Come fall, they’ll bring skimboards to the rainy pools of South Vancouver parking lots. In winter, they brave beaches with numb toes, their faces so cold they can barely talk. Like flooded baseball diamonds and downtown fountains, these are temporary fixes for skimboarders. But when summer comes around, warmer shores satisfy their patient craving and the sport comes fully alive.
“It’s the best time of year,” said Tim Ladner.
Ladner, 29, has seen skimboarding grow in Vancouver since he picked it up at 16. His family had moved closer to the beaches in Dunbar, and the boredom of watching others tan on the sand stirred him to find something better to do. Ladner, who grew up skateboarding, found skimboarding a natural fit. He invented tricks as he went, innovating not only on the water but also in the workshop where he made his own boards. Now a competitive pro rider, one of the humbler names on the circuit, Ladner is recognized the world over for his pioneering style.
“I like it ’cause it’s a very simple, organic, minimalist kind of sport,” he said. “It’s creative and you can explore. All you need is a board.”
In the late ’90s, the sport wasn’t popular. Ladner had no one to look up to, no YouTube videos to watch and no idea kids like him would one day be sponsored by skimboarding companies.
Today he runs the summer skim camps at West Point Grey Academy and is a veteran of the Spanish Flyers Skim Club. He has placed in many competitions in Victoria, Parksville, Witty’s Lagoon and won the 2005 Dash Point Pro/Am in Washington State.
He hosts city events at the downtown skateboard plaza and in 2013, Ladner partnered with Skull Skates and released a line of three, handmade signature boards: Hatchet, Hammer and Shuvel.
And he gets out on the water at least three times a week. “I always know the tide,” he said.
“I remember landing a 540 [spin] was a pretty big thing, and when I was seeing Tim [Ladner] and these other guys try it, I thought it was absolutely insane,” said Maranda.
Despite generational differences, the skimboarding community isn’t divided between elite pioneers and the curious testing their boards.
“It’s not like territorial or anything,” said Ladner. “It’s pretty embracing. If you’re down there skimming on a nice day, there’s no reason why somebody would not want to skim with you.”
Maranda grew up surfing with his family in Tofino and wanted to find a water board sport in Vancouver. When he was 10, his father suggested skimboarding, and they decided to make a board together.
“It definitely wasn’t the way you should’ve made it,” said Maranda. “We got a piece of plywood and did the shape like a teardrop and sanded it down and tried to bend it, like putting power tools on it overnight.”
Maranda had discovered the DIY culture of the sport. As a Grade 9 student, he remembered struggling to set up rails so he could work his tricks. Ladner and a friend walked over and helped with the construction, which is commonplace in a sport that invents obstacles using old pipes, boxes and benches.
“None of it is store-bought,” said Ladner “It’s whatever you bring down.”
“Everybody kind of knows of each other and everybody kind of helps each other out,” said Maranda, who teaches skimboarding at Windsure Adventure Watersports. “People come from all kind of different backgrounds — doctors, lawyers — who skim all summer and everyone’s nice.”
It’s not just for the boys, either, said Ladner. “It’s not as male-dominated as skateboarding is. Definitely more female-inclusive.”
Both travel to check out the world’s beaches but there are excellent options close to home, including shorelines in White Rock, Squamish, Kelowna, Hornby Island and the Gulf Islands.
The internet keeps riders connected, sharing news and video, and also notifying the community if someone needs a place to stay.
“If I go to the States,” said Ladner, “I got a place to stay from here to California.”
Ladner realized the niche sport he practised on Spanish Banks had a global reach when he was in Thailand. He was 20 and hadn’t packed his skimboard, a decision he lamented once he saw the quality of the beaches but not one that stopped him from finding a way to the water. Ladner met some woodworkers, told them how to make a board out of what he believed was mahogany, and then hit the beach.
“I took it everywhere I went,” he said. “I had fun everywhere. Every kid wanted to try. Every person I met along the way wanted to try.
“It’s like the progression of any extreme sport,” Ladner added. “The first generation pioneers away. Next one comes in and pushes it even further. What I really want to see is kids pushing further than me, but it hasn’t happened yet. I guess I’m not that old yet.”
Maranda, a decade younger than Ladner, is also passing on his skills in a sport he believes is “still very grassroots.”
“It’s become its own pastime,” he said. “It gets to a certain point where it all just blends into one big summer ’cause we’re doing it so much.”
Summer may be drawing to an end but there are always fountains, parking lots (though the hard surfaces are not ideal for the board), or hitting the beaches regardless of dropping temperatures.
“In the winter, I’ll throw a wetsuit on and try to get down to a beach and get some time in,” said Maranda.
The next time you see skimboarders and are curious to skim the water yourself, don’t be shy to approach them.
“We don’t pretend we own the beach or anything like that,” said Maranda. “If anyone wants to say hi and ask questions, we almost always bring an extra board down.”
Endless summer: Flatland skimboarding around the world
The type of skimboarding popular in Vancouver is known as flatland, which is done on water that doesn’t have breaking waves, and allows for tricks similar to skateboarding or snowboarding. Low tides with narrow, shallow pools make Spanish Banks perfect for flatland skimboarding. Vancouver beaches have contributed to the growth of the sport since they’re accessible and are where many tricks were developed. Second, Third and Wreck beaches are also favourite spots.
To flatland skim, you throw your board forward over the water where it thinly coats the sand, run after it, jump on and balance.
Wave skimming is more popular in California, where boards meet breaking waves. Flatland skimboarding is popular in Washington, Utah, Sacramento and Ireland but especially Poland, where competitions are sponsored by Red Bull, Dakine and Oakley.
“It’s way bigger [in Poland] than it is here,” said Maranda. “I think it’s just because the country’s so landlocked and they don’t have a big water sport and the lakes aren’t really big enough for boating and so skimming has just blown up there.”Unlike Ladner’s exploratory introduction to the sport, 20-year-old Dylan Maranda did have a generation of skimmers to look up to and they had a wealth of enviable tricks.