Mike McGown: Smooth Lion

The man formerly known as ”Smooth Chicken” tells us all about the scene in Toronto, his gang – The escarpment surfers, Club 54 and the biggest skateboard birthday party – The Toronto Board Meeting.8333_141031214579_4907376_nHey bro, how are you?
Doing awesome. Sitting here at Longboard Haven sorting hardware into baggies. Life is sweet!

Where are you from?
I was born in Ottawa, but grew up there and in Luskville, Quebec; a small town of about 600 people. We have a drag racing track!

Where are the remaining 66 inhabitants from Lurksville?
In my basement?

600 + The missing 66 inhabitants. Elementary maths!
I failed math in high school. Then graduated by promising my calculus prof. that I would never take math again. Then I went and did mechanical engineering. I wonder if I’d lose my diploma if I told him that?

When did you start skating?
I started skating when I turned 8. I had $10 from my birthday and went and spent a whopping half of it on a skateboard from a garage sale. It was a Caliente 500, tiny little plastic mould injected. I started by sitting on it and riding down the hill I lived on.

AND you havent looked back since?
Only to check my blindspots.

When did you fall in love with skating?
I’ve always liked skateboarding, but I think I fell in love with it when I found out that I didn’t have to always be doing tricks, but could go fast as well. I was skiing before I could walk, and I have always bombed hills. The day I realized that I could marry those two passions, liking turned into loving.

Have you been skating consistently since you were little?
Yea, I can’t really remember a time when I didn’t skate. The pile of broken wood in my basement is a testament to that, haha. Street skating to longboarding, and from there racing slalom and downhill.

How do the feelings from going fast differ from landing tricks?
Going fast is a way of life? It’s not that I don’t find tricks to be exhilarating, just not quite as fun as going fast. I’m a speed demon at heart.

When did you first find a crew?
The first real crew I found was a group called the Toronto Longboarders in 2001. It was headed up by Tom Browne, who at that point was the Editor for International Longboarder Magazine – the only thing we had to read aside from SBC, Transworld and Thrasher. We met up every Sunday and would go out and skate a different part of the city, but I was young, and as we can all attest too: sometimes you just have to leave the 15 year olds behind and go to the bar. My first real crew that was my own age came when I met Adam “Joker” Winston, the man behind Moon Pucks, when we were in high school.

How many people came out regularly then?
The Toronto Longboarder sessions had 8-12 people on any given week, but once Joker and I started going, and bringing along more people, they inevitably grew. I still remember the day we had 30 people for the first time. It was pretty epic to see that many skaters all out on the hill.

How did you guys make it grow?
The only way we knew how. Talking to anybody and everybody. It’s taken 10+ years, but Toronto now has a solid foundation for longboarding, even if we’re a little on the kooky side. The first crew we built was Joker, Drew, Lee, and myself, I think we were 17. We’d ride the Beaches area of Toronto all night. Bombing hills, getting hollered at by random drunk passers by, trying not to get smeared into walls by taxis.

Who is joker?
Joker was my best friend in high school. We both would get kicked out of home for doing something stupid and go live in the others basement. We built boards in my parents house for a little bit. “Built” is a stretch… we cut out pieces of baltic birch and put truck holes and grip tape on them.

Do you still skate with any of the old crew?
That original crew, unfortunately not. Joker now lives in Vancouver, Lee is…I have no clue. Drew and I chill every now and then, but he sleeps way too much to come out and ride. Even back in the day we’d be at his house banging on the windows at 8am to go and skate before the city got busy.

What kind of stuff did grom Mike get up to?
Crash Test Dummy. That was the key back in the day. There was no draft bait, there were only cries of, “I’m CTD!”. I guess I probably got up to a lot of shit. Living in the country inevitably leads to playing with fire (explosives), and guns. Luckily, I have both eyes, all of my digits, and all of my hair.

Do you cut videos to country music?
Hahaha no, but I should! I’d definitely cut a track to some Willie Nelson or The Man in Black.

When did you first try slalom?
I first tried Slalom in 2005 when Patrick Switzer, Mike Cividino, Chris Barrett and myself journeyed to the Canadian Nationals in Ottawa. Juke and Lustin (Melo and Readings) may have been there as well? I still remember the pit I felt in my stomach when I saw the 6 ft launch ramps for the first time. The racers barrelling down the hill seemingly effortless minus the heavy breathing as they darted around cones.

What did you enjoy about it?
It led us to downhill!
Slalom is technical, requires meticulous concentration, and is fast. It’s also the lamest thing out there – haha. Before everyone had a drivers licence and we could go cruising around to bomb hills. Slalom was what bred the want for competition. Everything’s always a race, even if you’re going for milk, but this was different. We finally had a way to track it. It was Ontario’s secret DH training tool.

Lamer than your plastic donkboard?
HAHAHAH! I sent them an email about physics and board design YEARS ago, and every now and then I’ll get an email saying, “what do you think now?”. All I have to say is… No. Bad skateboarder. 

How did the new-found love of competing change you guys?
It was around this time that the Escarpment Surfers were born. Created by Scotty D our God Father, Adam Mis, Ryan Korczak, and some of the Burlington crew. We’d been riding with the guys out there for a while, and as each of us found our niche into the crew. There was however always the running question of, who’s ES? Simple answer: if you have to ask, you’re not in. Technically, Luke asked, but he’s cool, so he could stay. The crew started growing to include the guys we liked to shred hills with.

“There was however always the running question of, who’s ES? Simple answer: if you have to ask, you’re not in. Technically, Luke Melo asked, but he’s cool, so he could stay…”

Once Pat moved out west, and the crew was out a rider, we started looking around for new guys we wanted to shred down hills with. The ES took on a biker mentality, and all of a sudden we had “prospects”. Each of us would find some people and go, yea…I think they’re cool, let’s make them a prospect. We’d invite them out to a few sessions, and if they clicked, and nobody was too worried about them taking out everyone in a corner, they were allowed in. The crew sits somewhere around 25-30 people, although we’re scattered all over the place now.

Do you have an initiation for successful prospects?
Initiation always makes itself apparent at the right time. Dex was lucky enough to have a keg to learn how to do handstands on while at our annual Christmas party.

How can civilians recognise members of your cult?
Cause they’re fucking shredding from So On (Southern Ontario). Some of us have our logo tattooed and others have it as part of their leathers, like Pat, John, and Brick.

What role does ES play in the scene?
It’s changed now that kids are more into freeriding, but at the end of the day that doesn’t really matter. Most of us skate everything, so I guess it would be just stoking people on skating.

Is there a big slalom scene in Canada?
That’s a hard one. We’re a huge landmass with a small population. When you look at a place like Europe where a 5 hour drive brings you through 4 countries. Here, a 5 hour drive will JUST get me to visit my Mom in Quebec.

What else did you get up to in 2005?
Dude, that’s not fair. What did you have for breakfast last November 12th.
2005…We were into year 3 of Board Meeting, and growing steadily. Year 2 had close to 75-80 people…back then that was HUGE. I think 2005 was also the first year Pat, Joker, and myself raced Top Challenge in Montreal, Quebec for the first time. That was an eye opener, to see the guys from the grainy 240×240 YouTube videos that we watched before going out to skate. Iron Maiden and Megadeath pumping in the back of my mind as I try to remember the videos of Jim and Ian ripping in hoodies.
Downhill racing is another level. It’s like flying a plane. Not hard, except when you have to land. Anybody can go fast down a hill, physics isn’t biased to skill, but everyone needs their 10,000 hours.

Downhill racing is another level. It’s like flying a plane. Not hard, except when you have to land. Anybody can go fast down a hill, physics isn’t biased to skill, but everyone needs their 10,000 hours.

What do you enjoy about competing?
That feeling of being on edge with 3 other riders and for the most part all knowing that you’re all trying to get down the hill in one piece while beating the others. That at the end of the day, we’re all still going to sit back and have a beer and laugh about it. Even if shit hit the fan. Downhill racing is another level. It’s like flying a plane. Not hard, except when you have to land. Anybody can go fast down a hill, physics isn’t biased to skill, but everyone needs their 10,000 hours. I think that’s partially why we’ve seen so many severe injuries, close calls, and deaths over the last few years. It’s people getting excited, and rightfully so, but not respecting the fact that they’re harnessing some serious forces. When people complain that some riders are elitist, it’s generally not because they’re an asshole. It’s because they know the dangers that they’re playing with, and it’s hard to know how someone else is going to ride, especially when you’ve just met them.

Did Ontario’s secret DH training tool make you guys any better?
It taught us all early on how to manoeuvre at high speeds on loose small wheel based setups. Just look at the designs of Pat’s boards, or the one Luke cut out that he rode and won Maryhill 2 years ago on!

Vancouver > Ontario?
From a downhill frame of mind, Vancouver. All you need are the people who’ve left us for the West as proof. Pat, Joker, Charlie, Kyle, Beefy, Andrew, Justin, Braden, Mischa… The list of riders goes on. I’m actually surprised the we still have Brick. Ontario is still my current home though, and as much as the rest of the country rips on Toronto for the stick up its ass having a stick up its ass, it’s not so bad.

What is this board meeting you mentioned earlier?
The Board Meeting is an event envisioned by my favourite dreamer, and all around dude, Benjamin Jordan. I’m a dick when it comes to names and how I met people, and I forget how I met Ben. What I do remember though, is sitting in the park as a minor drinking beer (fuck yea skateboarding!) with him and maybe others(?) while he went on about this dream he had with a sea of skateboarders wearing white shirts and black ties, riding through the streets.

When did this dream become reality?
2003 was Board Meeting #1. I think we had a grand total of 40 skaters. 35 of which were mine and Ben’s friends. The community was small and tight knit back then.

How was the event received?
Nobody knew what to do with us that first year. We were a small group that we could disperse easily enough. That is easier said than done now though.

Did it grow in subsequent years?
We had around 1200 people out last year. We try to count, because originally we had a number we could easily reach. Getting a bunch of skateboarders to do anything is like herding cats – fucking hopeless.

What has been your role in the board meeting?
Everything from participant to co-organizer. It’s definitely gotten more difficult over the last few years. There was a time where the police were trying to stop us. We were at that bottleneck point where enough of them could corner us. One year we got split up, and I headed a pack through some neighbourhood hills and we outran a pack of bike cops out of their jurisdiction.
Always learn where your local police jurisdictions start and end.

What’s the relationship with the fuzz like?
We’ve changed the starting point to be outside of one jurisdiction, into another where they don’t care as much.Now it’s cool. They know that we can cause a serious cluster fuck, so they help.

Have you been to every single meeting?
Of course. You don’t miss your birthday.

What is your favourite boardmeeting memory?
Watching a guy superman across Yonge st on his chest. He only has 1 nipple now. That’s fucking commitment. My favourite board meeting memory isn’t even of the ride. It’s from the first year, back before digital cameras were everywhere, and we shot in black and white film. We spent the night smoking hookahs, drinking, enjoying, and developing shots from the day we’d just had. That was a rad experience.

What did you do with your army of 1200 cats last year?
HAHA, that’s wicked….tried to take over the world, but it didn’t work.

“Board Meeting is the largest gathering of skateboarders in the world, without a point. It’s not a race, it’s not a political statement, it’s not even a share the road campaign. It’s fun. At the end of the day, that’s all that really fucking matters. That and staying safe”

What can riders look forward to this year?
A bouncy castle!  Baughn…?
A wicked ride through Toronto, and if Jensen gets his way, a wave of skateboarders on the Gardiner Expressway. Board Meeting is the largest gathering of skateboarders in the world, without a point. It’s not a race, it’s not a political statement, it’s not even a share the road campaign. It’s fun. At the end of the day, that’s all that really fucking matters. That and staying safe.

How is it different from the Broadway Bomb?
It’s not a race. At the core of it all though, we’re both going after the same thing. That feeling of flow, and trying to spread it all around so others can enjoy it too.

Do you organise any other events?
Personally, no. But I lend a hand anywhere I can.

What do you ride?
A skateboard?
Right now, I’m riding a Lush Freeryder on Sabre cf-38’s and I flop around between Cult Risch’s and Ism’s. Stoked to get back on a Freeryder. I rode the proto last summer when I was in Bristol visiting the boys in their shipping container at Vandem MFG, and I was suspicious about it, but Mark was shredding on the thing. Now we’re into 2013, year of the brick shaped board, and the arguments will start pouring in about who started the trend. Just like when the Kebbek John Barnet came out.

Are any of those your sponsors?
They are. Best bunch of dudes out there. Big props to Rich, Darren, Mark, and Adam. Once you invent the sport of “queue hunting”, and spend a few days doing some rad skating, you’re bros for life.

When did you first sponsored?
2010, after the Euro tour. Things never roll the way you want them to though. I tore 3 ligaments in my left ankle at beginning of the next season. That put me on my ass for 9 months. All I remember is my foot hitting the ground and stopping. No rolling or sliding, just stopping. Then, serious pain. Living with an osteopath rocks though. John got me splinted up and we went to the hospital.

How did you keep the stoke up while recovering?
By going out to the events I could. Hobbling around on a cane. drugs.

You live with ginger beard?
The one and only Johanne Barnaclese, the white Bruce Lee. Club 54 is the place to be. We’ve got John, myself, Jensen, McLovin, Phil the tiny Jamaican from Australia, and Evan.

And a tesla coil?
Best police repelling tool ever. It sat on the back porch and the police never made it inside. Anybody who tells you that being a geek isn’t cool is trying to keep all the fun toys for themselves.

What’s it like living in a skatehouse?
Has its ups and downs, but is fucking rad. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Do you geek over skating?
Yes and no…I think for most of us, we have the setups or a certain board feel that we like. There’s so much coming out now that is just… pointless? We’ve had a race where everyone rode 2×4 pieces of pine. At the end of the day a special pivot cup or washer isn’t going to change whether you have the balls to rip a certain hill or corner. You have to already be that crazy.

You feel some skate products are form over function?
People need to make money to eat, of course there is.

Seems you don’t know you can exchange street rep for bacon now.
Dude….where do I sign up?

How does your engineering background impact on skate life?
I went into engineering because of skateboarding. Like I said, I promised to never do math again. It helps a lot though. There’s a lot of bad geometry in skateboarding… in everything for that matter, but it gives you a better idea of what’s ACTUALLY being done to make a certain product.

What did you hope to bring to skating from your studies?
I wanted to understand how things worked. I’ve always liked taking things apart and putting them back together, but I had no idea how forces worked while I was skating through a corner at 80kmph, or how my bushings and wheels were reacting with the road surface.
Gives insight though. Some people are worried about how much weight they can shave off their board, but do they worry about whether or not they took a shit before qualifying? SHIT HAPPENS.

How do skateboards work?
Haha, dick. Skateboards…skateboards…F=ma. Force = mass x acceleration. I hear chain mail works well…

Do you find the golden ratio in skateboarding?
Only when you have the right mushroom

How does your knowledge of the physics of skating help you?
It probably doesn’t help, and takes years of your life away.

What do you do when you’re not skating?
Until just before Christmas 2012 I was working in the R&D dept. of AGFA Graphics as a process engineer. Unfortunately head office thought our office was too big. Bigger and better things though. Since then, Rob Sydia and myself have revived the store, that Pat and I ran out of our basement apartment in Toronto, Longboard Haven.

When did you first start selling stuff?
Pat started the store originally in the basement of Joker’s parents house in 2005, but then we both needed a place and it made sense to be roomies since we were skating together all the time anyways.

How did it grow from the early days till now?
Like anything, it started out small. Bringing in the gear that people were ordering or asking for. This was in the days we were racing slalom, so there were lots of little things to geek over. Wedging, foot stops, truck design, foam wedging, wheels, and the works. There were no posted store hours, so in order to get what you wanted, you had to either call someone to meet you at the subway, or come out to a session and it would be there waiting for you. The community started to grow exponentially at this point, and more and more gear was leaving. When we moved into the basement, the store setup was down the one tiny thin hallway that led to our respective bedrooms. There’s nothing quite like opening your bedroom door every morning to a wall of bright coloured wheels and board racks.

The basement started to become a bit of a party hub. We had neighbours, an old Greek couple that used to give us shit for playing loud music on a sunny summer day let alone partying until sunrise. I don’t know how Joker’s mom would feel about calling her house the first skate house, but if it’s not, then the basement on Essex definitely was. That lasted until Pat got jealous of all the time I was spending in school doing homework, and decided to move out west to go to BCIT. At that point the store was put on hiatus and we went back to life as usual. I moved into Club 54, which at that point was a rooming house for foreign exchange students, and John. Slowly over the last number of years, we’ve taken over all of the rooms, and now have our own house essentially, the top 2 floors at least.

When was the Haven reborn?
The Haven was reborn in February 2013. So not long ago at all.

How did it rise from the ashes of the basement store?
Funny that you ask that, it’s a split level storefront, so quite literally a basement that’s rising from the ground, half exposed at ground level. We’re on a different road, but we have the same address as the old basement. It was fuelled by a long time friend, Rob Sydia. I was recently unemployed, and wanted to make sure that the LBH that I knew and loved was going to stay somewhat the same.  It was an awesome project to work on. From school I’d only designed little things, so to work on a storefront was something else. A lot of work, but also a lot of fun.

What role does the shop play in the community?
To make sure that the right gear is going into people’s hands. We’re not interested in selling something cheap to make a good profit margin. We want better gear in your hands so you can enjoy skateboarding. Not inferior gear so you can maybe come back and buy more.

To be a hub for the community. A place where you can come and chill on the benches in the basement watching old skate vids, sign the graffitti wall in the back, or just lurk like Dexter.

How is your shop different from every other shop in the world?
We’ve got a bathroom you’d let your grandma use. Tell your mom. We probably aren’t different, but we don’t have to be. A local shop for local people.

Do you have a team?
We do, although it’s small. Ben Keymer, Jon Norman, Kevin LeFrank, and myself. Maybe Pat can have a spot one day.

What are you looking forward to this year?
Stoked as fuck for this year. We’ve got guys like Matt Bates taking what we’ve been doing for the last 10 years, and incorporating what we went away from. Hard flip while going downhill? I bet if Yancey Myers and TVS skateboards were still around, they’d be making a KILLING.

Pick 3 numbers between 1-41!
7, 13, 32

7 – What is your favourite meal?
Les pattes et boulettes de ma mere.

13 – Do you have a pet?
We have a catdog, Bert. I hate cats, but this little fucker is pretty cool. He doesn’t take shit from anyone.

32 – Laura Hatwell asks- what makes you a happy skater?
Warm sunny day on a mountain road. Going fast. That’s my happy place.

Oh yeah what’s with the strange nickname?
It was given to me by my friend Drew. We were sitting on his front lawn, or more, the patch of grass outside his tool shed house, haha. Somehow we got onto the topic of names, and he goes, well Mike, you aren’t a chicken, and you’re not very smooth with the ladies. I have an ex who said it should have been because my opposite was an abrasive cock. I like her version more, but for you, you get the real story.

It’s been fun speaking to you bro! Maybe catch you in the summer. Congratulations on your Rasta conversion.
Hahaha, thanks bro! Jah! Rastafari! Likewise man, it’s been fun figuring out the time differences.

Any thank yous?
Everyone. We wouldn’t be having this conversation if there wasn’t a mass of people out there getting down on skating, and getting out having fun. (and Facebook)… Fuck Zuckerberg. Again big shout outs to the boys in Bristol, UK for keeping it funky. Shout out to the Club 54 Bruery, we’re not just a skatehouse anymore.

Escarpment Surfers 4 Life!