Monday, October 24, 2011

Grappling With Another Longboarding Death

This past Friday morning, a young man was killed at King and Spadina here in Toronto. Mr. Aaron Beamish, 25, was apparently skateboarding eastbound on King (on the wrong side), when a garbage truck made a right hand turn from Spadina and ran him over.

A terrible miscalculation 

He wasn’t wearing a helmet. According to TPS Sgt. Warren Stein, Beamish was also wearing dark clothing, which may have made it difficult to see him.

Events like this make me brood over the nature of skateboarding and its uneasy relationship with traffic.

It was only a year ago that we learned about the tragic death of Hilton Byrne, a good friend to many and a prominent member of our local skate community. We still grieve for him sorely.

In the commentary and tenor of the accident media coverage, I’ve seen a lot of dismissive judgment. What did you expect, goes the critique, skating the wrong way in traffic, and without a helmet? Skateboarders shouldn’t be on the road in the first place.

Questions of fault are inevitable when a fatality occurs. I’m just not convinced anything can -- or should -- be changed as a result.

The thing is, I can see it happening (the accident, I mean). I can easily visualize the chain of events. I can’t defend what happened, and who knows 100% what did, but it’s a sequence of decisions and factors that I can personally relate to.

I’ve been there. I’ve made similar calls.

Flowers at King/Spadina
Photo: Slow Motion Victory
At 6:30 in the morning, the city is still waking up. For hours the roads have been deserted. It’s dark. You’re hustling to get someplace, and there’s no one around so you cut across the street. But you miscalculate and suddenly a truck turns right when you didn’t expect there to be anyone and --

And consequences ensue.

Skateboarding on the road is already illegal in Toronto. But it’s not often enforced, thankfully. Skaters practice a kind of wilful disregard for traffic conventions and private property -- it’s a part of the culture, whether you approve of it or not. Where cyclists engage in an antagonistic dialogue about traffic rights of way, skaters ignore that conversation altogether.

Skating is about risk assessment -- that’s part of the appeal. You skate where you can. And sometimes, where you can’t.

Increasingly, many people use longboards for commuting. Not for tricks or daredevil feats, but simply to get around in a crowded urban environment. This will not be the last fatality from skateboarding. You can’t stop people from having accidents.

You can only educate, and set a good example for the groms, and encourage skaters to always be aware of their surroundings.

Friends have started a safety campaign...
In the last couple of years I’ve seen a growing local emphasis on safety. That’s something we should be proud of, and not shy from as a topic.

Historically skateboarders have frowned on the use of helmets, but that mindset is slowly changing, at least in the GTA.

Whether or not a helmet would have changed the outcome of Friday’s tragedy is moot; our culture is beginning to shift in the right direction. People won’t session with you if you’re not wearing a lid.

Online the skate reaction is muted and defensive -- because dealing with death is such a struggle. Is this going to change skating in Toronto? That’s the question we are faced with.

Just six weeks ago, a thousand of us rampaged through the city at the annual Board Meeting, a symbolic exercise in asserting our right to skate. Yet here we have learned once again, that the streets aren’t always ours to rule. It is a harsh lesson indeed.

I didn’t know Mr. Beamish personally -- but I’ve realized with sadness that I’ve skated with him in the past. I recognize his face. The above photo is from probably around five or six years ago, at the top of the SkyDome garage if I’m not mistaken. And I know I took part in many of those sessions...

The skate community’s addition to
the memorial -- nice job CIRCA
An impromptu memorial skate and vigil was held the night of the accident. If you want to pay your respects, the display is still up on the north-west corner of King and Spadina.

Friends of his have also started a safety campaign called Be Bright Wear Lights, encouraging cyclists and skateboarders to wear lights or reflectors when travelling at night.

My sincere condolences to the Beamish family and to all of his friends. For someone so young to have their life ended so abruptly -- it’s devastating.

Folks -- skate safe! Wear a helmet. Pay attention to traffic.

Take care frons, and shred with joy in your heart!

Photo via: Be Bright Wear Lights

Related articles
Our First Longboarding Tragedy
Is Skateboarding Illegal in Toronto?
We Are the Traffic
Longboarder dead after being struck by taxi

See also
Friends remember man killed by garbage truck (CTV)