Skimboarding takes hold in Kitsilano

SURF’S UP IN Kitsilano. Kind of. When reached by phone, Peter “P D” Ducommun told theGeorgia Straight that as long as he can recollect, the Kitsilano crossroads of West 4th Avenue and Macdonald Street has always had the air of a little surf town.


“Even though there’s no surf here because Vancouver Island gets in the way, there’s always been that vibe. Except for Wreck Beach, where there are sometimes incoming waves, there is no surf to speak of, so flatland skimboarding took root here instead.”

Ducommun noted that although low tide at Kits Beach offers skimming opportunities, Spanish Banks in nearby Point Grey is the premier locale.

For two decades, PD’s Hot Shop has been the epicentre of summer skimboard action in Kitsilano. When the store’s West 4th Avenue location got torn down last year, Ducommun relocated a dozen blocks west to a new location on West 10th Avenue (at Alma Street), a district he now refers to as “Point Kits”.

In 1995, Ducommun and skateboarder-turned-skimboarder Dax Kenny gathered a group of like-minded wave riders to form the Spanish Flyers. At low tide at Spanish Banks, they could be seen gliding and spinning along mudflats that often extend as far as one kilometre into English Bay toward the anchored freighters. It didn’t take long before others joined in.

These days, it’s not unusual to see more than a hundred board aficionados west of Kits Beach. With school out, numbers swell even higher as skimboard camps are in session. On the phone from his office at West Point Grey Academy, Warren Lee told theStraight that skimboarding is the “anchor camp” on the school’s roster of summer weekday offerings.

“When I moved here in 1999 to work as director of student life at the academy, I didn’t see any similar camps on offer.” Lee said. “That’s when I approached P D and Dax to help develop a curriculum. The best part is that kids who started as young as five and barely strong enough to lift a board went on to work as volunteers and now, having experienced all aspects of the program, are our instructors.”

Case in point: head instructor Tim Ladner, who grew up skimboarding locally. The Straight recently met up with the 28-year-old at Spanish Banks. When quizzed about differences between the approach kids and adults take to learning the sport, his response was unequivocal: “Kids require less instruction. I tell them to throw the board down, run after it, and hop on. It’s as simple as that. Kids will jump on without thinking. There’s no mental block, whereas adults want to know every little detail such as what foot to use. In reality, you just have to try it and figure it out for yourself.”

Both Lee and Ladner agreed that a big part of skimming’s attraction was just being at the beach. Lee has observed an even split between boys and girls, with one major difference: “The girls who sign up want to skim. They are committed and thrive on wipeouts, whereas a lot of boys think they want to learn but end up chasing crabs or building sandcastles.”

After five years as an instructor with Windsure Adventure Watersports, Katie Stuart told the Straight by phone that although adults may possess more upper-body strength to toss a board “farther, faster, longer”, they are also more afraid to fail. “Seven-year-olds seem born on skimboards, though some adults are naturals too.”

A long wavelength of sand stretches from Locarno Beach to Spanish Banks’s border with Pacific Spirit Regional Park. At low tide, rivulets of freshwater seep from slopes onto the flats, creating shallow expanses that Stuart called “prime real estate”. “Here in Vancouver, it’s actually hydroplaning in low-tide pools,” she said. “If you’re doing it right, you’ll come off your board every so often, so you don’t want to fall on rocks or shells.”

In fact, tumbling into sun-toasted water can be a pleasurable experience. Then there’s the simple joy of wiggling one’s toes in sandy flats while watching skimmers slap their boards down and race to hop on.

Like the fleeting days of summer, catch ’em while you can.

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