Interview: Marlene Hielema

I met Marlene a few years ago while skating at Millennium. She was skating and shooting photos and I was impressed by how passionate she was for skateboarding.
Some time later I witnessed Marlene speak publicly about her passion for skateboarding. It was a very traditional setting and she brought her skateboard up on stage to the podium. The theme was “joy” and Marlene talked about the joy skateboarding brings her. She said that after many years, she’d finally found her tribe. It was inspiring to hear someone tell a few hundred people how she’d gotten back into skateboarding after many years and felt like she fit in. That’s one of the great things about skateboarding.
–Zev Klymochko, CASE Co-Chair

Where are you from?

I was born in Toronto, but lived in Calgary as a kid and through school. I moved back to Toronto in 1986 to go to Ryerson University and then returned to Calgary in May 2000. Never thought I’d leave TO. But I’m staying here in Calgary now.

How and when did you start skating?

I started skating when I was 13 on one of those banana boards. It was so crappy and wobbly, but I had so much fun on that thing. I lived on a quiet cul de sac in Varsity, so I skated on the street. Our driveway had a good slope to it and it also attached to our neighbour’s driveway, so I went down ours and up theirs and kick turned at the top and did it over and over again for hours every day.

When I was 14 my family went to La Jolla, California for spring break, and that’s when I got a real skateboard. G&S Fibre Flex with Bennett Pro trucks and Road Rider 4 wheels. It cost $75 USD in 1977. That was a lot of money for a kid like me. I don’t think skateboards cost that much in today’s value. I had saved up $45 so my parents had to kick in the extra $30. I still have that setup.

I also built a couple of wooden ramps with scrap wood from some condos that were being built nearby. I stored the ramps on our neighbour’s driveway, as theirs had a flat parking spot at the top, and they were super cool people. One of them is still alive and still lives there! That’s when I fell in love with transition skating. To this day, I still love kick turning on the tranny, as you probably can tell from all the photos of me doing that. Or maybe that’s my only trick.

I understand you stopped skating for a while. What brought you back into it?

Ya, in high school I quit skating for some reason. Probably because I got in a bit of trouble now and again with my best friend (also a skater girl) in grades 8 and 9, so I went to a high school far away from my neighbourhood to break the cycle. I started over. I was pretty quiet and introverted in high school – more like uncomfortable. I should have kept skating as I know that would have helped me through those tough times.

Throughout the years, I occasionally pulled out that vintage Fibre Flex board and my skate sense always came right back.

But I really got back into it four years ago (when I was 50), when my 12 year-old neighbour kid got a longboard for her birthday. I pulled out the old Fibre Flex and hit the bike paths with her. This time the skate sense turned into a bigger stoke and within days I went out and bought a long board from Royal Board Shop — a classic shape with a kick tail, of course.

How did you get involved with 100% Skate Club?

A friend of mine saw the Metro newspaper article about Erica (Jacobs) when she started 100% Skate Club and thought I might be interested. I was at the club’s first session at Millennium Park in April 2015. The weather sucked and the skatepark was empty except for 8 of us girls. I took that neighbour girl along too. I was so pumped to be at a skate park, as it was new to me. We has so much fun cruising around Millz, that we didn’t even notice the cold and snow flurries that night.

I was hooked! Doing the weekly skate sessions with 100% Skate Club changed my life. I don’t think I missed one session that first year! I wasn’t very good at skating, but soon realized that it doesn’t matter how good you are. It still feels great.

As we all know, skaters celebrate your small successes with you. Skate Club was such a fun and supportive environment to be in. And really for the first time in my life, I felt I truly fit in somewhere. I found my tribe.

I soon realized that the whole skate community was my tribe. To this day my heart skips a beat when I see skaters, or hear the “clickity-clack” of a skateboard when I’m out and about.

During that first season I became close friends with Erica, Maggie, and Bryena. We ended up forming the core group of the club, because Erica couldn’t do it all by herself. Plus, I think we all wanted to give back, because Erica gives so much of her time and energy to women and girls skating in Calgary. It was natural for us to want to help out. Currently I manage the 100% Skate Club Facebook page and do the photography for the club.

Our membership exploded in season two of the club. That was probably due to a couple of media stories about us. Global TV did a story on us at Huntington Hills last April. And now it’s not uncommon to have 20 to 30 of us at each session. And a few of us gals with more flexible schedules skate together during the day when the kids are in school, and some of us skate on the weekends too. But we are all connected through the Wednesday night 100% sessions.

100% Skate Club

Where do you like to skate most?

Huntington Hills is my home park and I have to say, also my favourite in Calgary. I need a bit of gravity to keep me rolling and the drop in is high enough so that I maintain a good speed around the bowls, with enough in the tank to pop out at the end. I know the regular crowd at Huntington, most of them are  dudes in junior or senior high school. I love their energy and I think they’re awesome! And they’re super encouraging to me, and they make me laugh a lot too. Who knew I’d be 54 years old and hanging out with teenaged guys every day.

Huntington Hills Skatepark

You travel to skate fairly often too. Where do you like to go?

I’m hooked on California skating. I go there 2 to 3 times a year just to skate. I’ve got a bunch of older skater girlfriends down in SoCal and it’s like being with family when we get together. When I got down to meet them we skate a couple times a day and tour a variety of parks. They were there cheering me on when I dropped in for the first time last May at the private backyard Iguana Bowl in Encinitas. I was high for days after that!

Most of the California parks are quite challenging for me. The drop ins I do there are huge compared to what I have the guts to do here at home. Strange but true. I think it’s because I get encouraged, and caught up in the stoke. Plus when you have highly experienced women skaters around, you naturally want to keep up with the fun, or at least try to. I have to give myself a break sometimes though, because a lot of those women are 10 to 20 years younger than me, and skate nearly every day of the year.

A park in California

You’re kind of like one of the caretakers are Huntington Hills skatepark. Do you think people respect the parks enough with regards to taking care of them?

I sure hope people respect the Calgary parks. It’s not always evident, but I think things are improving. We need to be stewards of our parks, and the rest of our city too. Have some pride! Most of the parks I skate in California, you have to pay to get into. Some are $10-15 a day! And they are open limited hours. So good luck skating before noon or after 10pm on a week day, like we do here.

City of Calgary skateparks are all free to skate, and they aren’t gated, so the least we can do is keep them nice in exchange. We, and our parents have paid taxes to build those parks. Let’s get the best value for those dollars. If we don’t, the new city council that’s getting elected this fall might not want to spend the money to build more skateparks in the future. Skater’s choice! p.s. Make sure you vote for skateboarding positive candidates too!

When I started skating I learned about taking care of the parks from the old boys crew I skated with at Millz. Before each sesh they went about sweeping rocks, and picking up garbage.

Very often when I start picking up trash at Huntington Hills, the other skaters will start picking it up with me. It takes 2 minutes for the whole place to be cleaned up. My hope is that people will do this when I’m not there too.

Same goes for shovelling in the winter. I had the best time getting to know the shovel crew this past winter. I’ve got a bum shoulder (from a bad slam last year) and don’t have the muscles to do as much snow hauling as the guys, but I helped organize the troops for Pat (Magnan) on a few occasions, because he was wearing out, and a bit shy to ask for help. I used my Instagram account to reach out, plus I know all the Huntington regulars, so I’d just show up with shovels and brooms and hand them to people. A couple 100% Skate Club members also came out to shovel too.
You’re a professional photographer and instructor. How did you get into that?

I got my photo degree from Ryerson in 1990, and then went to grad school so I could teach at the college level, and in 2004 completed a Masters at U of C, in Communications. I did corporate and industrial photography in the oil and gas industry for a few years too. I loved that. Crawling around refineries, terminals, tank farms, lube and grease plants. My job was to make people and structures look beautiful.

I started teaching photography at ACAD in 2004, then at SAIT in 2008 and a few classes at Red Deer College a couple years back. My career has evolved over time, as they do. I don’t do any corporate photography anymore. I mainly shoot for fun now and only work with fun clients. I always loved teaching though, and have been teaching my own online photo courses since 2010 at www.imagemaven.com

Now at my age, I’m conciously trying to enjoy my life more. Life is short. You realize that when you know you’re past the half way point, or a couple of your friends get cancer, or your parents need your help more each passing year. I worked like a dog for many years when I was younger. I’m playing as much as I can now – living in the moment and enjoying every minute. Skating and the skate community keeps me happy and strong, both physically and emotionally.


How does photography tie into skateboarding for you?

Being creative is definitely part of the happiness equation for me. I get as much joy from shooting skaters as I do from skating. Skating and photography go together. It’s just as much of a challenge to get a really good photo as it is to do a really hard trick. But you need to learn what that peak moment in that trick is, and capture it in the best possible way.

 

I follow a lot of skate photographers on Instagram and I’m inspired by them as well as the skaters who I work with on the photos. I’m still working on my signature style. Not sure if I’ll ever get one, as I’m having too much fun experimenting.

I’m also happy to help anyone with their skatepark photos or take photos of anyone who asks me, so don’t be shy to hit me up when you see me.


Are you looking forward to What Flamingo?
Yes! It’s going to be awesome. For those who don’t know yet, What Flamingo is a 5-day women’s skate tour of the Calgary skate parks. It starts on Go Skate Day, June 21, and runs until Sunday June 25.

What Flamingo brings two of our favourite Canadian women skaters to Calgary to skate with 100% Skate Club babes for a week in June! Melanie Mercier is the co-founder of Chickflip in Vancouver and skates with Sillygirl Skateboards. Annie Guglia hails from Montreal and among many other sweet things, rides for Meow Skateboards.

There’s going to be lots of open skate sessions, a Go Skateboarding Day park take over, a trick clinic, the Calgary premiere of the all-women’s skate vid, “Quit your day job” featuring Annie, a 100% Skate Club fundraiser, and Melanie is gonna be launching Dame Skatezine Issue #2 here in Calgary!

What Flamingo was created by artists Eric & Mia with 100% Skate Club as part of The City of Calgary’s Public Art Program and Skateboard Amenities Strategy.

As part of What Flamingo, I’m teaching a skate photography workshop for women. I’m super stoked to be able to share my knowledge and launch a new crop of women skate photographers in Calgary.

So you will see a few more camera-wielding skater chicks around the skateparks of Calgary this summer. Smile and give them your best trick!

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