It’s no secret that the skate industry is still largely concentrated in the US, and even more specifically, in two very small pockets of California. We may never know the actual number of skaters who have flocked to California over the years to “make it”, but we do know it takes a brave soul to take on that mission.
What’s even braver is being confident enough in your abilities to attempt a career literally anywhere outside of The States. More and more skaters have taken that route, but only the true cream really rises to the top.
Our friends Evan Rissi and Alex Doyle sent us this short doc that focuses on that exact struggle, specifically the Canadian version. Canada is pretty much the US’s quirky cousin, and while we share a lot of commonalities, being home to countless pro skaters is not one of them. In fact, it seems like we as Americans hold our Canadian comrades to much higher standards in everything, with skating being no exception.
Watch as we follow flow skater Skylar Kehr’s travels on that treacherous path of trying to “make it” in skating as a Canadian.
Q&A W/ FILMMAKERS EVAN RISSI & ALEX DOYLE
Why do you think Canadian skaters don’t get the shine they deserve?
Evan Rissi: I think that any time there’s an industry grounded in a specific location, anyone or anything outside of that place is still held to that standard. The classic comparative trope of “he’s good, but not American good” is all too real. Plus, if someone isn’t around and present on the scene all the time, it’s easy to get overlooked. It’s doubly hard for someone foreign. It’s a club, and that’s how it’s worked since the ’90s.
It’s a rarity for skaters to stay where they are and have successful careers, but it’s sick that it’s happening more and more these days. For example, the Atlantic Drift(s) of the world are the best. The Canadian skate industry doesn’t have to have an inferiority complex, but it’s often so ingrained into this—or any—culture. Distribution companies essentially act as a farm team and if they play well enough, they’ll get called up to the big leagues. Meanwhile, Canadian brands like Dime and Jenny are currently ignoring that shit and doing it right. Alltimers is basically Canadian. You love to see it.
Alex Doyle: It would be impossible for every technically skilled skater—Canadian or not—to get the shine they might deserve, so I think a lot of it these days comes down to having the right people looking out for you, or maybe even just being able to ride the line of self-promotion without seeming like a kook. One of the good things about Instagram and online parts is that you don’t have to move to California to chase the pro skater dream anymore.
Who is a Canadian skater who comes to mind when you think of someone who did not go pro but should’ve?
ER: There’s a ton, but the cult-favorite is Travis Stenger. Not sure what the Crailtap camp was thinking there. Even today the dude could do nothing and still sell boards. After that, you’ve got some of the most talented dudes I’ve ever seen skate in person: Paul Liliani, Antoine Asselin, Chad Dickson, JS Lapierre, and other legends like Torey Goodall, Phil McKnight, Derek Swaim (he got a board later on) and Skylar Kehr. Honestly just waiting for someone to turn Alexis Lacroix pro now. There’s also a ton of guys that didn’t “make it” in the US and ended up going pro for their own respective companies too, which is also fully valid. Lots of young guys and gals coming up now that will make it happen soon, I’m sure.
AD: Yeah, gotta agree that #1 is Stenger. The amount of mystery around him these days is kind of sick though, and likely wouldn’t be the same if he went on to have a professional skate career like he could have.
How was it getting Skylar’s parents involved in the film? They seemed pretty good on camera, did everyone secretly have an acting background?
ER: It was really easy. Sky’s parents are so great. It was hilarious getting absolutely wasted with Big Malc [Skylar’s dad] and then shooting the interviews the next morning. I’m pretty sure Doyle blacked out for the entire thing because when we reviewed the footage he had no recollection of it even taking place. As for the process, I had a bunch of questions lined up that were 90% set in reality, and then once they were comfortable with those, sprinkled in some stuff that would play into the written narrative. They killed it. As for the rest, both Sluggo and Renee Renee have acting experience and were able to take direction. I gave everyone scripts ahead of time so they knew what I was looking for, and to their credit they made it work. Also, I have to give a major shoutout to Sky himself for playing along and being such a good sport for my silly film idea… to the point of him acting, slamming, and putting himself out there just for laughs on the internet. He really did kill it. Thanks Sky!
AD: There was definitely no acting background from Skylar’s parents as far as I know. I think they just found it easy to speak about Sky since most of what they were saying was actually true.
“It would be hilarious to make a film where if our moms, or whoever, watched it, they’d take it at face value and think that that’s really how skateboarding works.
Who came up with the idea that a 540 was going to be the turning pro trick?
ER: I remember seeing footage of Sky hucking some 540s randomly as a joke, and it really seemed like he wasn’t that far off from rolling away. I thought it was funny that the 540 has literally meant nothing to skating since the 80s, but to the outside world, it could be seen as some kind of coveted grail trick. Because skate culture is insanely esoteric and kind of exclusive, I was thinking it would be hilarious to make a film where if our moms, or whoever, watched it, they’d take it at face value and think that that’s really how skateboarding works. I booked the trip and whole premise around Sky landing the fucking thing and he still can’t do it [laughs]. So that part’s real.
His girlfriend leaving him is also real, so maybe the 540 means more than we think.
What are some tropes that you see in normal skate documentaries that drive you crazy?
ER: I’ve gotta give it up for Ty Evans for being the absolute fucking best at what he did then become the absolute worst. The whole We Are Blood and The Flat Earth films are insanely cringe. Any time you force a skater to narrate what skateboarding means to them, it’s unbearable. There are obviously early exceptions to this (“For me, it’s crazy like”) but for the most part, it’s an instant stop, eject, and stomp. Getting a composer to write a musical score to accompany the skating for dramatic effect is something I’ve always found comical, and I had to bring in my friend Matt Chalmers to do it for this.
Recently, anytime someone goes ‘Pro AF’ or gets a shoe/colorway, they make the same generic edit. Stories of how their parents saw their talent early on, their childhood friends speak on it, first curb, terms like ‘timeless style’ and ‘old soul’ get thrown around, etc. Next, throw in a ridiculous fuck-you budget and you get a corndog product like Waiting for Lightning and the other aforementioned Ty Evans films.
I’m not dismissing these stories, it’s just super stale at this point. We tried to clown that a little bit while tiptoeing along the lines of reality and parody, because having said that, the first four minutes of our film are pretty accurate and true. Any time you take something as carefree as skating and shoot it seriously with gear worth over $100,000 dollars, mounted on special vans and drones, that’s gonna be a no for me dog. Zero humor. That’s the exact opposite of shit I want to see. But hey, We Are Blood gave us Tiago Lemos, so… We still love you, Ty. Make Chomp 2 and all is forgiven.
“Any time you force a skater to narrate what skateboarding means to them, it’s unbearable.”
What are some of the best and worst examples of skate documentaries?
ER: For the best, the Hot Chocolate Tour is one of my all-time favorites. I got that right when it came out. Does a tour video count? I guess it’s a hybrid, but I still quote it often.
I always enjoyed the original “Epicly Later’d“ web series by Patrick O’Dell because it was raw, made for skateboarders, and didn’t come off as pretentious. Remember when we had to wait every week for those to drop? It was the first of its kind, and I loved it. The Brian Anderson short by Giovanni Reda about coming out is fucking great. What’s key about all of these is the re-watchability, in my opinion. Jeremy Elkin’s new film All the Streets Are Silent is really cool. Gleaming the Cube.
For the worst, I’ve already listed the hilarious feature film ones above. The main thing in common is that they weren’t made for skateboarders. I get what they’re trying to do (Dew?) and that’s to reach a bigger audience to sell energy drinks, get free RED cameras, and go to the Olympics. Mission accomplished, guys. Surprised there wasn’t one in 3D. Next time, baby.
AD: I really like the “Out There” series that Thrasher does. Tom Knox and Austin Kanfoush both have really good ones. Those “Evolution Of…” ones that you guys do are really cool too. The short documentary-style videos about skateboarding but not skateboarders are generally a lot more interesting to me. I’ve shared that VX1000 history video you guys made a lot with people who don’t understand the significance of that camera.
Do you think the Canadian skate scene is growing and eventually it won’t rely on American brands to “validate” Canadian skaters?
AD: I think so, in a way, but I also think that skaters worldwide will always sort of rely on the big American companies. Like, there are definitely cool Canadian board/apparel companies, but it’s tough or nearly impossible for them to grow as big and fast as an American company. I guess it depends on what the end goal is. Whether it’s validation from other skaters online, making enough money to live off skating, or something different. Without a big Canadian shoe company, people will still depend on America for footwear at least, since that seems to be where most of the money is.
I think it’s definitely possible for Canadians to stand out without much help from American brands, like Zander Mitchell for example, and I think with how good the younger kids are getting there will only be more people like that. It just still seems so hard to make a career out of skating for 99% of people who want to do that, but maybe somehow something will change.
ER: They are definitely growing, but there have always been brands here that have taken off due to the Canadian skaters killing it. Red Dragon comes to mind, they had their time to really fuck shit up. Plus, both DC and Girl are technically half Canadian, right? Yet, they dipped and haven’t really subsequently supported talent here properly. Most recently Dime has done their own thing which we mentioned and are killing it.
It’ll definitely be hard to be self-sustaining, but that happens in almost every industry. Could they make a living? Sure. Do people make a living making Canadian movies? Yes. Are they vastly inferior to Hollywood films? Yes. But that’s because of that inferiority complex we’ve talked about and the infrastructure in place. There will always be gravity pulling talent south for more, unless the culture gets switched up entirely.
This isn’t your first “mockumentary”, right? What are some other examples of this genre of film that inspired you?
AD: To be honest I didn’t really put a whole ton of thought into shooting this. It was just a pretty straightforward run-and-gun week and I just kind of hit record when I needed to, but Evan handled most of the planning. But maybe I subconsciously found inspiration from Borat.
ER: Yeah, I’ve made some mockumentaries before, but I feel like “spoof” or “fake” would be a better term to use because I’m not overly mocking anyone or clowning the culture. I made a 20-minute fake doc about Freestyle Canoeing which is a sport and art form that is essentially choreographed paddle dancing and figure skating in a boat. It’s insane because people seriously do it for real. I didn’t really mock it because I definitely had to learn how to do it and it’s actually crazy fucking hard to unlock. I’m currently developing that short into a show.
As for inspiration, you can’t go wrong with the OG Christopher Guest movies that set the standard. Any time you shine a light on something real that’s already funny (like a Best in Show dog competition), the jokes just write themselves. As for this one and skating, I was just attracted to trolling other people who wouldn’t know it was fabricated. Only people that know about skating will get it. I’ve been a troll my whole life, and seriously considered trolling this entire interview too [laughs].