ORCAS ISLAND: A Fine Way to Spend a Long Weekend

Date: November 17, 2017 Author: Jeff Thorburn Categories: features | video
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Words and photos by Oli Gagnon

Most people have a special place. Somewhere that brings them good feelings whenever they visit, somewhere they constantly dream about. To some of us, the one place that stands out is Orcas Island. It’s a must-see on any skater's bucket list who's hungry for speed lines, pool block, and epic times. A killer park situated in the beautiful landscape of an otherwise quiet-and-quaint little island, seemingly occupied mostly by old hippies and retirees trying to escape the trappings of city life. 

The annual pilgrimage to Orcas has become a tradition for the Hastings crew from Vancouver. Typically taking place on a long weekend in May, it’s a fantastic way to kick off the summer. I could go on and on about the partying, the campfires, the bros and the beers, but first, let’s backtrack all the way to 2002.

Got a freak flag? Fly it high and frontside like Adam Gee.

It seems like you can be anywhere these days and there will be a sick skatepark within an hour’s drive in the Pacific Northwest. As peaceful and mellow as Orcas Island can be, some people still wanted a place where they could skate without having to leave the island, so a bunch of motivated people got behind it, and, led by famed ski filmmaker Warren Miller, they were able to raise $65,000 to start the project. Apparently, the local superintendents of the school got wind of it and were backing the idea, so they gave them half an acre of surplus land just on the outskirts of the local high school to build. Game on!

Conlan Killeen prepares to smack down a Back Tail and bounce his way back into the promised land.

With the land available and a bit of dough, they knew they could get it going and figure out the rest of the funds down the road. The next step was to figure out who would be in charge of building it, so they decided they would start interviewing potential builders. They discussed the project with a few candidates, but when Mark “Monk” Hubbard sat down and started talking to them, they knew he was the guy for the job. Covered in concrete from a previous job, living in his car, and showering at the YMCA, he was a true hard-working dirtbag. “He was my kind of guy,” states Miller.

Is it a beam? Nah, it’s just Corey McIntosh intensely focused on bringing a FSA safely back down to Earth.

Their instructions to Hubbard were clear and simple: “We don’t know a single thing about what a skatepark should look like when finished. We’re too old to ride skateboards, but there is 22,000 square feet of level land, and we want you build the best park that you can build at this point in your career.” Turns out, that was the best approach they could’ve taken.  The park is flowy and you can get as gnarly as you want, but it also has mellow obstacles for the less experienced. It’s truly magical.

Jamie Maley reels a Frontside Grind in off the crest of a concrete wave.

Fast-forward 15 years later and here we are, enjoying the shit out of this giant concrete sculpture. With the simple goal of shredding in mind, our daily schedule would be getting up around 9 or 10 a.m., slowly moving out of the camping spot down by the water and making our way out to the park where we would have breakfast. Then, minutes later, the session would spark up and nobody would really chill until sundown. I have memories of grabbing my camera hastily and running around all day and shooting non-stop because people were so fired up. You need to be out with these guys to really understand how good they are, how easy they make it look, and also how humble they are about it. Especially for a guy like me who has limited skills on the old plank.

Never satisfied with standard playground monkey bars, Adam Hopkins rigs up a set of his own and plants an Invert where not even eagles dare.

“There is no limit to the good a person can do if they don’t care who gets the credit,” says the bronze plaque at the entrance of the park. A noble way of thinking. Thank you, Mr. Miller, for keeping the kids outside!

Rest in Peace, Karl the Dog

Words by Chris McCallum

“Our little buddy Karl, Hastings and Leeside local, had joined us for the Orcas journey every year of his short life. Sadly, this year was his last. Karl passed away at Obstruction Pass, surrounded by friends and loved ones, on May 19, 2017. He raged right up ’til the end when he decided it was time to lay down for his final rest. His loss didn't put a damper on the heated session that ensued for the days that followed, ’cause Karl wouldn't have had it any other way.  Karl was a pretty awesome little dude and impacted a lot of people, especially around here in the East Vancouver skate scene. He will be sorely missed. However, our hearts are soothed knowing that he chose his resting place, one the most beautiful places on earth, and his spirit lives on with us.” 

Check out this video the guys put together as well, capturing the shredding as well as the spirit of Karl: