Calgary has a long and often topsy-turvy history with skateboarding. We have seen many indoor skateparks come and go. The opening of numerous outdoor parks is building a buzz of excitement, talent, and increased participation. With so many new skaters we need people like Brent King to dig up the past and tell us the stories that make the Calgary skateboarding community so great.
I had a chance to interview Brent recently and if you would like to learn more be sure to check out his Instagram @skatopia1 and on his Facebook page at Skatopia Park.
How did you get involved?
BK – A couple years ago I was picking up an order of parts from a business in NE Calgary. While waiting out back I had a memory of my older brother with me (12 yrs old) in tow descending the grass hill behind the building to go to a skatepark circa 1978. That Skatepark was Skatopia1 and I had forgotten all about it until that moment. Further research indicated that the park had indeed been in that group of building (actually next door) but there was very little information beyond an address and a few black and white photos on line. That began my journey to uncover as much information about the park as possible. It’s become a bit of an obsession. The park pre-dates home computers the internet and digital camera technology. Photos, were a not convenient back then. Cameras were large and relatively expensive, developing took a long time, and the quality was generally poor especially for a kid taking action shots. Non the less there are shoe boxes full of dark, low res pictures of the park, stored in basements around the city, and thats what we are trying to find. There has been a tremendous amount of support from the contributors to both of the social media pages. The stories alone are priceless and we offer a retro sticker pack to anyone who contributes photos, stories of knowledge to the pages.
What was your interest in digging up the past?
My recollection of the park is from a 12yr old kids point of view and was very patchy. My initial desire was to rebuild my own memory. Our goal now is to archive this knowledge so that it can be shared with others of the era as well as future generations. I hope this interview helps to create a lasting record.
Did you skate there?
I only visited the park once, I lived on the opposite corner of the city and it required multiple bus transfers to get there. My parents were not supportive of the sport (beyond an after school distraction) and my brother wasn’t going to make a habit of dragging me along. I remember the experience being overwhelming. Some of the images are burned powerfully in my mind, like the large snake run, the freestyle area and the fenced off keyhole.
The original wall art still exists!
How long was it open?
The business license indicates that they incorporated on May 15, 1978. Newspaper articles from the same time put opening day that same week. The closing date is a little more fuzzy, We have photos of membership cards issued as late as May 13, 1980 and reports that it was open until early 1981. After the business closed, a number of the older “regulars” of Skatopia1 would sneak in to the park and ride the abandoned bowls. The building’s owners would fill the bowls with gravel and debris to stop them but they would persist in cleaning parts of the park and riding anyway. One story involved one of the guys riding his motorbike through the abandoned park. It all came to an end when the owners pushed all the above grade features into the bowls, then filled the bowls with gravel, and capped the park with a concrete slab entombing it for the last 40 years. My recent visit into Bay 4 of Skatopia1 shows evidence of 8” of additional concrete added on top of the previous grade that was the park. This would indicate that all bowls, coping and grade features are still intact under the 8” slab.
Where was it?
The building is located on 30 st NE, Behind Marlborough Mall. It spanned 4 huge bays of an 8 bay building. The tenants of bay 4 were recently very kind and allowed us to do a tour of their facility which still has the original art on the walls. We were able to confirm the addition of 8” of concrete by comparing old photos of the art to current day. Five cinder blocks are visible below the art in ’79, only 4 blocks are now, indicating that one full block (8 inches) is buried in a new slab.
Who skated there? Anyone famous?
The park held a contest in 1978 or 79 where they attracted some big names of the time. Lonny Toft, Russ Howell (the 360 king), Jerry Valdez, Bob Mohr, Steve Rocco, Ellen Barryman and Vicki Vicker. These names were huge in the exploding California Skate scene. It was a pretty ambitious move to have them up to Calgary for a contest, not surprizing considering how ambitious the design of the park was in the first place. We have a copy of Russ Howell’s membership card, its classic.
Who built it?
The park was owned and built by a Real Estate business man and at least 3 partners. We have their names and have been searching for them without success for a few months now. The 70s was a paper based time and tracking them down has proven difficult. We really want to talk to them about the motivation to build, details of the operation and ultimately the reasons for failure of the park. To date we have had no luck in tracking them down. I estimate that they would each be in their late 70s by now if indeed they are still alive. As you can imagine, most 70 year olds don’t have a rich online presence. We have had to resort to some old school detective work to find them but we won’t give up. Stay tuned to the IG and FB site for updates as we find out more.
Who operated it?
Skatopia Management Company ran the park originally until Late ’79 when the operation was handed off to a local sporting goods shop (Sunbum Sports) that operated it until its closure. Sunbum sports used to have a shop in south Calgary (Canyon Meadows Mall) that sold some skateboard gear. The details of the switch in management are fuzzy, remember all of our information sources were 12-17 yrs old at the time. They weren’t interested or privy in the business aspects of the operation, which is why we want to find the original owners so badly. There is a wealth of knowledge that will be lost if we don’t interview the “Adults” that were involved.
How much did it cost to skate?
Memberships cost $10 and it was reported to cost $2 for 2hours and $7 for the full day. In today’s dollars that is: $34 for a membership, $7 for 2hrs and $24 for the day
Was there always supposed to be a Skatopia 2? As implied.
The original brochure that we obtained indicated plans to open a Skatopia2 and possibly a Skatopia3, both in Edmonton
Do you think Calgary is ready to sustain such a venue now?
I have had this conversation with a number business and real-estate associates of mine. Sadly, I don’t see how it is possible as a conventional profit based business. There is certainly a need but I can’t see it happening without help from the City. We have seen a lot of private indoor facilities come and go in Calgary over the last 40 year. Each of them were critical to our skateboarding history, but all of them ultimately, often quickly, failed to turn a profit or even break even. That being said, we salute those who have had the passion and the stamina to create these indoor parks, old and new. My youth and indeed my adulthood was shaped by these individuals who dared to dream about the business of Vert. Myself and many others dream about excavating Skatopia1 and restoring it to a usable indoor attraction but for now it will have to remain a ghost park safely entombed in concrete.
Any last thoughts or comments?
Much thanks and all credit goes to the contributors of @skatopia1 on Instagram and “Skatopia Park” on Facebook. Without them this is just a 12yr old kid trying to remember something from 40 years ago.
Learn about the new skateparks planned for this year and beyond. It’s also our 10 year anniversary so we have some initiatives planned around that. We’re also looking for feedback to better understand what you want to see.
The Compound is located at 840 26 Ave SE. They’re offering a $10 session after the meeting so we hope you’ll stick around for that.
House of Vans will take place on April 13-15 at the Big Four building!
From the press release: “The densely packed, 3 days of programming will include live music, a community market, art show, live mural painting, photography workshop, and a skate park designed to pay homage to Calgary’s skate history.”
It’s free to attend and anyone will be able to skate the indoor park (helmets required for under 18). Check the flyer for more details:
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
CASE is not directly affiliated with any skateparks in Calgary. We advocate for new skateparks and skateboard friendly policies and legislation in Calgary on behalf of the Calgary skateboarding community, but we don’t own or manage any skate facilities.
Shaw Millennium Park – Calgary’s oldest skatepark is located on the site of the old Mewata Stadium, on the west side of downtown at Bow Trail/9th Ave between 14th and 11th Streets. It’s Canada’s largest at 75,000 square feet. The skatepark is open 24 hours a day; the greenspace surrounding the park adheres to regular park hours (5AM-11PM). Read more about it on the city’s skatepark site.
Deer Run – 2223 146th Ave SE, next to Deer Run Community Centre. 2016 construction.
Midnapore – Midlake Blvd SE, next to Midsun Community Centre. 2016 construction.
New Brighton – 130 Ave SE, east of 52 St SE. Opened Summer 2016.
McKenzie Towne has a small modular park with mostly steel-framed ramps. View the park details here. It’s located at 200 McKenzie Towne Gate SE.
CKE Skate Spot is about 5,000 of plaza style terrain located at the corner of Elbow Drive and 73 Ave SW.
Southwood – Sackville Drive SW, next to Southwood Community Hall. Opened Spring 2016.
Westside Rec Centre, located at 2000 69 St SW has a smaller modular skatepark that is open during the spring and summer months. The set up includes various street obstacles and a 40 foot wide mini ramp with a bank and two distinct sections. Read more at this link.
Woodcreek, a small modular skatepark built by area Community Associations separate from the Skateboard Strategy.
Genesis Centre – skatepark is in the design process
The City of Calgary operates the Mobile Skatepark Program during the summer months, generally starting in late June. There are a few parks that travel to all quadrants of the city. Check out this link for dates and locations.
Calgary Region Skateparks
There are a number of free outdoor skateparks in towns close to Calgary.
In spring 2017, the City will be moving into the construction phase of the last 2 parks of the first eight, as outlined in the Skateboard Amenities Strategy. You can read about how the initial skatepark sites were selected in this report. The City’s Skatepark Development website has some more information on it regarding these future skateparks.
Currently, Calgary has one indoor skatepark, The Compound, operated by Riders on Board Snowboard Club.
The city has had nearly a dozen indoor parks come and go, however. Places like Skatopia, All Skool, Four-O-Three, Skateworld, and Skate Jungle were all privately operated. It’s been proven that private indoor skateparks cannot exist in most cities. High overhead/operational costs combined with insurance costs make indoor parks a tough go financially.
CASE is working constantly towards an indoor facility. We live in a city that is unskateable nearly half of the year. We hope to follow the models of parks like Le Taz in Montreal or the Regina Indoor Park. The cost of running a skatepark cannot be supported by user fees alone; a partnership is required. For example, a donated building.
Skatelife operates a temporary indoor skatepark every Tuesday night at Dalhousie Community Church. More info on their website: