 as follows: “(e.1) the construction of skateboard and sports ramps located in the Districts contained within Part 5: Low Density Residential Districts, or Part 6: MultiResidential Districts;”

(c) Delete and replace the text in Section 60(2) with:
“(2) The rules regarding building design referenced in subsection (1) do not apply to:
(a) an addition that does not increase the gross floor area of the building by more than 10.0 per cent of the gross floor area legally existing as of June 09, 2014; and
(b) a fence, gate, deck, landing, patio, skateboard and sports ramp, air conditioning unit, satellite dish, hot tub, above ground private swimming pool, and an Accessory Residential Building.”
(d) Delete and replace the text in Section 61(2) with: “(2) The rules regarding building design referenced in subsection (1) do not apply to:
(a) an addition that does not increase the gross floor area of the building by more than 10.0 per cent of the gross floor area legally existing as of June 09, 2014; and
(b) a fence, gate, deck, landing, patio, skateboard and sports ramp, air conditioning unit, satellite dish, hot tub, above ground private swimming pool, and an Accessory Residential Building.”

(e) Add a new section 343.2 as follows: “343.2 “Skateboard and Sports Ramps”

(1) All skateboard and sports ramp structures must be located within the maximum envelope dimensions of 1.5 metres high by 5.0 metres wide by 6.0 metres long.

(2) More than one structure may be contained within the maximum envelope dimensions referenced in subsection (1).

(3) The maximum envelope dimensions referenced in subsection (1) do not include at-grade surfaces such as, but not limited to, soil, grass, wood or concrete.

(4) Notwithstanding subsection (1), railings for safety purposes may extend beyond the maximum envelope dimensions referenced in subsection (1) provided they are not designed or used as a surface upon which to operate a skateboard, bicycle, scooter, roller skates or other similar device.

(5) There must only be one skateboard and sports ramp envelope per parcel.

(6) All skateboard and sports ramp structures must be located between the rear façade of the main residential building and the rear property line.

(7) The height of a skateboard and sports ramp at any point is measured from grade.

(8) All skateboard and sports ramp structures, including railings for safety purposes, must be located a minimum of 1.2 metres from a side property line.

(9) All skateboard and sports ramp structures, including railings for safety purposes, must be located a minimum of 1.2 metres from a rear property line.

(10) Skateboard and sports ramp structures must not be included in parcel coverage.

(11) A skateboard and sports ramp must not be attached to a deck, another structure, fence, or building such as, but not limited to, a main residential building, Backyard Suite or Accessory Residential Building.”

(f) Delete subsection 344(7) in its entirety.
(g) Amend subsection 344(8) to bold the first instance of “parcel”.
(h) Add a new section 571.2 as follows: “571.2 “Skateboard and Sports Ramps”

(1) All skateboard and sports ramp structures must be located within the maximum envelope dimensions of 1.5 metres high by 5.0 metres wide by 6.0 metres long.

(2) More than one structure may be contained within the maximum envelope dimensions referenced in subsection (1).

(3) The maximum envelope dimensions do not include at-grade surfaces such as, but not limited to, soil, grass, wood or concrete.

(4) Notwithstanding subsection (1), railings for safety purposes may extend beyond the maximum envelope dimensions referenced in subsection (1) provided they are not designed or used as a surface upon which to operate a skateboard, bicycle, scooter, roller skates or other similar device.

(5) There must only be one skateboard and sports ramp envelope per parcel.

(6) All skateboard and sports ramps structures must be located between the rear façade of the main residential building and the rear property line.

(7) The height of a skateboard and sports ramp at any point is measured from grade.

(8) All skateboard and sports ramp structures, including railings for safety purposes, must be located a minimum of 1.2 metres from a side property line.

(9) All skateboard and sports ramp structures, including railings for safety purposes, must be located a minimum of 1.2 metres from a rear property line.

10) A skateboard and sports ramp must not be attached to a deck, another structure, fence, or building such as, but not limited to, a main residential building, Backyard Suite or Accessory Residential Building.

(11) Notwithstanding sections 550, 551, and 557, skateboard and sports ramps may be included in the calculation of landscaped area, hard surfaced landscape area, soft surfaced landscaped area or common amenity space.” (i) Delete subsection 564(7) in its entirety.

2. This Bylaw comes into force on 2016 November 21.

Calgary Skateboarding History in Swerve Magazine

Today’s edition of Swerve Magazine includes a great article about Calgary’s skateboarding history. It covers early skateparks, founding figures like Chuck Bell and John and Barry Hiebert, along with some general skateboarding information. Pick up Swerve in today’s Calgary Herald or click the image below to read:

Photo by Brent Mykytyshyn / Swerve

Photo by Brent Mykytyshyn / Swerve

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