That was Then, This is Now - Chris Connolly
Chris Connolly is an integral part of the Birling skateboard team. His talent on a board is what’ll catch your eye, but Chris is also a helpful individual, with a positive attitude and an excellent work ethic. After a decade spent immersed in the Vancouver skate-rat culture, Chris returned to his hometown of Ottawa in 2016. His time in Vancouver seemed like a summary of our collective teenage dreams - skating every day, traveling at the expense of his sponsors, and plenty of partying... the easy life. When reality struck, Chris was not the least bit upset and switched gears happily into family life. Easy come, easy go. We’re stoked to have him involved in what we do.
Where and when did you start skateboarding?
I got my first board when I was around 4 years old in 1988. I was living in a sketchier part of Ottawa back then (Gloucester) with just my mom. Unfortunately that board was stolen, but I was lucky to have had it replaced by a hand-me-down set up thanks to a cousin. From that point on, I only ever skated hand-me-down boards, honestly, until my first shop sponsor which was EQ. I almost never skated anything brand new until then.
How did that get lined up?
Local Ottawa legend Jay Bro hooked that one up. He got me on the team when I was 16.
When you close your eyes and think about skating back in those days, what comes to mind?
Skate culture was tighter knit then compared to now. It hadn’t quite hit its stride in popularity just yet. Downtown Ottawa is quite small, so back then when you’d go down to skate the streets, you’d bump into and join sessions with all the other skaters along your way. It was normal to end up with a 15 person session after a few hours. You’d find yourself skating with some of the older, better skaters which often lit a fire. You wanted to jump down bigger stuff because they were watching.
So there were no bad vibes?
There were so few of us skaters back then. Everyone did actually know each other. You know that feeling you get when you hear a skateboard out of the window of your house and you go over to see who it is? That was super rare back in those years but when it did happen, there was almost a guarantee that you knew the homie.
It is quite outstanding how many amazing skaters came out of Ottawa during that time especially. In a funny way this could be because skating is so awful in Ottawa. Those who persevere despite our shitty conditions develop a true passion for it. You have to REALLY love skateboarding to continue on with it in a city like Ottawa.
Oh, totally. You also have to put the work in to continue skating. Whether that be skating in dusty parking garages over the winter to travelling to Montreal for a proper indoor skate park. Your passion drives you but you also have to put the work in to make it happen.
Handplant [o] Aaron Cayer
What do you think happened to those tight knit vibes? Speaking from experience, things weren’t always 100% friendly back in the early 2000s…
There was something special that tied skaters together in Ottawa before the 2000s. It was before skating blew up, before the video games etc. and there was a community of skaters who were all equally passionate about it. When skateboarding started to become more accessible and accepted, a disconnect started to form. It was like a new generation of skaters were forming that didn’t understand why it was so special. People were treating it as if it was just some other sport like hockey or soccer which is something we didn’t see eye to eye on. I couldn’t afford to play hockey when I was growing up, you know? But I could scrounge a few bucks and buy an old board off some neighbourhood skater.
Skateboarding did seem to grow very quickly. It used to be that if you saw someone with skate shoes on, they were almost certainly a skater. Now it’s more likely that they simply think skateboarding is cool, not to say that's a bummer.
Right…it diluted skateboarding culture overnight. It was as if the physical act of skateboarding was being put on the back burner. Skate shops used to be these dark, dingy places where skateboarding was the focus and now you can walk into a skate shop where the boards are tucked away in the back somewhere. The clothes, lifestyle and marketing features are the focus. I am fully aware of how people regard these views as snobbish.
It’s just your opinion, which you’re obviously entitled to…At some point you made the leap from Ottawa to Vancouver. When was that?
Right after I graduated from high school…so 2004. I was sponsored by 88 footwear at the time and my team manager hooked me up with a Nokia billboard ad photo shoot in Toronto. I used the money from that shoot to fly myself out to Vancouver. They ran the billboards all across North America. The photo used was one of me doing a melon grab over a rail at the Mississauga park. I believe they were promoting one of the first camera phones.
Damn…That’s wild! What was it like moving out to Vancouver? Any noticeable differences from living in Ottawa?
Well I didn’t really know anyone when I first moved out there, but that changed quickly. Once I got a good group of friends, everything fell into place. Every Friday we’d skate Hastings, do up a BBQ, have beers then go to a punk rock show. Every Friday was pretty much the same. From what I saw, everyone was getting along great in the skate community. The transition skaters got along well with the street skaters, etc. It seemed pretty tight knit there too, so the transition was smooth.
Blunt to fakie [o] Aaron Cayer
At that point in time, Vancouver felt like the capital for skateboarding in Canada.
That’s why I went out there. It seemed like there were brighter pastures in Vancouver and I wasn’t disappointed. There were lots more skaters in general and more skateparks. Shooting photos and filming was way easier and better. I was just thinking today about how much I miss those days. Life was definitely more laid back then….even with sponsorships too. Most of my hook-ups I got through skating and partying with some homies. I was good at partying, but I probably did a bit too much of that. At one point it became clear to me that skating is not something that I will be able to make a career out of so I called up my sponsors, told them that they should stop sending me packages and flew home.
I like that approach. It seems refreshingly grounded in reality. You went out to Vancouver, you had your fun then when the writing was on the wall, you called it a day and moved on.
Don’t get me wrong, I really appreciate my sponsors and the time I spent out there. I got to travel a bunch on their dime. I even had a beer sponsor at one point. It was awesome. I just never wanted to be milking it. Once that feeling crept in, I knew I had to put an end to that, without any bitterness. I am so grateful for all that was given to me during that decade in Vancouver. Truly. Skateboarding doesn’t owe you anything. Once your window is done, that’s that.
It’s beneficial to have that kind of realistic attitude. All too often you hear about skateboarders who do the opposite. They exit the skateboarding industry bitter about not having the same opportunities as they once did.
You gotta see it for what it is. It was a fun time, I was grateful for it, but at some point it finished. It was time to get a job and move on. That doesn’t mean that skateboarding ends though. Definitely not. Just as I am grateful for my time in Van, I am also still grateful to be skating right now. I’m stoked.
That’s rad Conz, your continued positivity towards skating while balancing work, and family life with a daughter is awesome. Thanks for your time.
Thanks! Yeah, anytime.