Canada’s got its own thing going on.

“The only problem with the industry side of things in Canada is that there are not that many people in Canada to support an all-Canadian company,” he says. “I mean, you can do it, but just not on the level they have it in the United States.” ¿Colin McKay

“A lot of skateboarders go into hibernation over our winters here. This definitely causes a few people to drop off every year. And also causes a few more to start.” ¿Bill Wilson, Full Tilt Boardshop

Yes, Canada is cold. And considering that winter lasts an average of six months in most parts of the country, Canada has produced an incredible number of talented skateboarders over the years¿a number that continues to grow.

Just like everywhere else, skateboarding in Canada is more popular than ever. In a nation with a population of a mere 30-million people, there are approximately 900,000 skateboarders throughout its ten provinces and three territories. They contribute to a market that spends an estimated 63-million U.S. dollars annually on skateboard hardgoods, softgoods, and shoes.

“Yes,” jokes Steve Greenidge of S&J Sales, one of Canada’s major skateboard distributors. “Statistics say that kids do actually skateboard in Canada.”

Much of skateboarding’s vivid and diverse history is alive in the Canadian industry today. Former Powell Peralta pro Kevin Harris founded Vancouver-based Ultimate Skateboard Distribution in 1985. S&J Distribution was also founded in 1985 by David Greenidge, who was a sales manager at Vans in the early 1980s.

Steve Harmish, the only Canadian on the original Bones Brigade, founded Sk8-Skates in 1986. The only skate shop in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Sk8-Skates continues to service and support the scene in the Prairies region of mid Canada.

In 1978 Peter Ducommun and his brother Rick founded the Skull Skates brand in Regina, Saskatchewan and later relocated to Vancouver, British Columbia. Still alive and well, Skull Skates always strove to offer an alternative to the mainstream. In the 80s the company was based in Southern California for a while and sponsored skaters like Christian Hosoi, Dave Hackett, Steve “Bulky” Olson, and Tod Swank. Canada’s oldest surviving skateboard company, Skull continues to operate out of Vancouver with a line of black-and-white skateboard products and the same small-company ethic that it began with.

Like California, But Not Really

While skateboarding growth and trends in Canada parallel those of the U.S., most Canadian industry types and self-proclaimed skateboard historians agree that Canada has traditionally been behind California, but only moderately so.

In contrast to what was going on up until the late 80s, today there are only a handful of distributors running the show in Canada. For that reason, business often gets very competitive. Major distributors like Ultimate Skateboard Distribution, S&J Distribution, Four Star Canada, Timebomb Trading Co., and Centre Distribution, all have both East and West Coast offices. Four Star Canada is based in Whistler, B.C, and K-2 Canada (Planet Earth, Adio), is based in Toronto. Smaller distributors such as Montreal’s Core Distribution (Relik Bearings, Tower Skateboards) are also growing fast.

Canadian skateboard companies are benefiting from the sport’s growth as well. Max Dufour, Mark Pelland, and Mark Mohammed’s Montreal-based Premium Wood was created in 1998 to offer something unique to skateboarding in terms of board construction, image, and a well-rounded team. Although their Woodchuck Laminates OEM-manufacturing company started in 1996, Dufour says that with Premium they wanted to express that “there is potential for companies to do something outside of California.”

“I thought that I could offer something different,” he adds. “I’m overwhelmed by the success of thcompany over the past few years. A lot of it has to do with the fact that we’re skater-owned and skater-operated. That’s what’s pretty unique about it, and that’s pretty rare to find these days. Often with some of the big companies, it comes to the point where they have no skateboarders left who work for them.”

Most of the distributors are based in Vancouver, home to some of the nicest weather in the country¿not to mention that the city has been the country’s skateboarding mecca since the mid 70s. Colin McKay, pro skater and part owner of both Centre Distribution and RDS skate shops, recognizes that the Canadian skateboarding scene is strongest in his native Vancouver. Peter Sullivan, head honcho at Vancouver-based Centre Distribution and an investor in the RDS skate shops, agrees. He also says that Canada’s distributors do a good job of servicing the needs of the country’s skate shops, eliminating, for the most part, the need for shops to order directly from the U.S.

Although the RDS shops and the Red Dragon brand have been successful in both Canada and internationally, McKay understands that this is not the case for all Canadian companies. “The only problem with the industry side of things in Canada is that there are not that many people in Canada to support an all-Canadian company,” he says. “I mean, you can do it, but just not on the level they have it in the United States.”

West 49 is the largest mall-based skateboard-shop chain in Canada. Founded in Ontario in 1995 by Sam Baio, there are now 21 stores across the country, from Alberta to Nova Scotia. West 49′s first British Columbia store will open in suburban Vancouver later this spring. The exclusively suburban locations, says Baio, are deliberate: “We keep away from urban areas. We cater to the young skateboarders, aged six to sixteen. Malls are more our thing.”

Bill Wilson is the founding owner of Full Tilt Boardshop in Mississauga, Ontario, a suburb of Toronto. Full Tilt has been at the forefront of supporting Canadian skateboarding, particularly in the Ontario region, since 1989. It’s been sponsoring the Toronto stop of the Vans Warped Tour qualifying contests since the mid 90s, and the shop’s team has included some excellent regional talent over the years, including Derek Kettella, Andrew Gordon, Dave Lapchuk, Ariel Stagni, and Matt Pirog.

Wilson is adamant that skateboarding in Canada mirrors what is going on in California as far as trends go. “It’s just that it’s usually a year or year and a half later,” he says. “A lot of skateboarders go into hibernation over our winters here. This definitely causes a few people to drop off every year. And also causes a few more to start.”

Not France

Norm Macdonald manages the East Coast operations of Ultimate Skateboard Distribution in Peterborough, Ontario. As a distributor to Quebec and New Brunswick skate shops, Macdonald is very familiar with common misconceptions that Americans have about Canada, a country that’s officially bilingual. “The popular misconception is that Canada is French,” he says, adding that only 30 percent of Canadians either consider French their native language, speak it, or understand it. “Unilingual French speakers make up less than ten percent of our population.”

The significant cultural differences among English- and French-speaking Canadians can affect the success of brands, imported or domestic, across the country. “You find that it’s more common for the French to support a company based in Quebec than with other regions of the country,” says Macdonald. “They still want and desire all that comes from the U.S., but in addition to that they want to support an industry fostered among their own people.”

According to Macdonald, the various economic climates throughout the country have the biggest effect on skate commerce. “Areas with shortages of things like services, jobs, et cetera, are prone to have lower expectations when it comes to skate-related sales,” he says. “The ‘have’ areas are the ones that make up the majority of sales, with the leaders being: Ontario, B.C., Quebec, and Alberta.”

Canadian skateboard companies like District Skateboards, Eternal Skateboards, True Skateboards, Olive Skateboards, and Pride Skateboards, are all examples of companies making significant contributions to promoting the sport and cultivating talent in Canada. They’ve served as stepping stones for some of Canada’s best skaters, like Rick McCrank and Gailea Momolu.

Two National Magazines

Another major factor in the development of skateboarding in Canada has been its growing range of domestic skateboard media. ‘Zines like Switch and Nomads served a strong hardcore niche in the mid 90s, and there are currently only two major national magazines. Concrete Powder, founded in 1990 by Ultimate Distribution, is a free monthly that focuses on both snowboarding and skateboarding. Skate Canada video magazine, produced by Vancouver local Mike Prangnell, is another excellent opportunity for Canadian talent to be featured regularly in an exclusively Canadian video magazine. SBC Skateboard Magazine has added a new perspective to skateboarding coverage in the country. A glossy newsstand magazine, it was founded in the fall of 1998 by publisher Steve Jarrett through his action-sports publishing company, Toronto-based SBC Media.

SBC Editorial Director Ryan Allan first approached Jarrett with a proposal for the magazine in the fall of 1998. “My theory was that they (SBC Media) had already established themselves as an action-sports publisher,” he says. “Initially, it was just going to be an Ontario-oriented magazine. Being in Toronto, I never really saw Concrete Powder, which is based in Vancouver. It hardly ever made it out here. But Steve Jarrett and I talked, and we just decided to make it a national magazine.”

“It’s national, and it’s good that Canadian skateboarders can finally get showcased in their own country,” says SBC Managing Editor Brian Peech. “They can be satisfied in knowing that they don’t have to rely on an American magazine flooded with Southern California content. It’s also nice to see people supporting their own scene in their own country.”

Concrete Powder is another glossy mag that excites Canadians about their own scene. “We’re a good way for all of the amateurs in Canada to get noticed by the bigger skateboard industry,” says Concrete Powder Art Director and Assistant Editor Troy Blackmore. “Most of the guys in Canada went through us, got noticed, and then moved up from there.”

Blackmore is very pleased with the growth of the Canadian skateboard industry. “It’s definitely been growing over the past couple of years,” he says. “This gives a lot of Canadian riders the chance to ride for a big company. Through the distributors, the Canadian teams help those guys get boards, shoes, clothes, et cetera. You need that stuff to keep a scene going in Canada.”

“The Canadian skate media are what keep Canadian skateboarding alive,” says Dufour, himself a top pro vert skater.

These Kids Are Alright

McKay is justly fascinated by the unusually high number of incredibly talented skateboarders coming out of a proportionally small population in a generally harsh winter climate. He mentions Mark Appleyard, Andrew Gordon, and Gailea Momolu, among others. They come from provinces like Ontario, where the number of decent skateparks can be counted on one hand, as well as British Columbia, where the entire province is scattered with great parks in virtually every neighborhood. Ontario’s winter weather is also completely inhospitable to skateboarding.

Laws and regulations governing the construction of skateparks vary throughout the country. Local gove lower expectations when it comes to skate-related sales,” he says. “The ‘have’ areas are the ones that make up the majority of sales, with the leaders being: Ontario, B.C., Quebec, and Alberta.”

Canadian skateboard companies like District Skateboards, Eternal Skateboards, True Skateboards, Olive Skateboards, and Pride Skateboards, are all examples of companies making significant contributions to promoting the sport and cultivating talent in Canada. They’ve served as stepping stones for some of Canada’s best skaters, like Rick McCrank and Gailea Momolu.

Two National Magazines

Another major factor in the development of skateboarding in Canada has been its growing range of domestic skateboard media. ‘Zines like Switch and Nomads served a strong hardcore niche in the mid 90s, and there are currently only two major national magazines. Concrete Powder, founded in 1990 by Ultimate Distribution, is a free monthly that focuses on both snowboarding and skateboarding. Skate Canada video magazine, produced by Vancouver local Mike Prangnell, is another excellent opportunity for Canadian talent to be featured regularly in an exclusively Canadian video magazine. SBC Skateboard Magazine has added a new perspective to skateboarding coverage in the country. A glossy newsstand magazine, it was founded in the fall of 1998 by publisher Steve Jarrett through his action-sports publishing company, Toronto-based SBC Media.

SBC Editorial Director Ryan Allan first approached Jarrett with a proposal for the magazine in the fall of 1998. “My theory was that they (SBC Media) had already established themselves as an action-sports publisher,” he says. “Initially, it was just going to be an Ontario-oriented magazine. Being in Toronto, I never really saw Concrete Powder, which is based in Vancouver. It hardly ever made it out here. But Steve Jarrett and I talked, and we just decided to make it a national magazine.”

“It’s national, and it’s good that Canadian skateboarders can finally get showcased in their own country,” says SBC Managing Editor Brian Peech. “They can be satisfied in knowing that they don’t have to rely on an American magazine flooded with Southern California content. It’s also nice to see people supporting their own scene in their own country.”

Concrete Powder is another glossy mag that excites Canadians about their own scene. “We’re a good way for all of the amateurs in Canada to get noticed by the bigger skateboard industry,” says Concrete Powder Art Director and Assistant Editor Troy Blackmore. “Most of the guys in Canada went through us, got noticed, and then moved up from there.”

Blackmore is very pleased with the growth of the Canadian skateboard industry. “It’s definitely been growing over the past couple of years,” he says. “This gives a lot of Canadian riders the chance to ride for a big company. Through the distributors, the Canadian teams help those guys get boards, shoes, clothes, et cetera. You need that stuff to keep a scene going in Canada.”

“The Canadian skate media are what keep Canadian skateboarding alive,” says Dufour, himself a top pro vert skater.

These Kids Are Alright

McKay is justly fascinated by the unusually high number of incredibly talented skateboarders coming out of a proportionally small population in a generally harsh winter climate. He mentions Mark Appleyard, Andrew Gordon, and Gailea Momolu, among others. They come from provinces like Ontario, where the number of decent skateparks can be counted on one hand, as well as British Columbia, where the entire province is scattered with great parks in virtually every neighborhood. Ontario’s winter weather is also completely inhospitable to skateboarding.

Laws and regulations governing the construction of skateparks vary throughout the country. Local governments in Ontario are so concerned with liability issues that it becomes very difficult for parks to be built. On the West Coast, British Columbia and Alberta both have an outstanding array of free public skateparks, simply because municipal and provincial regulations are not as strict with liability and insurance issues. Toronto, Canada’s largest city with a population of nearly five-million people, is getting its first free public skatepark this year. Cummer Park has an overall budget of 162,000 dollars (U.S.)¿minuscule compared to what some of the West Coast parks cost. There is also a great need for inexpensive indoor skateparks throughout Canada to accommodate skaters during the long demobilizing winters.

Flip and Circa pro Mark Appleyard hails from Burlington, Ontario. Although he made the move to Huntington Beach, California last year, he had been frequenting the Golden State for the past few years. Asked if he feels it’s easy for Canadians to get sponsored in Canada, he’s quick to disagree: “I think it’s harder because the industry is in California, and not in Canada. No one can be seen skating in Canada¿they all have to come out here if they want to get noticed by U.S. companies and media. Every Canadian’s first sponsor was a distributor. It’s not good or bad, but it’s better if you’re dealing with the company directly, rather than through a distributor. But opportunities in Canada are getting better, and it’s coming up.”

“Skateboarding in Canada and the U.S., or anywhere else for that matter, are very similar,” says Peech. “We’re definitely less spoiled here, having to deal with harsher winters and harsher concrete. We aren’t taking things for granted as much as people in Southern California may. Neither are skateboarders in Minneapolis, or in Michigan. But in the end, skateboarding does not have many borders involved in it. Clearly everyone has got pride in where they come from, but it just boils down to skateboarding.”

Call In The Mounties

SBC‘s Allan sees the future of skate shops in shopping malls: “Every other industry has gone that way, and skateboarding will be no exception. You can still have a cool mall store. Just bring the small-shop atmosphere and hire people that know what they’re doing¿don’t hire ravers.”

Full Tilt’s Wilson sees no benefit to having skate shops in malls, and doesn’t buy the argument that they help grow the sport by exposing it to young mall rats who are being lured by the other lifestyle shops there. “Maybe a small percentage of their business is like that,” he says. “But in Canada skateboarding is so small that we’re all fighting for the same customers.”

As the owner of the largest mall-based chain of skate shops in the country, West 49′s Baio inherently disagrees. “We’re really helping the ‘core businesses because a lot of those kids go there next,” he says. “They may come to us, buy their first board, and learn a few tricks, but once they have an ego they move on to the ‘core stores.”

Baio understands that many skaters and companies prefer to not be associated with mall culture, but he sees West 49 as an island of legitimacy in a sea of retail sharks. If young people don’t walk into his shop, they’ll go support some other industry. “It’s all about doing what you believe in, and we’re doing what we believe in,” he says. “Some of the ‘core brands won’t sell to us because they’ve decided that it would be detrimental for them. They don’t want to be in malls, and that’s cool. I think that the ‘core shops are great, and they serve a niche. That’s not the niche we’re after.”

Ducommun sees things in a different light. The mall-based skate shops, he says, serve people interested in the fad skateboarding: “These non-skaters will be the first ones to lose interest because skateboarding is too difficult for them.”

In light of the North American Free Trade Agreement and Canada’s proximity to the U.S. skateboard industry, thee notion of ordering directly from U.S. companies is not as common as one might think. According to Wilson’s estimates, less than ten percent of Canadian skate shops do so. “We used to do a lot of it,” he says. “But we’ve tapered it off quite significantly because the Canadian dollar is doing bad, and Canadian distributors are doing a much better job.”

Baio agrees: “Getting skate stuff is a breeze in Canada. You can get it delivered the next day. The Canadian guys predict things well. They seem to know what we’re going to order before we do¿not to mention that service is really good in Canada.”

One thing that Canadian shops aren’t immune from is the relatively low margins that shops in the U.S. and internationally earn from hardgoods sales. “No one here can afford to sell a board,” says Wilson. “Because once you add on duties, taxes, and shipping, it’s not as easy to sell a board.”

All shops that SKATE Biz contacted for this story generally agree that anywhere from twenty to 30 percent of their total sales is in skate shoes. As in other parts of the world, sales of skateboard hardgoods and softgoods is always strong until Christmas. January and February are usually slower, or in Wilson’s words, “a complete write-off.” As spring rolls around, business starts to pick up in March.

Most skate shops in Canada depend on snowboards and related goods to keep business strong through the winter season. Garret Louie of Timebomb Trading Co. sums it up perfectly: “To tell you the truth, there are only a handful of pure skate-only shops. Most shops now carry snowboards or girls’ wear, and maybe wakeboards or streetwear.”

In a country where the skateboard market is still relatively small, and where summer, for most of the nation, is only about four solid months of the year, this is a reality for skate shops. But their future, according to Ducommun, is simple: “Solid shops will continue to do business, and the sketchy ones will eat shit.”

ments in Ontario are so concerned with liability issues that it becomes very difficult for parks to be built. On the West Coast, British Columbia and Alberta both have an outstanding array of free public skateparks, simply because municipal and provincial regulations are not as strict with liability and insurance issues. Toronto, Canada’s largest city with a population of nearly five-million people, is getting its first free public skatepark this year. Cummer Park has an overall budget of 162,000 dollars (U.S.)¿minuscule compared to what some of the West Coast parks cost. There is also a great need for inexpensive indoor skateparks throughout Canada to accommodate skaters during the long demobilizing winters.

Flip and Circa pro Mark Appleyard hails from Burlington, Ontario. Although he made the move to Huntington Beach, California last year, he had been frequenting the Golden State for the past few years. Asked if he feels it’s easy for Canadians to get sponsored in Canada, he’s quick to disagree: “I think it’s harder because the industry is in California, and not in Canada. No one can be seen skating in Canada¿they all have to come out here if they want to get noticed by U.S. companies and media. Every Canadian’s first sponsor was a distributor. It’s not good or bad, but it’s better if you’re dealing with the company directly, rather than through a distributor. But opportunities in Canada are getting better, and it’s coming up.”

“Skateboarding in Canada and the U.S., or anywhere else for that matter, are very similar,” says Peech. “We’re definitely less spoiled here, having to deal with harsher winters and harsher concrete. We aren’t taking things for granted as much as people in Southern California may. Neither are skateboarders in Minneapolis, or in Michigan. But in the end, skateboarding does not have many borders involved in it. Clearly everyone has got pride in where they come from, but it just boils down to skateboarding.”

Call In The Mounties

SBC‘s Allan sees the future of skate shops in shopping malls: “Every other industry has gone that way, and skateboarding will be no exception. You can still have a cool mall store. Just bring the small-shop atmosphere and hire people that know what they’re doing¿don’t hire ravers.”

Full Tilt’s Wilson sees no benefit to having skate shops in malls, and doesn’t buy the argument that they help grow the sport by exposing it to young mall rats who are being lured by the other lifestyle shops there. “Maybe a small percentage of their business is like that,” he says. “But in Canada skateboarding is so small that we’re all fighting for the same customers.”

As the owner of the largest mall-based chain of skate shops in the country, West 49′s Baio inherently disagrees. “We’re really helping the ‘core businesses because a lot of those kids go there next,” he says. “They may come to us, buy their first board, and learn a few tricks, but once they have an ego they move on to the ‘core stores.”

Baio understands that many skaters and companies prefer to not be associated with mall culture, but he sees West 49 as an island of legitimacy in a sea of retail sharks. If young people don’t walk into his shop, they’ll go support some other industry. “It’s all about doing what you believe in, and we’re doing what we believe in,” he says. “Some of the ‘core brands won’t sell to us because they’ve decided that it would be detrimental for them. They don’t want to be in malls, and that’s cool. I think that the ‘core shops are great, and they serve a niche. That’s not the niche we’re after.”

Ducommun sees things in a different light. The mall-based skate shops, he says, serve people interested in the fad skateboarding: “These non-skaters will be the first ones to lose interest because skateboarding is too difficult for them.”

In light of the North American Free Trade Agreement and Canada’s proximity to the U.S. skateboard industry, the notion of ordering directly from U.S. companies is not as common as one might think. According to Wilson’s estimates, less than ten percent of Canadian skate shops do so. “We used to do a lot of it,” he says. “But we’ve tapered it off quite significantly because the Canadian dollar is doing bad, and Canadian distributors are doing a much better job.”

Baio agrees: “Getting skate stuff is a breeze in Canada. You can get it delivered the next day. The Canadian guys predict things well. They seem to know what we’re going to order before we do¿not to mention that service is really good in Canada.”

One thing that Canadian shops aren’t immune from is the relatively low margins that shops in the U.S. and internationally earn from hardgoods sales. “No one here can afford to sell a board,” says Wilson. “Because once you add on duties, taxes, and shipping, it’s not as easy to sell a board.”

All shops that SKATE Biz contacted for this story generally agree that anywhere from twenty to 30 percent of their total sales is in skate shoes. As in other parts of the world, sales of skateboard hardgoods and softgoods is always strong until Christmas. January and February are usually slower, or in Wilson’s words, “a complete write-off.” As spring rolls around, business starts to pick up in March.

Most skate shops in Canada depend on snowboards and related goods to keep business strong through the winter season. Garret Louie of Timebomb Trading Co. sums it up perfectly: “To tell you the truth, there are only a handful of pure skate-only shops. Most shops now carry snowboards or girls’ wear, and maybe wakeboards or streetwear.”

In a country where the skateboard market is still relatively small, and where summer, for most of the nation, is only about four solid months of the year, this is a reality for skate shops. But their future, according to Ducommun, is simple: “Solid shops will continue to do business, and the sketchy ones will eat shit.”

nt and Canada’s proximity to the U.S. skateboard industry, the notion of ordering directly from U.S. companies is not as common as one might think. According to Wilson’s estimates, less than ten percent of Canadian skate shops do so. “We used to do a lot of it,” he says. “But we’ve tapered it off quite significantly because the Canadian dollar is doing bad, and Canadian distributors are doing a much better job.”

Baio agrees: “Getting skate stuff is a breeze in Canada. You can get it delivered the next day. The Canadian guys predict things well. They seem to know what we’re going to order before we do¿not to mention that service is really good in Canada.”

One thing that Canadian shops aren’t immune from is the relatively low margins that shops in the U.S. and internationally earn from hardgoods sales. “No one here can afford to sell a board,” says Wilson. “Because once you add on duties, taxes, and shipping, it’s not as easy to sell a board.”

All shops that SKATE Biz contacted for this story generally agree that anywhere from twenty to 30 percent of their total sales is in skate shoes. As in other parts of the world, sales of skateboard hardgoods and softgoods is always strong until Christmas. January and February are usually slower, or in Wilson’s words, “a complete write-off.” As spring rolls around, business starts to pick up in March.

Most skate shops in Canada depend on snowboards and related goods to keep business strong through the winter season. Garret Louie of Timebomb Trading Co. sums it up perfectly: “To tell you the truth, there are only a handful of pure skate-only shops. Most shops now carry snowboards or girls’ wear, and maybe wakeboards or streetwear.”

In a country where the skateboard market is still relatively small, and where summer, for most of the nation, is only about four solid months of the year, this is a reality for skate shops. But their future, according to Ducommun, is simple: “Solid shops will continue to do business, and the sketchy ones will eat shit.”