King Mike and his Community Values
Since around the time everyone realized the “fad” was not fading, Skateboarders have been outsiders. Lumped in with the vandals, the dopers, and the punks, Skateboarders were persecuted not for what they did, but for who they were.
And yet, the sport persevered, times changed, and the masses began to realize that these “punk” skateboarders embodied the exact qualities of dedication, resilience and sense of community that we should all be teaching our kids.
“You can’t fight evolution,” says Mike Leblanc, an ex-pro skater and snowboarder who played an instrumental role in developing the very first children’s skateboard programs at Airhouse Squamish. “Skateboarding is about perseverance, technique, balance, muscle memory and community. A skatepark or ramp provides an opportunity for kids to learn these skills and meet other kids they might not get to meet out biking or on the ski hill. It’s a community centre almost. You’re just standing on a piece of wood with wheels, but you are also building bonds and friendships that can last a lifetime.”
Squamish averages 172 rainy days each year so the value of an indoor skate facility can’t be understated and the fact that there are trampolines right beside it is the icing on the cake. “I think the most important thing is keeping kids moving and keeping them involved and showing them a healthy life” Mike says. “When I was learning, we didn’t have people teaching us the proper way to do things—how to take care of our bodies, health, training, diet. It’s about teaching life lessons beyond just the sport.”
After skateboarding professionally as a teen in the US, Mike’s family ended up in Ottawa during his high school years and he moved to Whistler in the early 1990s. “The skate bowl was brand new and as soon as I arrived I met some guys who helped me get up the mountains,” he says. “That year, and those people I met, turned into the rest of my life, which is fantastic.”
Now 44 years old and living in Squamish with his girlfriend and three sons, Leblanc recently packed the whole family into a van and drove across Canada to skate every park they could find.
“This past summer was Canada’s 150 birthday,” he says, “so it felt like a great time to show the kids the entire country. We drove from Nova Scotia back to Squamish with no real plan; Just seeing family and friends and trying to hit as many skateparks as we could.”
Mike says the biggest surprise of the 30-day road trip, for him, was how well everyone got along cramped in a van tracking down new skateparks, some of which were 4+ hours off the main route home.
“There are so many new parks all across the country,” he says. “It’s incredible to see. All the old guys are coming out to skate with their kids because these parks are so nice and accessible. We’d arrive to skate and I’d be hanging out with the old guys and my kids would meet new kids, the Canadian skate community is stronger than ever and it is cool to see all the different eras gathering together for the love of sport. Everyone is so proud of their parks and made us feel so welcome.”
Mike’s oldest son, Jake, is 15 years old. A very accomplished skater, he’s been riding between his dad’s legs since he was in diapers. Jake is a staple at the Airhouse mini ramp and is already carrying on his old man’s tradition of building community through sport and fun.
“Skating is about encouraging each other,” Jake says. “Letting little kids know that it is ok to fall. I think that’s the hardest thing for them to learn, if you are skateboarding you are gonna fall, and it’s ok.”
“That’s where we are right now,” Mike says with obvious pride. “The torch has been passed. We are very lucky that we get to do a sport we love as a family. That’s the great thing about skating, snowboarding, skiing… the family that plays together stays together. It builds a bond and trust at such an early age, we don’t even realize we have it because we are just out having fun together but it’s creating this foundation for life.”
“Jake is ripping way harder than I am,” Mike adds. “On concrete or snow, you got me son… and that is a beautiful thing.”
About the Author:
Feet moved to Whistler with his family at age 12 to live the dream. After time on the Island at University of Victoria, Feet returned home to the mountains where he co-directed and produced the seminal Canadian ski film Parental Advisory Vol 1. Feet also makes short horror films for fun, hosts many Whistler events, writes a weekly movie column, freelances for numerous top outdoor mags, and has been the editor of Mountain Life – Coast Mountains since it’s inception in 2006. He and his family now call Squamish, BC home.