Centennial Sports Park was alive with the sounds of skateboards and thumping music on Saturday for the Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake’s skateboard open house.
NOTL worked in co-operation with CJ’s Skatepark in Mississauga to bring out experienced skateboarders to put on workshops for enthusiastic skateboarders who visit the park in Virgil.
The town's recreation supervisor, Dan Maksenuk, came up with the idea for the open house.
“The skatepark was built last year so I thought, you know, we’ve got it, let's do something to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the park,” Maksenuk told The Lake Report.
By a stroke of luck the open house was held exactly a year after the skatepark opened in 2020.
Among the skateboarding enthusiasts was six-year-old Evan Rennette who was there with his mother Leslie Ryan.
“(Evan’s) into scootering. We come here a lot (from St. Catharines). He’s like really, really good at scootering,” his proud mother said.
Evan was taking skateboard lessons from instructor Jack Kirwin and was using a board he purchased for himself with money saved up from helping mom around the house, Ryan said.
“We don’t have anyone to teach him how to use it so it’s kind of been sitting around. So, this is great,” she said.
“I was actually thinking they should have an organization that does skateboard and scooter lessons because Evan comes and he watches the big kids and he’s dying to do what they do."
Jay Mandarino, founder of CJ’s, was at the park and enthusiastic about the town embracing skateboarding.
“This is such a great initiative and we need more of this to happen,” Mandarino said in an interview.
“It’s just great to see more communities doing this because people don’t understand how beneficial a skatepark is to the community and to youth and children.”
Mandarino said towns need to promote skateparks as an outlet for youth to be physically active and form strong community bonds.
“Moreso now because of COVID,” he said.
The sense of community that arises from skateboarding is it’s most powerful and positive effect, Mandarino said.
“It doesn’t matter what nationality you are or what religion you are or what income. Everybody helps everybody,” he said.
“It could be that five-year-old kid who's never been on a board, it could be a 21-year-old pro, it could be a 14-year-old or a 60-year-old — everybody just helps everybody.”
Skateboarding provides a healthy physical and mental outlet for struggling youth, Mandarino said.
“A lot of people don’t realize the benefits of skateboarding. A lot of team sports are about winning. And, of course, there’s nothing wrong with winning but not everyone's going to be as good as everybody else,” he said.
“The suicide rate right now is going off the charts for young people.”
Mandarino emphasized the importance of building a skatepark in a central location to combat the negative stigma associated with the sport.
“You know, sometimes — not so much skateboarders — but sometimes, historically, people are selling drugs at skateparks or late at night. It really depends on where it is,” he said.
Mandarino is 61 now and still skateboards. If for nothing else adults should pick up the sport for the health benefits, he said.
“I lost 20 pounds when I started skateboarding again,” he said.
Sebastian McLaughlin, a 14-year-old from Bradford, has been petitioning his municipal council to invest in a skatepark in the town south of Barrie to promote healthy activities for teenagers.
“It’s a great way to have confidence. It’s not a team sport, it's all you — there’s no pressure,” McLaughlin said in an interview.
“The community is very very cool and it just helps with your mentality.”
McLaughlin said he and his buddies have to drive to neighbouring communities like Richmond Hill to skateboard and said his hope is to have a skatepark in Bradford like the one in NOTL built.
Pro-skateboarder Chris Setinas, 18, was there teaching kids like McLaughlin how to improve their technique. Setinas is from Markham and is listed as one of the top 2,000 skateboarders in the world by theboardr.com
He was happy to be helping youth get involved in the skateboarding community, which has been such a good home for him, he said.
“It’s pretty cool to see the younger kids learning and seeing them all get together,” Setinas said.
The scenic atmosphere of NOTL was not lost on the co-ordinators.
“(NOTL) is a beautiful area. I said to the kids, ‘Hey, we can take you for a glass of wine after but, oh wait, you guys aren’t old enough,' ” Mandarino joked.
CJ’s, the largest not-for-profit skatepark in the world, was founded by Mandarino in 2008.
He started skateboarding in the 1970s and gained fame as the first person in the world to jump over a Ferrari.
He had a picture of the moment on one of the skateboards he was riding at the open house.
The town used $1,000 of a grant partially funded by ParticipACTION to promote fitness and wellness to host the event, Maksenuk said.
ParticipACTION is a non-profit organization founded in 1971 to promote physical fitness and activity in Canada.
Coun. Allan Bisback was on hand to check out the festivities.
“The thing I like about the skatepark, for me, it’s bringing back some normalcy. To come out and see the kids using this — things are starting to get back to normal, and I think that’s very helpful,” Bisback said.
—With files from Richard Harley
Evan Saunders, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Lake Report