Gareth Gaudin is more accustomed to riding a skateboard than using it as a canvas. But when a friend asked him to contribute art to a fundraiser, the cartoonist jumped at the chance to trick out a deck with a custom design.
The lifelong Victorian is one of about a dozen artists who have each emblazoned the bottom of a board with their signature styles. The one-of-a-kind works will be sold in a silent auction at the Vic West "Vee Dub" Skateboarding Competition on June 9 at Vic West skate park. Proceeds will go to support the facility's host program, which employs experienced skaters to supervise the park and teach young people how to ride.
Gaudin, who has coowned Legends Comics and Books for 19 years, is passionate about the cause. He wants to help promote a safe, accepting environment for skateboarders - something that wasn't always available when he was growing up.
"We had nothing except for the streets," recalls Gaudin, who began skate-boarding in 1985. "Victoria was kind of a ghost town at the time, so we had free rein of the city. And downtown was our skate park. It certainly wasn't great for getting along with the public."
In addition to raising the ire of neighbours and shopkeepers, skaters risked getting in trouble with the police, who regularly shooed kids from the sidewalks and parking lots where they practised their tricks.
The artwork Gaudin has submitted for the auction is an homage to that era. He's furnished a board with an image of the Perogy Cat, the wily protagonist of his Magic Teeth comic strip, getting into a sticky situation.
"I painted the Perogy Cat holding a skateboard being shone with a spotlight," says Gaudin. "It looks like Batman being chased by the cops.
"It's harkening back to the days when skateboarders were certainly on the run."
But two decades ago, things changed. A small, vocal group of skaters and parents had been lobbying for a sanctioned skate park, and in 1992, the city granted their wish.
"It was nice that we were allowed some place that was designed for us," Gaudin says. "That was a big deal. I didn't think we'd ever have one, because we just figured that skateboarding was going to be underground for the rest of our lives."
In the years since, the stigma against skateboarding has ebbed, rendering it a more peaceful pursuit. The CRD now boasts skate parks in Gordon Head, Oak Bay and Langford in addition to the facility on Esquimalt Road.
"We're no longer being chased by people holding brooms," says Gaudin, who is still an active skater. "It's certainly relaxed the situation."
In his time off, the artist and shopkeeper makes regular visits to the Vic West skate park, which, he adds, has grown considerably since its debut two decades ago.
And though surfing the concrete, steel and wood may help relieve him of jobrelated stress, Gaudin sees a strong connection between what he does for work and what he does for play.
"When you have a skate park to ride in, you're actually just drawing a line," he says.
"There's a template out there for certain tricks you can do, but no one can tell you how to skate. Every line is going to be different.
"It's all about style and there's no guy with a whistle or a coach or team that you need to rely on.
"The connection," Gaudin concludes, "is freedom."
"Freedom to create as I see fit."
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