How a Canadian Longboarding Kingpin Started the ‘Church of Skatan’
Bricin Lyons is set to launch a museum of longboarding in the majestic hills of Cape Breton.
Image courtesy VICELAND's 'Post Radical'
This article originally appeared on VICE Canada.
In his decades-long history bombing down hills on a longboard, Bricin Lyons has had more than his share of injuries. As a downhill racer and founder of Attack of Danger Bay, the oldest sanctioned longboarding race in Canada, he’s broken his collarbone and collapsed a lung—something he recounts IN SIGNATURE CAPS LOCK with a long list of busted ribs and helmets.
Lyons’ climb to longboarding legend began, not in California, often cited as the home of skateboarding, but in the humble British Columbian region of Pender Harbour, a ferry ride and hours-long drive north of Vancouver. And because it's the home of Danger Bay, it’s also become known as a hidden beacon of longboarding competition.
“If you come to Pender Harbour you’ll see exactly why,” said longboarding champion Dane Hannah, himself a Pender local. “You got all the hills that you need. There are straight fast ones or there are super tight turny ones. And they’re just all over. You drive around and it’s just up and down.”
Despite racing internationally, for Hannah, Danger Bay remains the favorite race. “Danger Bay was the first ever race starting up, Bricin was from Pender Harbour and he started the downhill scene,” said Hannah. “The sport is just here.”
Santa Barbara-based longboarder and most winningest Danger Bay competitor Kevin Reimer agrees. “He led the charge on organized or sanctioned downhill skateboarding in Canada,” he said. “He was just a crazy punk rock guy, and he could rope people in with his charisma.”
But now he’s creating another kind of beacon, one that rises out of the northernmost point of Cape Breton’s Cabot Trail. It’s the soon-to-open Church of Skatan and hostel, a dream that’s been cooking unconsciously for more than a decade, and which began to take shape two years ago when Lyons decided he’d won the west and fortune awaited him in the secrets hills of the East.
Lyons’ love of longboarding emerged after he moved to Pender Harbour in 1994 when he was 14. He spent his youth bombing those turny hills on his skateboard. But it wasn’t until he moved to Vancouver after high school that the love solidified. Someone from the restaurant he worked at owned a longboard. “I was like ‘Woah, that’s pretty damn cool, man. That’s what I can get into, not these small skateboards,’” he told VICE.
It was the epiphany that would lead Lyons on a decades-long love affair with the sport. He lost races, but he won the friendship of the longboarders scattered across the city, chasing them down at events and on sidewalks. “I’d get their phone number, and then I’d get their mother’s phone number and then I’d get their grandma’s phone number,” he said, which he’d use to organize events.
He started one of the first internet forums for the sport in the early 2000s, which helped launch several tours, parties, and races. At that time, social media didn’t exist and neither did the epic photos of longboard rides he’d post to coastlongboarding.com religiously. “We were getting two million hits a month,” said Lyons.
After making a name for himself with tours and events, creating friendships with the likes of Michael Perreten and Thomas Edstrand, owners of Landyachtz, he decided longboarding was ready for a proper, sanctioned race, and chose Pender as the prime location. The race was unlike any at the time. Rather than shifty evening skirmishes in city cemeteries or freerides at parkades, Lyons secured permits to close down a couple of roads in Pender Harbour. Ambulances stood by as longboarders careened down roads lined with hay bails.
This year, more than 150 racers from the US, Europe, and Canada, including a world-record holder, made the pilgrimage, and for the first time in its history, three locals swept the podium, with Dane Hannah coming out on top. “I got goosebumps,” said Lyons. And in an unusual display, the rambunctious punk rocker shed a tear. “I couldn’t fucking quit crying; I didn’t even think I would be crying, but I couldn’t even really contain it.”
And because the longboarders of Danger Bay love Lyons, they’ve donated all their winnings to the Church of Skatan.
Over the years, Lyons has traveled worldwide, put on countless West Coast tours, toured the US, pushed across Canada to raise money for cancer. After visiting and falling in love with East Coast hills more than a decade ago, he made the decision to switch gears and move his young family east.
“It was either do another year of the tour and be that posty, and be the guy that used to have all the energy and do everything and now you’re just working at the post office and getting shit on by your superiors… I didn’t want to do that,” said Lyons.
He started checking real estate and as he tells it, the first place that popped up was the “mighty picture of the church.” He checked the price and it was almost right.
“It was at the top of the fucking five biggest hills in the East. These are the most unique and most beautiful hills and they just don’t build them like that anywhere in Canada… I was like, you've got to be kidding me,” said Lyons. And so, in 2016, he made a bet and made the purchase.
It was a risky move. “I didn’t tell [my wife] Patricia, but I only had enough money to feed the family halfway through the winter.” Still, the plan is moving ahead. They just got their fire system up to code, and expect to open officially this summer. The bell tower will become a tribute to the sport. “The museum will tell a story of downhill skateboarding… the whole history of how it happened in the west, Canada, and worldwide,” said Lyons. “We’ll take stuff like people’s helmets and toenails.”
And while he’s setting down roots out East, and planning to do for the sport in the Maritimes what he did for it in the West Coast, Lyons isn’t giving up on Danger Bay any time soon. He said the plan is to do it until he dies. And he likely will. After all, the kingpin, Reimer explains, has less to do with Spider-Man and much more to do with the skateboard itself. “The kingpin for a skateboard truck is the bulk that supports the majority of the weight,” said Reimer. “He did a lot for us. No doubt.”
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