Watching the Olympics is an origin story staple for countless young athletes.
But having this year’s Summer Games bumped back a year could actually prove to be a catalyst for several local youngsters.
Having their competitions cancelled for the year has brought top skateboarders and Olympic hopefuls Adam Hopkins and Maddy Balt to the Sea to Sky to train at the Whistler Athletes’ Centre—and to rip up local parks.
Balt also signed on to help coach at a new camp, Grassroots Skateboard School, in Pemberton for roughly three weeks, helping to get kids comfortable dropping in and performing tricks such and rock and rolls and safeties.
“We really try to take the fear aspect away from them,” she said, adding that the Pemberton park is useful for teaching kids on smaller features. “It’s kind of scary when you’re learning.”
Balt added that she hopes to serve as an inspiration for young girls to follow their dreams in the sport.
Fellow coach Nicolas Navert brings more than just knowhow, providing mental health awareness through his Boarder Camps initiative, which features skateboarding in the summer and snowboarding in the winter.
“It’s mostly to create a support system for kids,” he said. “We incorporate this concept of wellbeing, but pair it with skateboarding and snowboarding.
“It’s going a little further than just skating with them. It’s being there for them as someone you can talk to, someone you can relate to and someone who builds this sort of positive influence in those kids’ lives.”
As he progressed in his career, filming and coaching in Whistler, Navert felt the understanding of building that support system was important to weave into the sport.
“It made sense for me to try to build something,” he said. “It’s lacking in our world as skateboarders and snowboarders.
“There’s this sense of trying to be open about how you feel, try to be open about the way things are going for you and trying to be there for each other.”
In addition to having Balt, who excels in the street discipline, as a coach, the camp also had appearances by Canada’s top park riders in Andy Anderson and Adam Hopkins on Aug. 26 as part of a special demo.
Hopkins was thrilled to spend time, masked and distanced, among some new fans, even riding with them as he got ready.
“I need to get my body limber and ready to skate, so I like to hang out and skate with the kids a bit before we do a demo,” he said.
Hopkins hoped to inspire the young ones, adding that when he was growing up in Thunder Bay, Ont., some pros came to his local park and opened his mind to other ways of approaching it.
“Sometimes it takes having a demo or having riders come from out of town to show the locals how the park can be used. Usually, they’ll become inspired or fired up from what they witness and carry that into their own skating afterwards,” he said. “We had skate parks, but no one ever came to Thunder Bay, so whenever someone did come, that’s all you talked about.”
The camp, which started on Aug. 12, was the brainchild of Alvand Mohtashami, who moved to Pemberton from Whistler in June. Mohtashami enjoyed riding the local park and immersing himself into the local community and soon started the online Grassroots Skateboard Shop at grss.ca as well as the camps. Receiving the thumbs up from the Village of Pemberton, 45 kids registered.
Mohtashami was excited to see how many kids are talented multisport athletes, opining that if they commit, competing at the 2028 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles—the sport’s heart—isn’t out of the question.
“That gives us eight years to start training athletes to the highest level possible,” he said. “I believe so much in the community and the ability of the kids, and also the parents, to pursue skateboarding at a high level.”
With school starting back up, the program will transition to after-school and weekend offerings.
To this point, he’s been more than satisfied with the progress the kids have made in less than a month.
“That was one of the coolest things about it, seeing kids learn from Day 1,” he said. “They’re riding around the skate park with confidence.”
Mohtashami knew the participating athletes before they signed on to the camp, and said Canada Skateboard, including team manager Adam Higgins, was extraordinarily helpful in helping lay the groundwork, as well as providing legitimacy, to the camp.
“It was great to be able to reach out to the athletes as my coaches and have the best coaches in the Sea to Sky work with me,” he said.
Balt, who is based in Whistler, was glad to help while preparing for whatever the next step in her career may be.
“I’ve taken a step back, said to myself, ‘We’re just going to do this day by day and as long as I’m still skating and still working hard, it’s all good,’” she said. “When the time comes, I’ll be prepared.
“There’s not really any sense in stressing too much about it because, really, nobody knows what the future looks like.”
She also reinforced to the young athletes that though athletes like herself and Hopkins make skating look simple, it’s the result of hours of dedication.
“Nothing in life that’s worth having comes easy. It always takes hard work,” she said. “Having them there to show that hard work pays off was really cool.”