Montreal – The Longboard Scene Exposed Part 1
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Montreal is a city unlike anything you’ll experience in the rest of North America. It seamlessly blends art, history and culture into a tantalizing mosaic. At times it can be mysterious and maddening, but I have always found it utterly mesmerizing. There is an endless amount of incredible food that can please any type of palate. The extraordinary number of bars that stay open to the early hours have sealed Montreal’s reputation as quite the party town. Is it any wonder I wanted to share this magical place with the readers of Concrete Wave?
But what about the longboard scene, you wonder? I am pleased to report that not only is there a thriving longboard scene in Montreal, but it is one that is incredibly hospitable to visitors. You just have to experience it – to jump in and grab hold of the “joie de vivre” that oozes from this city and its inhabitants. My first visit to Montreal was in 1978 on a school trip. While it was enjoyable, it wasn’t until 1983 that I truly fell in love with the city. Montreal is only a fivehour drive from Toronto and a four-hour drive from New York City, but as you will soon discover, it feels like it’s in its own unique world.
Numerous people have helped nurture the longboard scene in Montreal. I’d like to introduce you to one of its founding fathers: Pierre Gravel. Gravel has lived in the city for about 18 years. Initially from Alma, Lac Saint Jean, a fairly remote northern town, he moved to Montreal for work. “I moved with my longboard and I never saw anyone riding at the time,” he says. “It was only in 1996 that I started to see other people.” By that time a few shops had started to carry longboards. “Spin Boardshop had them, along with Le Roi Lizard.”
THE LANGUAGE OF STOKE
The official language of Quebec is French, and while many in Montreal are bilingual, it’s always much more convenient to communicate in your mother tongue. Back in the mid- to late ’90s, the Quebec longboard community hung out on the NCDSA website. Gravel says, “I met Paul Demers at the forum, along with Jim Z (Ziemlanski). But after this, we all started to congregate to the Motion Longboards website.”
From there, things moved rapidly to the website of Top Challenge, a downhill event that took place in the heart of Montreal. Pierre set up the site, and the Montreal longboard community started to communicate. Sadly, the site ceased to exist and its entire database disappeared after the death of Top Challenge. Undaunted, Pierre decided to create a new website, Montreal Sessions, which now has more than 2,000 members. Helping Pierre were Yann Lhermitte and Fabrice Gaëtan. “Mike Bottreau, Myriam Arsenault-Jacques and Simon Benoit are also helping to maintain order,” recalls Pierre. “Sometimes the forum got a little heated!”
WHEN FABRICE MET YANN
Fabrice Gaëtan started longboarding at the age of 30 after he had broken his wrist while bike riding. “I had met up with a few folks via the Internet. As we started to go faster, I felt the wheels drifting and I wanted to push things further,” he says.
Joining up with Fabrice was Yann Lhermitte. Yann had arrived from the French Alps to study and work in Montreal. “We were just having a blast sliding,” says Yann. “People used to give us very strange looks. They just couldn’t understand the gloves or what we were doing.” Fabrice and Yann took inspiration from Supaflex videos and adapted what they saw to the terrain of Montreal. Interestingly, Yann credits Fabrice as his mentor for sliding, and Fabrice credits Yann as his mentor for going fast. “We were learning from each other and it was pure fun,” says Fabrice.
At the time the two were sliding with a fellow Montrealer, Nicholas Senequier. “It was all about going fast with slides – it was surfing theconcrete,” he adds. I asked Yann and Fabrice about their style of sliding. “We have a history of putting our hands down when we slide,” says Yann. “We have a laid-back, low positioning style. We stretch out.”
In the beginning there were three distinct crews: Yann and Fabrice’s little group, the guys from Motion and the KebbeK group. “Dwayne Pereto, Pierre [Gravel] and Ian [Comishin] would be doing crazy things in Westmount,” explains Yann. Dom Mahe over at Motion had a website and there was a message board there. The board got filled up with messages, and the gang realized they needed something bigger. Thus was born the Montreal Sessions website.
During the 2005 Top Challenge, Fabrice organized an outlaw slide comp. “We knew we had some of the best riders in the world, so we took the opportunity,” he says. “We did it the night before and it was amazing. It is the best souvenir I have from my time in longboarding.” The one key connection between Yann and Fabrice other than their riding ability was their skill at capturing images of the action: Yann has produced a number of videos, and Fabrice attended school for photography and was working in a production facility where the duo spent nights editing film. This unique combination meant others could get a glimpse into their world. “We were taking the time to make good videos,” Yann says. “We used video technology that was a little ahead of its time and people appreciated it.” Unfortunately, Fabrice got burned out on the businessside of longboarding. He left the scene, but there is no doubt he left his mark. Ironically, he credits longboarding for getting him back into photography. He is now a fulltime photographer supporting a family.Yann still travels and competes in numerous events while balancing his career as an engineer. He seems to be doing well at it. In November 2011 he held a push race; despite rain and wind, more than 90 skaters showed up. “I have a desire to charge hard and keep traveling,” Yann says. “My goal is to mix my passion for longboarding with my job.