At the top of a hill late at night, VIU student Guido Arena can faintly see the yellow line dividing the street. The 22-year-old looks down at the menacing descent and starts to shiver—his hands are sweaty, and his knees buckle. But as soon as Arena steps on his longboard—the slight concavity on either end of the board locks his feet into place—he begins his descent, and he knows there’s no turning back.
Arena gains momentum and the only thing that matters is the positioning of his wheels and upcoming obstacles. He starts to hear his breath inside his head and—in between the top and bottom of the hill—he reaches a state he can only explain as “perfect zen.”
But Arena, who says he prefers riding at night when there are fewer cars are the road, was surprised that night to see blue and red lights flashing behind him in the darkness when he reached the bottom of the hill.
“The police officer pulled me over, sirens going and everything,” Arena says, “and said that skateboarding on the street was illegal and to get off the road. I had no idea.”
In Nanaimo, under Bylaw 5000 “Restrictions” the city document states that (unless otherwise directed by the Director, a Peace Officer, or a person authorized by a Peace Officer to direct traffic) “No person shall: use roller skates, skate boards, sleighs, skates, skis or other similar means of conveyance on any highway or sidewalk.”
Prosecutions for this offense, detailed in section 3(2) can involve a fine of $75, and Bylaw Services Supervisor, Tim Davidson says, at the time of writing, 12 tickets have been issued for the “Skate on Highway” violation. Davidson says that the skate bylaws has been in effect since 1993, and that bylaws usually start with the voice of the public or are based off studies done in neighbouring cities.
“Sometimes these rules get mandated off research from other cities,” Davidson says, “maybe in Victoria or Vernon street skateboarding was also an issue, so they made this bylaw and it worked well.”
From his experience as a driver in Nanaimo, Davidson feels street boarding is definitely dangerous and he’s witnessed skateboarders riding around blind corners.
“Of course it’s dangerous for the skateboarders,” Davidsion says, “but you can dress them up in body armour and the fact is it’s still a conflict for other road users.”
On the other hand, longboard shop Switchback Longboards manager, Will Zouzouras, acknowledges the danger with reckless skateboarders whipping around corners but feels the police should use discretion and treat riders individually instead of prosecuting the entire sport.
“I think the law is ridiculous,” Zouzouras says, “and it’s banning an environmentally-friendly mode of transportation.”
Arena also feels that it’s “one of those laws that police can try and enforce, but nobody will abide anyway.” Arena says the biggest danger of street boarding is cars on the road. He feels the law is unfair and that skateboarding should be treated similar to cycling.
“The law is telling me that I can’t be healthy and do a sport I love because cars don’t know how to react to me,” Arena says, who feels that part of the issue is driver ignorance as well. Arena says that although experienced boarders have good control over their board, skateboards and longboards don’t have brakes and when a skateboarder is reaching 40 kilometre per hour momentum down a hill, vehicles should give them as much space as they would a bicycle. Even though Arena has skateboarded for about 10 years now, he says there’s always a risk factor and it’s a big drive of the industry.
“There’s a reason you’re willing to put yourself on a plank of wood going 60 kilometres an hour down a hill,” Arena says.
But if skateboarders and longboarders take certain safety precautions, Zouzouras says there are ways to reduce the risk of serious injuries.
“I don’t let anybody leave the store without a helmet if they purchase a board,” Zouzouras says, “and if they tell me they don’t have the money, I’ll give them a good deal. I really encourage the use of helmets, knee and elbow pads, and slide gloves, which are good for emergency stops.” Other safety gear sold in the store includes protective leather suits, reflective gear, and riser pads, which have lights that go on the bottom of the board.
For now, Arena says that he tries to avoid the police and does his best to respect others on the road when he’s riding.
“There’s a whole stigma to skateboarding and the subculture that the sport brings,” Arena says, “but it’s more like a different way of thinking. There’s a lifestyle in it, and if I followed this law, I’d be quitting something I love to do.”