This Hamilton woman skateboards like it's her job: often 8 hours a day

·4 min read
Andrea Biggs spends up to eight hours a day at Beasley Park, a hub for Hamilton’s skateboarding community.  (Saira Peesker/CBC - image credit)
Andrea Biggs spends up to eight hours a day at Beasley Park, a hub for Hamilton’s skateboarding community. (Saira Peesker/CBC - image credit)

Andrea Biggs skateboards like it's her job.

The Hamilton woman often spends up to eight hours a day at Beasley Park, a hub for the city's skateboarding community. She can also be seen cruising the streets between there and her home in Durand, her blonde hair flapping out from under a green helmet covered in stickers.

Biggs, who is in her "late thirties," spends so much time skateboarding that the city workers who empty Beasley's garbage cans have noted her progress.

"You're pretty good," one told her on a recent sunny day. "You sure skate a lot."

It's a notoriety Biggs never would have predicted less than 10 years ago, when she was barely leaving her home due to crippling anxiety and depression. She says she hardly went outside over a five-year span, mostly to get groceries, and only when accompanied by her mom.

"I was like, I've got to do something to go outside again otherwise this is just going to get worse," she told CBC Hamilton. She was spending a lot of time playing video games and watching YouTube, where she came across a series called Women are Awesome, that shared clips of women doing extreme sports. Longboarding, in particular, grabbed her attention.

"I'm like, 'That might get me outside,'" she said. "I thought to myself… 'I'll still be able to stay away from people and escape people because I'll be rolling.'

"I didn't realize it would help bring me back to some people by bringing me to the skatepark."

'You can roll through, we don't bite'

Biggs has faced more than her share of struggles. She beat leukemia when she was about 11 years old after being in and out of the hospital for two years. She says she was left with crushing survivor's guilt after friends she met at McMaster Children's Hospital and Camp Trillium, a summer camp for kids with cancer and their families, did not make it through.

"That was really tough for me," she said. "I still have survivor's guilt and [post-traumatic stress disorder] from that."

She says her mental health challenges have come in waves, the worst of them around 2010, when she experienced a "breakdown" and stopped leaving home. It would be five years of isolation before Biggs got her longboard and ventured out on the streets. After a while, she worked up the courage to stop in at the skatepark.

Benson Wishart/Submitted by Andrea Biggs
Benson Wishart/Submitted by Andrea Biggs

"I came here and I just stood on the outskirts," she said, recalling it was one of the park "elders" who finally encouraged her to cruise through on her longboard. "He was like, 'You can roll through, we don't bite.' And so I rolled through, then I just kind of hung around all day."

Derek "Oldschool" Lapierre – chair of Hamilton Skateboard Assembly (HSA), a skateboarding community and advocacy group – remembers when Biggs first showed up. He says he encouraged her to switch from a longboard to a regular skateboard so she could learn to do tricks.

"After that, she got a new board and just kept coming back," he told CBC Hamilton.

'Being sponsored – that's kind of like a dream'

Now, more than five years later, Biggs is a fixture at Beasley and an active member of the HSA.

Biggs regularly volunteers at the group's events, such as repair day at Beasley and various skateboarding competitions.

She can easily skate the street and transition sections of the skatepark and is most proud of mastering the half-cab rock, a trick that involves a 180-degree pivot to the coping — the name for the metal rail at the top of a ramp — and another 180-degree pivot before going down.

She posts skateboarding videos often on YouTube, TikTok and Instagram – and thanks to those, Greendale Skateboards in New Brunswick offered her a sponsorship last year.

"That felt really great," she says, while noting she almost didn't accept because the idea triggered her anxiety. "Being sponsored – that's kind of like a dream thing, or just a cool thing that a lot of skateboarders think about."

Saira Peesker/CBC
Saira Peesker/CBC

Lapierre says Biggs has become an "accomplished" skateboarder and a part of the community.

"She's paid her dues with some heavy wipeouts, dealing with freak bags at Beaz, and getting harassed by police for skateboarding downtown, not to mention trying to find your own space in the skateboard community," he said. "Because of her perseverance, Andrea knows she is an integral part of our whole skate scene."

One of the best rewards for all her effort, Biggs says, is the improvements she's seen in her mental and physical health.

"I still have a really tough time with my social anxiety and depression," she notes. "I don't do well in public places, like malls. I don't go to concerts. I don't go to bars. I can't get on buses… but I'm way ahead of where I used to be and I have a community now.

Submitted by Derek Lapierre
Submitted by Derek Lapierre

"Skateboarding is like a natural antidepressant."