JEFF THORBURN PORTFOLIO
Make a few moves in your adult life and you’ll inevitably end up with friends and family all over the place. Such...
The day before Scott and I shot this Wallride Nollie in Toronto, we had driven all over the western Greater Toronto Area with a car full of Quebecers. It seemed like no matter how many spots we checked out, we couldn’t find anything enticing enough to get down to business, and when we did, we would get kicked out before there was any chance to set up camera gear. By the time the sun was nearing the horizon, morale was low and I decided to bring the crew to a fun spot where we could finally roll around a bit before calling it a day. Likely influenced by the positive turn of events, I began spouting off some sort of quasi-motivational nonsense about how the next day would be so much more productive and we would have a blast skating downtown rather than in the outskirts of the city. We would even be able to get started early so we could fit in even more skating than usual. Everyone seemed down, and we went our separate ways for the evening.
Committed to having a better day, we all met up at 11 a.m. (something of a feat in itself for most skateboarders) and headed downtown, went to the first spot, and got right to work. While Alex Morin was taking care of business on a chest-high rail, Scott split off from the rest of the crew, returning to mention that he’d found a spot that might make for a cool photo. He brought us to an untouched stair set located just across the run-up for the rail Alex was skating, where he had been loosening some skate-tool-sized nuts that fastened a handrail to a fresh concrete wall. Charles Giroux (the filmer) and I persuaded Scott to give it a few tries, and before we knew it, we were removing the finger-loose nuts and hiding the handrail in some nearby bushes. Aside from an awkward approach, the spot was asking for some sort of wallride variation. The steep stairs, smooth wall, and sharp bolts leftover from the missing bannister even made for a nicely proportioned photo, and, on top of everything, we were riding off of the positive energy from the heavy move we had just witnessed. It seemed like everything was on our side, and Scott started going for it. Keep in mind, this was all happening before we’d even thought about eating lunch.
The spot landed on a busy sidewalk that lead directly into a street, so Alex was keeping an eye on traffic to ensure a collision-free session—nothing out of the ordinary for skaters in an urban environment. This all changed, however, when one of the university campus’ security guards pulled up in his SUV to ask us to leave. Hoping that the guard wouldn’t notice the missing handrail, we watched as he engaged Alex in a discussion about whether or not we could continue skating, and, on our end, things weren’t looking good. In an attempt to get his trick before we had to leave, Scott took another try without any direction from Alex. He landed on his griptape but slipped out, sending his board hurtling into the side of a fast-moving car. The car slowed to a quick stop, and between the potential for a confrontation with a road-raging driver and the realization that Scott could have just been struck by the speeding vehicle, I just sat speechless at the bottom of the stairs. On the contrary, Alex took this as an opportunity to berate the security guard for disrupting our safe procedure, insisting that what had just transpired was in fact his fault, and not ours. The security guard was obviously shaken by the situation, and he drove off in what I can only assume what a frightened reaction to the whole ordeal. In this time, the other car had also managed to disappear from view without any sort of reaction to what had just happened. We got lucky, to say the least.
Surprisingly unphased, Scott quickly continued to try and land his trick, managing to roll away twice in only a handful more tries. Both stoked and anxious to leave the area before the situation could escalate any further, we packed up our gear and decided that we should quickly re-attach the rail to the wall to avoid giving any other security guards or hero-citizens the opportunity to add vandalism to the list of indiscretions in which we’d just partaken. We successfully drove off with another photo under our belts and the spot left intact, aside from the wheel marks that remained behind the railing on the otherwise clean concrete.
To the best of my knowledge, those marks were still quite visible in the weeks following that session, and I eventually stopped noticing altogether. It occurs to me how ridiculous it must look to other skaters, who, through experience, know the inherent incompatibility of a wall-rail and wallride marks beneath it. How must it look to pedestrians passing on the street? Do they wonder why the university would install a defiled slab of concrete along with otherwise fresh materials? Or do they think it is some sort of new-age graffiti that hasn’t shown up anywhere else? I also wonder if that security guard ever noticed the replaced handrail and connected the dots to realize that we were responsible for the artifacts left behind after our late-morning interaction with the domain he was hired to patrol. As much as I realize that most passersby will never even glance at the wall or notice anything out of place, I’d like to think the results of that session raised a few eyebrows and made a few people think. I also like to take that day as an opportunity to remember that for skateboarders, that wasn’t such a weird situation at all, but just another day out in the streets.
Words and Photos by James Morley