Four weeks after he first wobbled onto a skateboard at McMillan Youthpark, Aidan Fujita balanced on a ledge atop a quarter-pipe nearly his height.
At six years old, Aidan was the smallest and youngest of the dozen or so riders in Paul Thibault’s four-week summer camp. He also seemed to have the least fear.
With Thibault’s assistance, Aidan dropped down on the ledge, stuck the landing and balled his fists in celebration. Soon, the rest of the class was emulating the smallest of the bunch.
As nine-year-old Lolo Paller drops in, the wheels of her board skids out beneath her, but Thibault’s arm keep her from falling.
“You tried to do something you’re scared of,” Thibault says. “I’m really stoked on that.”
Within 15 minutes, Lolo will be dropping in and gliding away with relatively little help from the instructor.
It has gone this way all July at the camp, thanks in large part to Thibault, who has drawn raves from both the young boarders and their parents.
Thibault, 22, started skating after receiving a board for his sixth birthday. Like many, he learned the basics in a camp before embarking on his own.
Now an employee of Replay Board Shop, he has been leading camps for just two months.
He says skateboarding is slowly shedding its stigma as an outlet for ne’er-do-wells, in part because of boarders like those in his camp.
“It’s going away and it is because these young kids are picking up skateboards and they’re such great kids,” he said.
Thibault teaches perseverance as much as anything, and stresses the importance of bouncing back from failure – whether it’s at school or on a halfpipe.
“You fall a lot in skateboarding,” he said. When you see someone land a trick, you don’t see the 200 bails it took to get them to the point where they’re rolling away from it. It really shows the kids that when you fall, you have to get back up, and that it’s OK to fall.”
Tag along for a lesson at the skatepark, and one hears Thibault say “It’s all good” over and over again. Safety is stressed, but there’s also a lot of talk about learning to accept fear.
“It’s OK to be scared,” he tells one boarder. “It just means you’re doing something you haven’t done yet.”
On the sidelines, parents watch in awe.
Lola Paller enticed her friends and classmates Callum Oftebro and Charlie Lort to sign up for their first class in July. They’ll be back for another camp in August
“The whole stigma skateboarders have had is disappearing, said Charlie’s mother, Dragana Skoro. Boarders like Thibault, she said, “are changing the face of it, and Charlie loves it.”
Lola’s mother Nicole agreed, saying “We could be here all day, every day.”
Back on the park, Thibault has gathered his “little army of skaters” for a quick pep talk on skateboarding’s value as exercise, on the importance to be aware of one’s surroundings and other park users, and about the true purpose of four wheels and a board.
“It’s all about making progress and still having fun at the same time,” he says.