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

Interview: Dan Kneeshaw

Anyone who knows Dan knows he rips on a skateboard. But sometimes when guys are really good at skateboarding, they act like jerks for some reason.
 
Well, Dan is the opposite of that. He’s genuinely a really nice guy. As a Calgary-based sales rep for Vans in Alberta, he has a pretty sweet job. Do we even need to mention he’s a multi-talented musician that is always in demand by several bands at a time? Read on to learn more about Dan.

Photo by Jeff Thorburn

Where are you from?

I was born and lived in Saskatchewan until I was 9. Then we moved to BC (Lumby, Vernon). Did all my growing up, skating and trouble making there.

How long have you been skating?

I started skating when I was 6-7 or so? My older step brother had a skateboard in the house growing up, and the second I saw it, I knew exactly what to do with it. Been obsessed ever since.

Where do you usually skate? Any favourite spots or parks?

You will usually find me at Huntington Hills park. That bowl is one of my favourites ever. I live super close to Southwood, and its growing on me. I go there when I want to pretend I can still skate street.. Favourite parks? Polson, and Coldstream in Vernon. I’ve put in some serious hours at those places.

Who do you skate with?

I grew up in the time when skating wasn’t really cool. So I skated mostly alone for like 10-12 years almost? Even now I usually just go to the spot, or park and I will just skate with who ever happens to be there. But I actually really enjoy skating alone, as weird as that may seem. Just always done it on my time, and my terms. Don’t get it twisted though, I still love skating with and running into the homies at all the parks! Riley Boland, Jesse Ingrilli, and Ben Renton and I seem to skate a lot together these days. Its pretty rad!

What brought you to Calgary?

That is a funny/long story.. But here is the shorter version. I had a pretty crippling addiction issue in my late teens that I am pretty open about. But I had been clean for a year and a bit, and needed a nice change.. I packed up my 93 Toyota Tercel with all my earthly belongings, and I had two choices. First was Vancouver with a place to stay in a packed party house, with no work or stability but lots of friends. Second was Calgary, where I had a room to rent and a job, but I had one friend in the entire city… So I flipped a quarter in my driveway. Heads=Calgary, Tails= Vancouver.. The rest is history. I made the right choice.

Photo by Tim Nelson

You work as a sales rep for Vans. How did you end up with a job like that? How long have you been doing that for?

I got extremely lucky.. I worked at skate shops for close to 8-9 years or so? Give or take.. The old sales rep (Stefan G) started giving me sample shoes every once in a while. To help push the shoes at the shop, and sort of ignite that fire, you know? It helped me out, more than he could possibly know.. So when Stefan left, the new guy (my now Boss) grandfathered me onto his sample flow program, and was super cool about me grabbing stuff when I needed it. Eventually I had left the shops, and was repping for another company at the time, and had called Dan (my Boss) about something. I happened to call him on the day that his sub-rep quit for another company. So we talked about it, decided we should do lunch the next day. By the end of that day I got an offer I couldn’t refuse.

A lot of people don’t know that it’s possible to make a living with skateboarding in some way in Calgary. What advice would you give to people that want to work in the skate industry?

Its totally possible. It just may look different to everyone. Wether thats working at a shop, starting up your own company, or what ever. Just don’t expect skateboarding to pay the bills. There are some people who skate around with a chip on their shoulder, giving the vibe they deserve a sponsorship or something. Skateboarding doesn’t owe you (anyone) anything. I believe that if you put your head down, work as hard as you can, on what ever you are passionate about, things will happen. Those things may not happen over night, and it may seem defeating at some points, but its all worth it. I owe everything I have, to skateboarding, and hard work.

You must get asked about sponsorship a lot. Why do you think so many kids just want to be sponsored? How many will actually make it? Any advice for kids who want to get hooked up?

Yeah, the sponsorship thing. This one is a tough one. If I had it my way, I would hook everyone up. Unfortunately, thats not possible. However, these are the things that I personally look for if a spot on the team opens up. A good attitude, is first and foremost for me. I don’t really want some one who’s focusing boards, or screaming at kids at the skate park to be representing my team. Gotta be approachable, friendly, and respectful. Second, style. Good style, weird style, but mostly I want to see YOUR style. I can go watch a million youtube videos of carbon copy skaters that all look/push/skate the same. Thats boring though, I want to see what YOU can do, and how YOU do it different. Third, skill of course. Push the limits, push yourself harder, get out of your comfort zone.

I think sponsorship to some is like a status symbol maybe? Im not sure. I don’t want to give some one something, when they aren’t grateful for it, or use it to put others down, if that makes sense? I want it to go to someone that needs it, and deserves it. Someone who has been grinding, and working for it.

As for who, and how many will make it.. Thats all up to them. I want them all to make it! I want my house to be littered with pro boards from kids who made it from Calgary. The caliber of skateboarding talent in this city, is astronomical. Everyday I am left scratching my head watching some young one annihilate the skate park. But Canadians gotta make here first, then they have to win over the states. Its not an easy task, but you can do it!! I believe in you! haha. Filming is huge. Get as many clips as you can. And photos too. Seems to be a dying art form unfortunately, but they are so important. And do your best to not post everything immediately to the internet!

Some advice to those looking to get hooked up(as if this answer wasn’t long enough). Like I said before. Attitude, goes a long way. Be nice to each other. Be supportive of our community. Be respectful of our parks, and spots. Skate as hard, and as often as possible. Film/shoot as much as you can. And mostly, have FUN! Thats what its really all about.

Photo by Cole Hadley

You’re involved in the music scene too. How long have you been playing?

Music has always gone hand in hand with skateboarding for me. I started playing guitar when I was 10, and I’ve been obsessed with it as well for most my life. I just have one band going at the moment, we go by Monolith A.B. Its a doom metal project I have been working on for 4 years or so. We are almost ready to record our first full-length album. We already did it once, and it was lost due to a computer error (another story, for another time). But we are excited to get down to it, and get it out finally.

What else are you into besides skating and music?

Motorcycles have been a huge part of my life since I was a kid. Fixing them, or riding them, I just love being around them. I also do a bit of Fly Fishing when I get the chance.

Any thanks/shout outs?

Thanks to my fiance Jess Doyle, Mama bear, and my sisters Jacklyn and Jenny for putting up with me. Those are the strongest women I have ever met, and they amaze me everyday.

Shoutouts to Mike Sharp, Nick Tempel, Dan Anderson, Stefan Goulet, Vans Canada, Arlen Smith, The Palomino, Blue Montgomery, Ben Renton, Riley Boland, Jesse Ingrilli, all the Huntington Hills locals, every one who has ever said whats up at the skate park, and anyone who has even been able to come to one of our shows. If we are friends, or acquaintances I am glad you are in my life.

Interview: Chad Baker


We caught up with long time Calgary ripper Chad Baker to see what he’s been up to. With banging parts in Beer Storm 1 and 2, and tons of crazy Instagram clips, Chad is always up to something wild on his board. Learn more about Chad and his Skate for Phillippines project. All photos by Liam Glass.

When did you start skating?
I started skating in grade 7 I do believe!
Were you born in Calgary?
Yep I’m a born and raised true Calgarian.

Tell us about Skate for Phillipines. How could someone get involved or donate?
Skate For Philippines is a thing my friends and I started, basically we just wanted to be able to give back to the skate community by collecting skate gear. I helped a friend who’s from the Philippines last year and he was able to bring down a bunch of skate stuff for the kids out there! He said it went great but they needed more, so that’s when I got the ball rolling for this.

You can donate any gear to Mission or get a hold of myself and I usually go meet people for donations. Yeah I plan to go out to the Philippines and hand deliver the gear myself, I can’t wait to see all the smiling faces. I’m also trying to start a thing where you can sponsor a child and send them a complete and other stuff along with it!

Where are your favourite places to skate?
My favourite place to skate would definitely have to be California, but skating Calgary with the homies is always the best!

 Any trips planned this year? 
As for trips, me and the boys are going to do a lot of travelling this summer. We’ve got a few projects in the go that we’re all pretty stoked on!
 

Thanks/shout outs.
Big thanks to all my sponsors! Almost, Globe, Tensor, Dwindle Distribution, Remind Insoles via Trading Post sales, Artical Clothing,  and Mission Skate Shop! And a huge shout out to my homies Steve G, Ryan, Riley, Adrian, Rob, Steve and everyone else who I skate with– you all kill it!!


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.

 

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

Interview: Mike DeVries

There are a lot of guys that have been skating for a long time in Calgary. Some of them you may know, some of them you may not. What’s important is that some of them have made some very large contributions to Calgary skateboarding. Mike Devries is one of those guys. We chatted with him about what he’s done and what he’s up to now.

mike

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in the Oakridge area of Calgary.

How long have you been skating for?

I’ve been skating for 35 years now.

What spots did you grow up skating?

Downtown. The rest of the time we made ramps and everyone would check out everyone’s ramps all over the city.

What about skateparks?

There were only poorly designed city-owned ramps, so a few people made their own indoor parks and I spent a lot of time riding them: Skate World (Lindsey’s park), Ramp o Rama (Barry Hiebert’s park) and Skate Jungle (TJ’s park) and All Skool(Trevor Morgan’s park). They were some of the first parks in Calgary aside from Skatopia in the 1970s. It was a concrete indoor park– before my time.

What made you open your own indoor skatepark (Four o Three)?

I wanted to create a space for all of the people in Calgary to unite and build a great community of skateboarders and support for Calgary Skateboarding.
I was intending on opening an indoor park and found out there were some guys already building a indoor park. I was super disappointed. I didn’t get into it at first but after thinking about it I decided it wasn’t a big deal and I should go and help. So I did that and ended up becoming friends the 3 partners: Tony, Jarrod, and Devon. The building team was hired from Toronto (Bruce Carson Ramp to Ramp and two of his friends Gosh and Russ). After some time helping I bought out Devon and that’s how it all happened.

millz shredding

How else have you been involved in Calgary skateboarding?

I worked with a group of people called the Fellowship of Calgary Skateboarders (A non-for profit organization similar to CASE) for 10 years to get Millennium Park built and built a temporary outdoor pilot project skatepark out of wood. This was right around the same time the indoor park Allskool opened and the interest was overwhelming from the City of Calgary. They pushed forward to make Millennium happen with help from the Calgary skateboarders and the Parks and Recreation department.

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Tell us about the vert ramp you’re working on. 

The ramp I’m working on right now is a ramp that I’ve had for quite a few years many people have helped out financially and with working on it as well. We used to have it outside of the Four o Three then it moved Priddis until a few people that ride vert wanted to turn it back into vert ramp. So we moved it and restored it. And after many man hours and thousands of dollars we are now to the point where we are ready to fundraise to get the final layer put on. And the people that support what we’re doing will be the people who are eligible to come ride whatever we build.

vert ramp

Any last words?

I’m very happy to see all the new parks springing up and can’t wait to see some of the next generation of kids turn into future rippers. Shout out to everybody that supported me in the past and present times. It means the world to me. Thank you.

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