For as long as long as skateboarding has been documented, Canadians have been trying to fit in with American skaters and failing. On Canadian Thanksgiving this year, a skate collective called Dime Crew proved some 'Nucks can shred.
I have a complicated love/hate relationship with Canada. As a child, I went on a family vacation to Ontario and Niagara Falls. At the time, I was a total comic book geek. I fell in love with the country after visiting a wax museum, witnessing real-life flying squirrels, and sitting in a replica of the Batmobile from the series starring Adam West. Fast forward 15 years and I'm being stopped by Canadian Customs on my way to the Slam City Jam skate contest in Vancouver because, allegedly, my driver's license and all of the bills in my wallet had traces of an illegal substance on them. That was the first bump in the road in my relationship with Canada.
The nail in the coffin came in 2004 when the late, great skater Harold Hunter and I were detained at the border for hours due to previous DUIs and felonies. After a lot of smooth talking, lying, and instructing Harold not to say a word, I was able to buy us work visas for the weekend. As the customs officer rang me up for $400 I asked him, "What is it you think is so great about this place that you're trying to keep everyone from seeing it?"
"It's not what's so great here," he replied. "But what is not so great about your country that we're trying to keep out." Touché.
But Canadian authorities aren't the only annoying Canucks. For as long as long as skateboarding has been documented, Canadian skaters have been trying to fit in with their American counterparts while inadvertently polluting the skateboard world with vanilla, suburban pseudo-gangsters in ghetto gowns. Some (i.e. other Canadians) believe the Great White North has produced some of the greats. And while I must admit that people like Rick McCrank, Mark Appleyard, Paul Machnau, and Colin McKay are acceptable to throw around in a game of W. A. T. A. R. (Why Aren't They Americans, Right?), the truth is there is only one Canadian skateboarder in all of history who has been truly accepted by American skateboarders as one of our own: Rick Howard.
Howard, the quiet co-founder of Girl Skateboards and Lakai Footwear, came to America to pursue skateboarding at the tail end of the 80s when skating was relatively small and unaccepted by the mainstream. Peace, love, and solidarity was the code amongst skaters of the neon spandex era, but as we entered the vibin' 90s and thugged out urban street skating became the norm, Howard, the consummate passive Canadian, feared being ostracized for his Vancouver roots. He quickly devised a three-point plan to hide his Canadian identity.
First, like Raekwon, Rick "got with a sick ass clique and went all out" by ditching his former sponsor, Blockhead, for the very American brand Plan B. Plus, he wisely befriended Thrasher Skater of the Year 1994 Mike Carroll, in hopes that Carroll's street cred would mask any smell of Vancouver.
Next, Howard stopped dressing in his Canadian Mounted Police uniform, as was tradition for skaters from the North at that time, and instead adopted a hipper, more urban camouflage like track pants, bucket hats, and the moon boot skate shoes that were popular at the time.
Lastly, when it was time to release his break out video part in Plan B's now-classic Questionable (1992), rather than skating with a soundtrack by Bryan Adams or Neil Young, Howard opted for the English rock band Ned's Atomic Dustbin. Howard's career ruse has been so remarkable that the City of Vancouver has designated August 29 Rick Howard Appreciation Day to honor the only Canadian to break through skateboarding's glass ceiling.
Sadly, in the 25 years since Howard went pro, no other Canadian skater has picked up the torch or shown any promise of making it in America. I wish this were the part of the story where I said, "until now!" and segued into the tale of the next great American skater from Canada. But that'd be a goddamn lie and it's not gonna happen. There is only one Rick Howard and as he creeps up on his 50th birthday, we're seeing less and less of him. So instead of offering you the next Rick Howard, I present to you the Dime Crew: the self-aware brainchild of Phil Lavoie (Montreal), Vince Tsang (Quebec), and Real Skateboard am Antoine Asselin. Just as French-speaking Quebec is the anti-Canada, the Dime dudes—all born in the same year Howard turned pro for Blockhead in 1991—are sort of like the anti-Howards in their lack of interest in making it in the States. Rather than try and break through the glass ceiling, they instead spit-shined it to better see their own smiling Canadian faces in the reflection.
For the past decade the trio have been embracing their Canadian roots. Dime began first by sporadically posting skate clips to their site back in 2005, but it wasn't until 2010 with the release of The Dime Store Video that the skateboard world began to take notice of their understated 90s hip-hop/skate aesthetic. Dime's brand of skating was undeniable: it was smooth and stylish without a hint of the "Hey! Look at me!" showmanship—aka middle child skate syndrome—that is typically associated with Brazilian and Canadian skaters. Their videos are injected with boom-bap hip-hop, feature low-fi camera filters juxtaposed with zero-fucks-given iPhone clips, and slick shredding interrupted by moments of weird shit they see in their city.
I was certain I would carry my animosity for Canada forever, but over the past year the Dime crew has been slowly changing my tune with numerous, humorous web edits culminating with the recent Dime x Vans Glory Challenge in August. In an age when most contests take themselves far too seriously, the DGC was the antithesis of that. It was invite-only, there were no contest jocks allowed except Ryan Decenzo, the obstacles were absurd (there was a fucking guillotine), the challenges preposterous, and the judging rigged. In the nearly three decades I've been skating, only the shitshow known as Jim's Ramp Jam has rivaled this event.
After the contest I immediately reached out to Vans Canada's marketing coordinator, Bob LaSalle, and asked if I could be a part of the planning for the 2016 DGC. They were down to fly me up for the day to pitch my weird skate ideas tied to Scientology, spaceships, and Uranus. I landed in Montreal the morning of October 12, Canadian Thanksgiving, as Neil Young's Heart of Gold blared through the airport. The week leading up to my arrival, including my flight, was nerve-racking. I feared that customs would refuse me entrance yet again. Surprisingly, I waltzed right through without issue; I didn't even need to show the letter from my lawyer stating that 14 years had passed since any indiscretions.
I wished the customs officer a happy Thanksgiving and he gave me a cross, very un-Canadian look. It was a look I'd receive every time I wished someone a happy Thanksgiving during my stay. LaSalle quickly explained, "We don't celebrate thanksgiving in Montreal. The rest of Canada does but we celebrate French holidays here. Saint Jean Baptiste Day is more our thing."
So instead of OD'ing on turkey and pumpkin pie, we did what any skaters do when an entire metropolitan area is shut down for a fake holiday: we skated and filmed from morning until night. I was in utter disbelief the entire day. I found myself giving thanks for how normal and un-Canadian the Dime guys are. It made me think of that column in the tabloids that tries to prove celebrities are just like us. But rather than force a connection, like, "Look! Britney Spears has a face! You have a face too!" these guys skated very much like the rest of the world: they didn't beam the camera, they all wore the correct size t-shirts, no one tried to one-up anyone. I didn't see one street grab all day! If it weren't for all the French speaking, one could have easily pegged them as Philly or Chicago kids.
Our Thanksgiving Day cellphone edit only hints at how good and deep this crew is. (And sadly all of the karaoke footage from the sports bar we took over for Thanksgiving dinner was too graphic for YouTube's standards.) But between brainstorming and drawing up obstacles for next year's Dime Glory Challenge under the influence of an alcoholic energy drink called Octane, they showed me some rough edits of the new Dime video coming this winter and I am certain it will convince any doubters that these are like no other Canadians we've ever seen. They may have even convinced me to give our friends up north another shot—or, at least Montreal. Dare I say that the Dime Crew is possibly even better than Rick Howard? I mean age 50 Rick. Not prime Rick. No way. Not even close. But they're still good. Just not that good. No one will ever top Rick.
Check out Dime's website here.