How Birling Skateshop Helped Organize Free Indoor Skateboarding in Ottawa
As told by Adam Wawrzynczak Photos by Aaron Cayer This past February, the city of Ottawa launched a free weekly indoor skateboarding...
My name is Heidi. I’m a trans woman and my pronouns are she and her. I’m a skateboarder from Brazil, and I’ve been living in Canada, specifically Vancouver, for the past two and a half years. I go to art school, and I don’t have a job right now because of the pandemic. I’ve had lots of time to skate, which is great. It’s definitely one of my passions in life, and a big part of who I am.
Why did you move to Vancouver, and how different is it here for you compared to back home?
One of the main factors in choosing Vancouver was the weather. Coming from Brazil, it’s hot all year, and it would be really hard for me to stay somewhere that has harsh winters and snow all of the time. But Vancouver works because it’s mild, and there’s still the opportunity to go snowboarding in the winter, which is another one of my main passions.
The skateboarding experience between here and home is very different. It took me a little bit of time to find myself in the scene here, also because of a personal journey that I was going through, that required me to branch out with new groups of people and get to know other folks that are similar-minded to me. Compared to back home, that’s something that I never really experienced there.
At home, it was always about skating with my friends and stuff, but they were all cis-het men [meaning they identify as men and are attracted to women.—ed.] and I just didn’t get to share much of my personal journey with them, which is something that makes me feel more comfortable when I’m skateboarding now. It’s such an expressive sport, and you have so many things in your mind, and things that you take in, and they end up coming out into a beautiful portrait of someone’s personal life and style.
Over the years I’ve had the pleasure of meeting so many skateboarders, and it’s brought me close to so many important people in my life. Especially here in Canada, I feel like that really took off. I got here without really knowing anyone, and for the first year and a half, I was mainly just skateboarding with my roommate. I started to see there was a queer scene here, so I joined one of the meet-ups, and that just introduced me to so many people that I still hang out with. Now I skate much more than I used to back home or in my first year here. It makes me really happy.
Skateboarding is rad. It’s such a creative sport. You can take it to so many levels and do so many different things. I was always drawn to it, from the first time I saw it. Just looking at all these rad people. It had such an attitude and energy that for me screamed that when you’re a person who skateboards, you can do anything you want. You can modify the terrain, build stuff with pieces of things you find in the garbage dump. That was one of the things that made me fall in love with skateboarding so much, just how little it requires in terms of money. It’s so accessible and you can do all kinds of things, tapping into that creative part of yourself.
For me, skateboarding is also tapping into your intuition to let it flow freely. You just do your own thing, and that’s all right. Over time, it brought me a lot of self-confidence that I felt like I lacked. Also, just having fun.
Does skateboarding feel different to you now that you can go out and do it as yourself, rather than it did when you were growing up, going out skating and passing as male?
It’s so much more therapeutic now. It always had that factor, but it was brought to other levels with just how comfortable I am in my own skin now, and how freely I can express that through skateboarding at a public space. It definitely changed a lot. At home, I always approached it as just putting on a uniform, without much expression or anything that would set me apart from everyone else. I just tried to blend in as much as I could. It’s got a whole different feeling to it now, for sure, that I very much appreciate.
I want to express some gratitude to everyone that’s been helping me since I got here. Everybody that I’ve met through skateboarding, who I am now lucky to call friends. They’ve shown up so many times and it’s all thanks to skateboarding. I’ve got people supplying me with spare decks, and I actually just had two friends buy me a new deck, something that I hadn’t had in ages. It’s probably been a few years that I’ve been just riding whatever I can find, and riding it to the bone. Which is sort of part of the culture where I came from; boards are just so expensive there, so we try to make them last as long as we can.
I also wanted to say that the job the community as a whole is doing to create a more safe space and a place where everyone feels welcome is working, and we can’t stop here, we’ve just got to do more and more. It’s great already, but there’s always room for improvement.
It’s better than it was, so it can probably continue to get even better yet.
That’s so true, I think of every aspect of life. It can always be a little bit better.
Interview and photo by Jeff Thorburn