SUMMERSIDE — It takes skill to pull off the perfect Ollie.
Just ask Conor Arsenault.
He perfected the trick as a youngster, taking to the ramps of the city’s indoor skateboard facility and, later in his teen years, entering competitions across the Island and beyond.
Now, the 20-year-old, once the student, has become the teacher, the city’s first ever skateboard park instructor.
The university student will spend a lot of his summer doing what he loves — on his board helping the next generation of skateboarders learn the sport.
“Skateboarding is one of those things that people who don’t have an idea about it think it looks really cool, so I feel that the kids will be really excited,” said Arsenault, board in hand. “I am just going to start off really basic, like teaching standing on the board without falling and tell them the importance of safety and helmet use.”
The outdoor skateboard park — the Bowl — is located in an area that has fast become the hub of sport in the city. There’s the multi-use turf field, outdoor volleyball courts, tennis courts and a grassed area used in the summer as soccer fields within feet of the park, and, several hundred feet away, stands the city’s multimillion dollar sporting and entertainment complex, Credit Union Place.
On this particular day, as the sun beats down amid clear blue skies, the Bowl is busy. School is out for the day and just days from being done for the year.
About a dozen teens are there with their boards, some with BMX bikes, working on perfecting manoeuvres that, to most, are death defying, clearly looking as if they could cause serious injury.
“It’s an awesome experience the first time you land an Ollie, which is a basic jump, or you can turn without falling,” said Arsenault as the sound of boards hitting the pavement echoes in the background. “I just want the kids to get that feeling and, throughout the summer, get them to love it and maybe keep at it.”
Arsenault didn’t get on a skateboard until he was 12. It was a neighbour with a board that got him interested in the sport.
“I started going to Generation XX and I just got really into it. It took over,” he recalled. “I always played soccer and basketball, but I got obsessed with skateboarding.”
JP Desrosiers, the city’s community services director, wants to see the sport grow in Summerside, which is why the decision was made to hire Arsenault.
“These kids and users of all ages could benefit from an instructor here who can start growing the sport. We want to make sure parents feel comfortable dropping their kids off for an instructed activity,” said Desrosiers. “Skateboard and BMX are huge sports, very popular, and, guess what? They’re good for you. It’s all about getting kids active so we want to make sure this park is inviting.”
Arsenault will provide instruction three days a week, with six youngsters aged six to 13 in each session, for 10 weeks over the summer.
“We actually filled up already,” said the city’s special events intern, Jordan Ellis. “We are actually going to be adding more lessons on Tuesday and Friday afternoons.”
It’s obvious the sport is popular, say the three men, which is why there are plans to host a demonstration day and competition during the Lobster Festival.
Arsenault also hopes to improve the sport’s somewhat tarnished image.
“Skateboarders and bikers get a bad rap,” said the university student who plans on studying environmental law. “It’s almost like if they see someone carrying around a skateboard they are doing drugs or breaking things when, really, they are just doing what they are doing, just like someone out kicking a soccer ball.
The city has even gone as far as getting a half dozen skateboards made, each with the Bowl’s logo on the bottom, and buying helmets so those who want to try skateboarding can do so for free.
“Every day is an open house,” said Desrosiers. “Every day that Conor is here people can drop in, grab a board and try it.”
For more information on the city’s summer camps, including the skateboard camp, visit cupevents.ca.