Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Back to my west coast longboard roots

Today was one of the best Sunday Fundays I have had in a very long time. Granted it was a late start due to an amazing Saturday evening dinner party but better late than never!

My trainer and I had planned on doing a public sparring session in a park down in the Kensington Market area. We met up there at 5 and it turned out to be a zoo!!! Kensington on Sundays apparently goes off with a mixture of hipsters, free spirits and fun loving earthy folk interested in vintage fashion, grass roots music and un-flashy yet highly touted restaurants and cafes. We strolled around people watching for a bit and then Kriston came up with the idea of throwing 20 tennis balls to people in the park to see how they responded. Super neat idea and it was our first experiment in our joint mission to interact, challenge and inspire people to become more active. 

We strolled up to the full park and started throwing the balls to kids playing on the jungle gyms and sand boxes. They had no idea what to do with them but they had no choice but to catch the balls after I made eye contact with them. We started throwing them back and forth, making games and I focused in on the kids who saw this as a challenge and unique opportunity. Other people in the park got into it and kids began playing games with strangers (in a good way) they had never met before. It was such a joyful experiment challenging the kids with tosses, teaching them how to throw and causing social interaction through a simple game of hot potato. Even more hilarious when I rolled a ball to a kid who wasn't looking. Seeing their faces light up when a tennis ball appeared at their feet was priceless. 

We then left the kids with the balls and hung out with some pretty funky individuals hanging around the multi level chin up bars. These guys were there doing a form of Parkour and Kriston being a specialist and lover of the sport got along famously with them. He threw down a couple impressive moves and I got in there for some hanging funzies for some street cred; good times!

We then went over to the longboard crew and started mingling with them. Kriston had met one of the owners of the Longboard living shop. He hung out over some longboarding sessions around a large concrete circle and discussed the longboarding movement in Toronto and where Longboard Living was looking to positively influence it. 

As some of you may know, I come from a boarding background and I rode a stylie Sector 9 original pintail longboard all the way through college in Victoria and University in Vancouver. In my opinion it is the most efficient mode of transportation and also the most fluent and graceful as it requires long pushes and arcing carves to get from A to B. I also believe it is more sophisticated than the short board and attracts a mellower more well spoken demographic. I haven't boarded in a while but had been yearning for the freedom, creativeness and balance of the sport as of late. We rolled to the shop and Ryan hooked me up with a Skulls skates loaner then we hit the town. 

Our path took us to a large parkade where we hiked 5 flights of stairs and cruised in circles all the way down! It was amazing, like riding a mountain with chair lifts in the form of stairs and on the top we had an amazing view of the CN tower and the downtown core. We then commuted to Dundas square through downtown streets. I had really missed the speed on flats and propelling myself with balance and grace but most of all I missed passing the bicyclists! They are always surprised when a long boarder cruises past then rips a couple turns in front of them before taking off again. Beautiful. 

We arrived at Dundas square to find a massive event taking place. Ryan of longboard living was aware of the situation and took us to the breakdancing section where he introduced us to a pivotal player in the TO break scene. The event was called Manifesto and was the 5 year anniversary. Manifesto is a non-profit grassroots organization working to unite, energize, support and celebrate Toronto’s vibrant and diverse music and arts community, and find innovative ways of working together towards common goals. Such an amazing initiative and felt fitting that we found ourselves there to network with some integral people in different Toronto scenes.

We left there and returned to the Kensington market to end our evening but parted on a few thoughts. I realized I haven't been adventurous in the big city because I have been restricted and dependent on transit. With the use of a long board I was able to explore, experience and acquaint myself with some of the smaller streets and areas hidden in the shadows of mainstream places. I felt like I was able to connect with the city and experience an event I wouldn't have even known about had I not gone for a cruise. I was exposed to new stores, restaurants and businesses in passing as well as being introduced to very key characters in different TO scenes. I was able to take out a four wheeled paint brush and carve creative lines throughout a city I would normally experience from the seat of a bus, street car or underground subway. The session energized, elevated and pumped me up while connecting me with people who believe in green transportation, social responsibility and community.

The lifestyle of longboarding in Toronto is definitely different than in BC but it still attracts the same people. Without flowing hills Ryan and his posse at Longboard Lifestyle have catalyzed a scene based around community cruise sessions, leadership, learning, green transport and physical activity. Ryan brought up a great point that he believes longboarding is a life skill, something that should be learnt at a young age and he plans on integrating it into society. They are socially aware, safety conscious and highly organized and after the wonderful boost back into the sport tonight, I can't wait to get after more riding and exploration with this quality group of people. 

With a new light on Toronto, I can't help but become even more excited fully commit my life to the big smoke. Slowly I am finding ways to bring out the west coast and the more I embrace it, the more I meet incredible people who seek to inspire and ignite Canadians in their communities. 

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Camp Madawaska

After the 2011 national championships and Canadian team trials I was invited by Josh Binstock to roll up with him to a volleyball camp called “Madawaska”. I had heard of the camp before through Mark Heese and a few other athletes but had no Idea what I was getting into when I accepted the invitation!
Beach Courts in the middle of nowhere
Josh and I drove North East for 3 hours and arrived to camp late Wednesday evening. It was spectacular timing because it was Casino night with free drinks and hilarious auction after with the proceeds going to charity! I played poker for the entire evening without getting dealt a single hand but it wasn’t a problem because I’m not a gambler and I had no interest in taking any of the auction items. Overkill and Beach Blast had donated a bunch of swag and I have enough beach clothes to last me a lifetime! It was highly entertaining watching an array of moderately desirable clothing go for silly prices! Bidding wars happened over scarfs, shorts, undies and all kinds of hilarious stuff and people were getting vicious! It was a fun first night with the adults but we were pretty tired from driving up and had to go to bed in our luxurious accommodation!
First class lodging!
Field of dreams at 6 AM

Before we knew it the 6 AM wake up call was upon us. Camp Madawaska runs their own time zone to utilize more daylight so 6 was actually 5. They run an incredible amount of programming throughout the day and it is only made possible by the super early start. The entire camp rolled to the tennis courts for a morning session called “Togetherness” which activates, motivates and brings everyone together to start the day off right. Once all the kids had arrived I realized the magnitude of camp Madawaska. There were over 700 people involved in the warmup!!! Such a cool place to be and I couldn’t have been more excited to be a guest of honor with Josh.

We cuised to breakfast and we were then introduced to the dual nature of the camp. I knew I was going to help with beach but the “court” component was MASSIVE. The kids were divided into court and beach which caused quite a bit of animosity and chirping between tables! It was such a great energy as tables chanted beach and sang songs proclaiming their superiority. A table would erupt in banging and a team would stand up, chant a rhyme and then the whole room would erupt with either support or disapproval depending on how good it was. Such a great initiative and I had such a great time watching!

After breakfast we took a quick nap and then hit up the sand courts for the first morning session. We coached a bit, enjoyed watching the kids play and then did a really fun question and answer period to close it out. The kids were so interactive, interested and keen to learn from our experiences playing beach around the world. The questions were all fantastic so we were able to share volley experiences and sporting knowledge with them for 25 minutes.
Beach VS Court coaches
The second session of the day started with the indoor vs court coaches match! Josh threw his shoes on and played but I stayed off cause I am still working through my back injury and didn’t want to jeopardize me recovery. The game wasn’t short of action and the beach boys absolutely demolished the court guys. The court ladies beat the beach ladies so the 3rd set changed to co-ed 6’s and the court team won. It was an unfortunate loss for beach but with such a dominant performance from the men the coaches challenged the male court team to a rematch for the following day. (Court accepted and got pumped the next day!)

Dinner was tasty and the chanting between volley realms was spicy! The kids still had energy and had one more session to complete that day! We ended the 3rd session with game play and Josh and I walked around helping, encouraging and coaching. With such an array of talented athletes there was no lack of action and I was thoroughly entertained by the U14 men’s division. These young boys were super talented, understood the game and were employing an effective blocking defense! They were ripping balls line, showing finesse, tearing jump serves and playing magnificent defense. Needless to say we have some stellar athletes coming up through the Ontario volleyball system and I can’t wait for them to start challenging me!

The rest of our time there was spent coaching, exploring and connecting throughout the camp. We scoped out the leaderships activities on their low ropes course, swam in the lake, watched competitive court games and overheard some of the tryouts for their final evening of “Madawaska has talent” which was promising to be the best show ever. As we were about to leave we got caught up in the Madawaska Olympic ceremonies. Each cabin represented a different country and had to come up with a dance, cheer, poster and present it in front of everyone! Such a great idea and all the kids were so involved!
Opening ceremonies at Madawaska Olympics
One thing I cherished was being able to select athletes I thought showed exemplary skill, desire and hustle. Josh and I went to all the groups and handed our jerseys and autographed cards to kids we felt deserved a pat on the back. One of the girls had never even played volleyball but managed to adapt, learn and stay positive!  

Between the owners, organizers, coaches and athletes we got to know some fantastic people in the volleyball world and connect with the next generation of volleyball stars in our country. It was such a great experience for me personally and I can’t wait to go back to the best volleyball camp in Canada next summer!!! 


Photo we took for Volleywood with all the beach athletes