Tuesday July 29, 2014


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Transforming environments

In Conversation

I’ve always been fascinated by the unique alteration of environments through imaginative manipulation. 

A local example is the haunted house that completely transforms the hallways of Execuplace every Halloween.  On any other day, walking through the building conjures mostly ordinary feelings.  You see florescent lights decorating the ceiling and neutral shades of commercial carpet lining the floor.  None of it arouses a sense of terror. 

And yet, every year, the space entirely changes.  Corners that once stored stacks of chairs become hiding places for ghosts and zombies.  A room that regularly hosts family-friendly activities morphs into a witch’s lair.  Children (and many adults) shake with fear in a doorframe that normally evokes feelings of comfort.

How can a doorframe encourage a sense of safety one day and horror the next?  Through the ingenuity of human creativity, haunted houses are a perfect example of imaginative manipulation.

I don’t advocate creating spaces that freak out toddlers, but any tactile environment that stimulates creativity fulfills a very critical part the human experience.  As Picasso said, “The chief enemy of creativity is good sense.”  Seeing a hallway in an office building as only a hallway in an office building is the enemy of creativity.  Seeing it as a spooky dungeon (or a multitude of fantastic things) is the beginning of creating something artistic and exciting.

A sport that always imaginatively interacts with concrete environments (literally and figuratively) is skateboarding. 

Innovation has ruled skateboarding since its start in the mid-1970s in Santa Monica.  Skateboarding started with simple, slalom-like moves and slowly transformed into something completely different.  Now, complex tricks are a huge part of the sport.  The ollie, which is “a maneuver in skateboarding in which the skater kicks the tail of the board down while jumping in order to make the board pop into the air”, is an example of an innovative move that totally altered an already innovative activity.  The ollie allows skateboarders to not only to jump curbs, but get air on all sorts of tricks.

Famous skateboarders like Rodney Mullen (who created the street-level ollie) talk about the inspiring nature of the skateboarding community, who motivate each other to find new and better ways to get creative with their environments.  No space is sacred and anything is possible.  Mullen once said, “I can’t sleep at night because I want to try something new.”

Fort St. John will soon see a place to try innovative moves in a skatepark across from the new fire hall (beside Sobeys on 93 street and 93 avenue).  With the help of Newline Skateparks, “a full service design and construction firm specializing in the development of progressive skateable environments”, Fort St. John will welcome a safe and expansive environment for local skateboarders to try new tricks.

To find out more about the local skate culture (including a local crew, “Third Eye”), I visited Fort St. John’s premier independently owned skate shop, Dark Flavour.  Opened in 1999 and managed by Luke Rechsteiner, staff of Dark Flavour are local skate and snowboard experts.

I chatted with Matt Loftus, an employee of the local shop who started snowboarding and skateboarding in high school.  Already a snowboarder, he started skateboarding as “something to do”, but quickly realized that it was something he was passionate about.  Having tried street skating in a number of cities, he’s excited for the new skatepark and the possibilities it will offer Fort St. John skaters. 

Out of curiosity, I asked him how he prepares for a difficult trick.  He visualizes it and then tries it a few times to perfect it.  He agrees that “getting over the fear of falling on concrete” is a huge part of skateboarding. 

In the late 1980s, many skateboarders took up the sport after the premier of Back to the Future in 1985.  In the movie, Marty McFly turns a soapbox scooter into a skateboard after ripping off the handle in an attempt to flee from bad boy, Biff Tannen.  Skateboarders everywhere hope that young scooter riders will follow suit and, as Luke recommends, “Stop scootering!  Pick up a skateboard.” 



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