Below freezing temperatures, along with a north wind coming off the lake, didn’t seem to deter local skateboarder, Jackson Fournier, from practising some skating tricks at Orillia’s skate park on a recent afternoon.
Fournier, who lives near the waterfront skate park, had the facility to himself when he first arrived, but within minutes was joined by up to a dozen others on skateboards, inline skates or bikes to enjoy the outdoor park.
It’s a popular facility, even on a cold March day, with snow still covering part of the skating area.
The growing popularity of the sport is why the Orillia Skateparkers group was formed, with the goal of bringing the community together to develop a new skate park for the city.
The impetus for the project came from avid skateboarders Mark Watson, co-owner of Pocket Skate and Vintage in downtown Orillia, Dylan Court and Mike Best. The trio are leading a campaign to raise funds for a new skate park and are working with the municipality to ensure it is included in future development plans.
Fournier says he is “totally in favour” of the idea, agreeing that Orillia needs a better facility for skateboarding.
“This has been my number one activity for getting outside and keeping active over the past year,” said Fournier. Although he hadn’t skateboarded since he was a young teenager, Fournier, now a university student, said he recently got back into it.
“When COVID came along, I couldn’t play indoor sports, so thought I’d try skateboarding again and have been having a blast here ever since.”
Once back into the sport, Fournier found opportunities to check out skate parks in other communities and, in spite of enjoying his time at his local skate park, realizes its many drawbacks.
“Skate parks are often rated by how well they flow – being able to line up a number of tricks and skate around the whole park in a loop. You can’t do that here.”
Fournier also explained that the existing park, which was built at Veterans’ Memorial Park in 1999 as The Kiwanis Skateboard Park, has a number of cracks and holes that are hazardous, making it less suitable for beginners. It is also missing some good design elements, he said.
He says newer, better designed parks are beautifully smooth and are designed for a wide range of skaters, from beginners to advanced.
“A skate park that accommodates our growing community is what we need,” said Court.
Both Court and Watson said they have seen a huge increase in the popularity of the sport over the past few years.
“It’s a very inclusive sport,” said Watson. “And highly accessible – to get started, you don’t need a lot of equipment, just a beginner skateboard.”
“It’s popular because it can be both a sport and an art form,” added Court. “Some people enjoy it for the physical workout you get, while others like the creativity and inventing new tricks.”
“And we expect the interest to really explode after this year’s Olympic games, where skateboarders will complete for the first time,” said Watson.
According to the website, publicskateparkguide, many parks administrators claim their skateparks are their most popular recreational facilities. Skaters will use a skatepark every day, often for hours at a time.
Sports fields, on the other hand, enjoy periods of activity and then are typically empty between games. Popular skateparks are often used from dawn until dusk.
The Orillia Skateparkers group hopes that city officials will see the potential and include such a facility in its plans. Once the group has confirmation of a location and a partnership with the municipality, it will be able to access a variety of funding sources.
“If it’s designed properly, a new skate park could also become an attraction for the city,” said Watson and Court. “We often travel to other cities just to skate at their parks – that’s what skateboarders do. Being so central and close to Toronto, Orillia could become a destination, and maybe even a training facility for advanced athletes.”
Their dream park would be one like the state-of-the-art Lake Wilcox Skatepark in Richmond Hill. It’s likely also a dream that many local skateboarders like Fournier, who are discovering or re-discovering the sport, would love to see turned into reality.
For those who are interested in trying out the sport, all they have to do is go to the library and check out a board. Really? Yes, the Orillia Public Library and Orillia Skateparkers have teamed up to offer a “Skateboarding Adventure Kit” as one of the library’s “Cool Things to Borrow.”
To find out more about how to support the Orillia Skateparkers project for a new skate park, visit the group’s Facebook page. You can also keep an eye out for an upcoming fundraiser to take place this summer. Court will be combining his passions for skateboarding and creating art by organizing a Wall Boards Auction, where artists decorate skateboards.