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Skateboarders carve out their niche in Toronto

Khadeem Hamilton pops a kickflip over the rail at Dunbat Skatepark.

“It’s all in the landing,” he says, his smile mingling humility with a hint of pride.

Amid the sunny humidity of a late-June afternoon, the 21-year-old gains momentum then launches into an ollie — a quick leap — but totters on the return, crashing to the concrete.

He dusts himself off as two dozen other skaters weave the pavement and grind the benches and boxes in the downtown skateboarding epicentre that is Bathurst and Dundas.

Hamilton is unphased. “You fall, but you get back up,” he says.

That could be the motto for the city’s skateboarding community. Maligned for years as outsiders and teenage troublemakers, skaters have carved their way into the mainstream, fostering parks — one per year on average since 2001 — relationships with city officials and even a high school.

Veteran skater Nick Pierre has co-chaired the Toronto Skateboarding Committee since it formed in September 2013. It convenes regularly at City Hall, lending a voice to the street-surfing set “to help ensure that skateparks are built for the users,” he told the Star.

“For a long time I think it was just considered a fringe activity. It felt like you were participating in an outcast thing because it wasn’t soccer or baseball or hockey,” said Pierre, 36, who fought successfully for East York’s first skatepark a decade ago.

“When I was in school it was just me and five other kids. Nowadays, half the young boys in the school will have skateboards.”

In 2000, Toronto had no skateparks. Now it boasts 14.

That’s one-third as many as Vancouver on a per-capita basis, but Toronto now seems determined to plop down parks perpetually, like at Scarborough’s Malvern Community Recreation Centre. There, a student-driven campaign from the neighbouring Lester B. Pearson Collegiate led to an indoor installation of ramps and rails last summer, along with free lessons and safety instruction. Then-mayoral candidate John Tory even dropped in for a wobbly roll.

“They love it,” said Coun. Raymond Cho  of Ward 42, Scarborough-Rouge River. “I’m kind of too old to skateboard, but we need that kind of activity.”

“The new 20-year plan is going to re-engage the skateboard community, and BMX (bike) riders as well,” Toronto parks development director Mike Schreiner told the Star.

Coun. Jim Karygiannis (open Jim Karygiannis’s policard), who represents Ward 39, Scarborough-Agincourt, is fully on board.

“When you look at skateboarders, you think of — I don’t want to say a negatory term — but you think of a bum,” he said. “But I don’t think so.”

A 60-signature petition brought forward by a local teen last year prompted Karygiannis’s plan to propose a “first-class, world-standards” skate facility in the park behind Dr. Norman Bethune Collegiate near Steeles and Warden Aves.

“We’re not looking to make it out of wood. If we build it, it’s going to be there a long, long time,” he told the Star.

“By hook or by crook we’ll make it happen.”

That doesn’t please Lucia Ordinario, who lives on a crescent opposite the park and thinks more skaters amount to more roller traffic and thus more risk for skaters and drivers.

“There would be all these kids running with the skateboards in our area. It’s really dangerous,” she said.

Other neighbours, like Wes Lore, are more supportive, “The park needs to be used and kids need a place to play.”