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A portion of the Ottawa skateboard community gathered in front of Birling before hitting the streets in celebration of international “Go Skateboarding Day” (June 21st). Photo by Aaron Cayer.

Birling the quarantine: Skateboarding during a pandemic

By Apartment613 on April 28, 2020



A guest post from Adam Wawrzynczak at Birling

Is the social aspect of skateboarding an added bonus to an otherwise independent activity? An update about our shop, our team, and the impact of COVID-19 on skateboarding.

A portion of the Ottawa skateboard community gathered in front of Birling before hitting the streets in celebration of international “Go Skateboarding Day” (June 21st). Photo by Aaron Cayer.

Birling is our skateboard shop and brand based right here in Ottawa, Ontario. It is collectively owned by four skateboarders: Aaron Cayer, Thomas Pajdlhauser, Adam Wawrzynczak and Kyle Robertson. Birling does more than sell skateboarding products and coffee: we also teach skateboarding; spearhead skateboard park building initiatives; document Ottawa skateboarding through photography; and donate skateboards to underprivileged youth. Generally speaking, we strive for the shop to be the starting point for something larger.

Adam Wawrzynczak teaching skateboarding basics to a youngster in partnership with The Ottawa Skateboard Association. Photo by Aaron Cayer.

Birling is the home we’ve created for our communal love of skateboarding to thrive in. It is from this home that we are able to realize our ideas and push skateboarding in the right direction. Among other means, we achieve this through community engagement. In warmer months, we organize an average of one event per week, where the local skateboard community is able to assemble and socialize. We host BBQs and video premiers. We run clinics, trivia nights, fundraisers, concerts and more; none of which would be possible without the assistance from our “skateboard team.”

Adam Wawrzynczak teaching skateboarding at Beyond the Pale’s annual “All Hands on Deck” skateboard art show fundraiser (curated by Daniel Martelock). Photo by Aaron Cayer.

Truthfully, we do consider the entire skateboarding community in Ottawa to be a part of our family. Between the four of us owners, we can confidently say that we personally know the majority of our city’s skateboarders; nine of whom comprise the extent of our skateboard team. These are the folk that help us promote and execute all of our events. They also act as ambassadors for Birling’s values, simply by being themselves. They are talented skateboarders, but more importantly, they are awesome human beings. They have become a part of this team organically by regularly skateboarding with us, meaning that first and foremost, they are our friends. In exchange for their help, we support them with the gear they require to keep rolling. We are so grateful for them. Unfortunately, in light of the ongoing pandemic, we have been unable to skate with each other at all; a reality of today’s “new normal.”

Wrapping up the 2019 Birling/CKCU skateboard park invasion series at the Almonte skateboard park last August. Photo by Aaron Cayer.

Just how valuable the social aspect is in skateboarding has become clear in the last month. Although skateboarding, like bowling, can technically be done solo, there is a reason why this rarely happens. Skateboarding was always meant to take place in a group setting. The best way to learn new tricks is by observing those around you who are more talented. This is also the way that a skateboarder learns what is even possible on a skateboard. The language, the “skate spots,” even the style of a skateboarder is cultivated through social interactions with other skateboarders. Skateboarding with those who are more talented than you can also be the best encouragement! It can push you to overcome your fear and may shift your approach to certain obstacles.

The social component of skateboarding is crucial. All of this clicked recently while delivering an online order from the store to a skateboarder in Hintonburg. Upon delivery, I asked: “Been skating much?” to which the skateboarder replied: “Alone? Nah. I don’t do that.” The same concept probably applies to bowling.

Birling team rider Amy Ortis performing a Rock n’ Roll. Photo by Aaron Cayer.

With this in mind, it should come as no surprise that there isn’t too much skateboarding happening lately. That’s not to say that nobody is out skateboarding during the pandemic; just less, in different circumstances. With skateboard parks closed for the time being, skaters are turning to the “original” skateboard park: empty parking lots or their driveways.

A group shot of “For Pivots Sake”  volunteers after having assembled several skateboards for donation to underprivileged youth. Photo by Aaron CAyer.

They are also skating alone. For those skaters old enough to remember a time before the prevalence of skateboard parks, this can be quite nostalgic. It’s bringing us back to our initial days of skateboarding, after the first spark of interest was lit, but before we had friends to share it with. It was just you and the board, trying to figure things out. This is the way things are to remain for the foreseeable future, and that is totally fine.

By grinding the world to a halt, another reality of today’s “new normal” includes an increase in self-reflection. It has proven to be an unfortunate pathway to understanding the importance of social interactions, even within activities deemed “independent” such as skateboarding. Hopefully this sentiment will remain even after the dust has settled from all of this. Until then, may the self-reflections continue. We need to do our best to create lemonade out of these particularly sour lemons.

Closing out 2019’s “Go Skateboarding Day” (June 21st) with a night session at one of Ottawa’s iconic skateboard street spots. Photo by Aaron Cayer.

Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Birling skateboard shop is temporarily closed to the public. They are however, fully operational online and are currently offering curbside pickups. Keep up to date with all that Birling does by following their social media accounts!