Part two of ‘Buried parks and broken bones,’ series about early skateboarding in Victoria and Vancouver
Legend has it, not only has the Saanich Skatewave sat buried underneath 20 feet of dirt in Cedar Hill Park for 27 years, there is also a buried skate park in Esquimalt and another in West Vancouver.
The province is full of early skateboard stories, and most of them are true.
Back when Tim Galavan and Bill Leininger constructed the Saanich Skatewave in 1978, they convinced the District of Saanich to lease them a nook of the Cedar Hill Park. Galavan still believes it was the first instance where Saanich had leased park land for private use, albeit for a recreational purpose.
So when the business failed in 1980, Saanich wasn’t ready to host its first skate park, which it did for the better part of three years. It was not an initiative of the Saanich parks and recreation department. When kids were partying there all night, they fenced it off. Even when Saanich purpose-built the Lambrick Park skateboard park in 1997 it created a bylaw just for it. (Saanich’s five-year Youth Development Strategy, published in 2016, currently recommends more skateboard parks.)
“One kid wiped out on his BMX, his face smashed into the handlebars, it was really ugly,” said Victoria resident Brad Carr, who worked at Skatewave during its operating years, and skated the bowl after the business shut down. “It was really good for BMX-ing, but they didn’t wear any protective gear.”
There were some other injuries, prompting Saanich to shut it down and bury it.
At the same time, a smaller snake run was buried right beside Esquimalt High, though it’s unclear why.
“It was a little snake run, not very steep, that ran down into a bowl,” said Bud Watt, an Oak Bay High grad who skated the Skatewave and the Esquimalt bowl. “It was pretty small.”
A third ‘snake run’ in West Vancouver at 17th and Inglewood, was believed to be Canada’s first. Paved in 1977, it lasted until it was also buried circa 1984. However, unlike the smashed up Saanich Skatewave, most believe the old Inglewood “Mill” run it is still in-tact.
“We canvassed for Canada’s first concrete skate park, and we designed it,” said Monty Little, who ran skateboard competitions in the 1970s and who still runs the World Round-Up Freestyle Skateboard Championship in Cloverdale each May. “And then while it was built, there were so many people watching it, the city ordered two runs.”
The original concept for the North Van snake run was about three to four feet deep. It would empty into a bowl, not too dissimilar from North Vancouver’s popular Seylynn (1978) and China Creek (1979) bowls that were built shortly after.
Little had even traveled to California to research the popular swimming pools that were being used for skating.
“When we got back, the city had destroyed our original concept,” Little recalls.
Instead of one snake run that was four feet deep, they made twin runs that were only one to two feet deep. They lost their appeal, attracted non-skateboarding partiers and were eventually filled in as part of the landscape, Little recalls.
“Despite being skated, it was buried,” Little said. “Too many people were hanging out there at night.”
The designer who had worked with Little and his skating friends, , Nelson Holland, actually went on to design the Seylynn bowl with their help.
“That time, we made sure the city did not deviate from the design. We watched him like a hawk.”
Seylynn was completed months before the Skatewave and is believed to be the longest-running skatepark in Canada.
Other early skate parks have disappeared. Most famous was the Burnaby Skateboard Palace, built indoors around 1978 and had concrete features. There was no snake run or bowl, but it was one of the first parks with multiple built features.
“The Skateboard Palace was underneath the curling rink and the condensation on the pipes above would drip onto the concrete,” Little said. “But it didn’t matter, we skated there.”
Brad Carr visited it and shared his review 35 years later.
“It was okay, but kinky,” Carr said. “You had to put your time in to figure out the wall. It was nowhere near as much fun as Skatewave.”
Not everyone loved the Skatewave. Today, as Carr and others, like Craig Hall, opine for the days of the Skatewave, they also wish for another skate park with different features than Vic West or Gordon Head.
Steve Sandve, now 57, grew up in Fernwood and graduated from Vic High in 1980. During his time skating the Skatewave, he remembers it as a stepping stone in the evolution of parks.
“It was fun, but even for the time, it was pretty crappy,” Sandve recalls. “Most parks were crap.”
Still, before that, the skating was limited.
“Bud [Watt] started the Vancouver Island Skateboard Association,” Sandve recalled. “We would meet at the top of the Finlayson hill [the street was still closed] and we’d skate down. That was only for the adventurous.
“Mayfair mall used to be closed on Sundays. There was a parking ramp everyone could ride down.”
Sandve also skated Esquimalt, which was also “crap.”
“If kids now skated those parks, they’d be like, ‘what is this crap,’” Sandve said. “The halfpipe in the Skatewave had no flat bottom. It was kinked, and rough. And the big bowl at the bottom was useless. It was super kinked and a 13-foot monster that was almost ‘unskateable.’
“What was great was the snake run. The third bank [had the right angles] and you could session it all day. That’s where we learned to do backside air, inverts, everything.”
– Thank you to Graham Peat, Monty Little, Brad Carr, Craig Hall, Bud Watt and Steven Sandve for sharing their stories. Anyone with stories and memories they’d like to share about the Skatewave and other buried parks can email firstname.lastname@example.org