Vancouver’s North Shore is the closest thing Canada has to Orange County, Calif. Split from the downtown by the Burrard Inlet and bordered on three sides by mountains and water, the suburbs it contains are worlds unto themselves. At once wealthy, WASPy and uptight, they are also conversely laid back and sporty. It’s the kind of place where you might get called “bro” by a banker’s son on a mountain bike, or yelled at by a cast member from the Real Housewives of Vancouver (one of whom owns four houses in a gated community on the shore).
Along with Laguna Beach in Orange County, and Adelaide, Australia, the North Shore is also a global centre for the burgeoning sport of longboarding. And that doesn’t sit well with everyone who lives there. An increasingly heated dispute between longboarders and their foes boiled over in the district of North Vancouver in recent months, exposing the central tension in North Shore life. The culture there is essentially conservative, but it’s also touched by a freewheeling love of outdoor sport. And, as the longboarding battle has shown, the two aspects of shore life don’t always coexist well.
Longboards look like oversized skateboards. But with broader bases and bigger wheels, they’re easier to ride and better for longer trips. Les Robertson, the marketing and sponsorship manager at Rayne Longboards in North Vancouver, breaks down users into three groups: transporters, who treat their boards almost like bicycles; sliders, who do tricks; and downhill racers.
It’s that last group that is causing controversy in North Vancouver. The streets in the district are built against a mountainside. Many residential roads flow unobstructed for thousands of steep, winding metres. For downhill boarders, they’re perfect for building up speed, taking tight turns and even carving across the roadway like snowboarders on a mountain.
At a recent meeting, district council decided against banning boarding outright on municipal roads. Instead, councillors approved a strict set of sanctions for longboarders who are deemed to be out of control. But the new rules, scheduled to be adopted later in the month, seem to have pleased few. “Basically, we’re trying to accommodate both [cars and longboards], and I don’t think that’s going to work” says Robin Hicks, a dissenting voice on council.
Sue Hope lives midway up one street popular with longboarders. She first noticed them a few years ago. Back then, it was mostly older teens and twentysomethings, guys and girls who looked like they took care of themselves and each other, she says. But as the sport grew more popular, the boarders became younger and more cavalier. Riders on Hope’s road used to have spotters at each of its three hairpin turns to watch for oncoming cars. Few do so anymore, she says. “It kind of scares me. I’m worried about people coming up the street around the blind corner and there being an accident.”
There have already been a few. In 2010, Glenna Evans, a competitive downhill longboarder wearing full safety gear, died after colliding with a vehicle near the bottom of a North Vancouver road. More recently, local resident Chuck Duffy says a longboarder slammed into his truck, causing $2,000 in damage, according to local reports. After that crash, Duffy started gathering signatures for a petition calling on the district to ban longboards on local roads.
It’s a move Lyle Craver would support. He lives on a steep road that doubles as a bus route. In an email, he says he routinely sees longboarders “engage in anti-social behaviour.” “I was coming home from work three weeks ago and found one group boarding three abreast in the middle of the road,” he says. “When I gave a light horn tap, two of the three flipped [me] the bird, as seems to be their reaction to most anything they dislike.”
And there’s the rub. The fight about longboards is as much about culture as anything else. “There’s this perception of this sort of ’80s thrasher skater that still persists, even now in 2012” says Robertson. “We’re different from that. We really consider ourselves more along the line of skiers or F1 racers.” But for some homeowners in the city, longboarders just look like bands of kids doing scary stuff on their roads.
If adopted as planned, the district’s new rules will allow police to levy steep fines and confiscate boards. Craver doesn’t think that goes far enough; he wants to see a complete ban. Robertson, on the other hand, believes the rules go much too far. “We’re living in Canada, this is supposed to be a place where we have personal freedoms, where we’re outdoorsy and athletic and co-operative and we say sorry when we don’t need to,” he says. “We’re not doing that right now. Right now we’re acting like America.”