Sunday, March 18, 2012

Profile: Justin Readings, Downhill Skateboarder

I know a guy whose entire life is going downhill -- fast.

But in a good way! Let me introduce you to him...

Justin Readings: Hot Heels Africa 2011 - Photo: Pierre van der Spuy
(Click any photo to enlarge)

Justin Readings is a determined young skateboarder who is starting to make waves in the tightly-knit downhill racing world. He’s on the cusp of realizing a dream -- to skate for a living.

Recently, I sat down with Justin to grill him about his recent progress. We talked at length regarding his skating roots, his travels, and his general approach to skateboarding.

I’m delighted to share the resulting conversation with you, accompanied by some remarkable footage -- it really gives you a sense of the skill and speed involved in the sport. A transcript of the complete interview (plus some fantastic photos!) follows the video...


SCENE: Longboard Living, a popular shop in Kensington Market, and a gathering place for local skaters and community events.

We’re here at Longboard Living with Justin Readings, a fast-rising -- or I should say fast-descending -- young international downhill skateboarder. I’m going to ask him a whole bunch of questions. You set Justin?

The modest subject of this interview...
Yeah, sure!

Great. First question: Where are you from? How old are you?

I’m from Toronto, Ontario. I’m 19 right now, about to turn 20.

How long have you been skateboarding?

I’ve been skateboarding for 7 years now, since 2005 -- so this will be my 7th year. Yeah.

How did you get into it?

I started skateboarding in Grade 7, and then from there I got a longboard, and started skating garages, started skating with people from, and it’s just been uphill from there.

Did you buy your first deck? Was it your parents? Or a friend of yours?

It was me. I bought my first deck.

Justin showing some sideways style - Photo: Scott Harrison

What was it? Did you pick the board out yourself?

It was a Rayne Pug -- I picked it out myself I guess; it was from a couple options.

Talk to me about skating in your life, how important is it to you? What role does it play in your life?

It’s the first thing that comes into my mind when making big decisions, or any decisions, so [I] definitely consider where I’m going to be in the world; the first priority is skateboarding basically.

My job right now is kind of secondary, just to get money to go skateboarding -- and thankfully they’ve been understanding that I leave for six months of the year...

Intensity at Houwteq HDX - Photo: Paul du Plessis

Can you describe your skating style... what kind of skating do you like to do the most? We’ve seen with the evolution of the sport there are all kinds of different disciplines...

My favorite is to do downhill. Racing is the best situation; you have a closed road, you’re not worrying about any cars or any interference, it’s just skateboarding. Even if it’s not the racing itself, it’s fun to go out on the hill, and not have any other worries.

Justin (centre) with Hev and Tibbles close behind... Photo: Mike Jakubiec

Does the speed really excite you?

Yeah, definitely! That’s part of it.

The Go-To Deck:
Rayne mini Killswitch
For downhill, what’s your ideal setup? What do you ride?

I pretty much ride the same board for everything, it’s a Rayne mini Killswitch, with Aeras and whatever wheels I choose on that day, depending on the course.

Do you skate other styles too -- freeride, bowl, etc.?

Yeah, I like to freeride; I want to get more into skating street and bowl, definitely if you have a smaller deck, [it’s] good for kicking around the city, and for getting around.

What’s been the toughest trick to master? In terms of skills or tricks?

The toughest thing to do in racing is figuring out where you have to be, and when, to get across the finish line first. It’s a tough balance to find the right place to pass, and depending on the course it always changes.

Taking the first corner at the Jane Paths...
Photo: I & EYE Photography

In your career so far, you’ve skated a lot of places around the world -- what’s your favorite place to skate? What’s the best place you’ve ever skated?

For the people or the roads?


Switzerland is definitely on the top there; France has some really good mountains -- the French Alps are probably my favorite place to skate.

In terms of people I love skating in Germany, because everybody was super happy. Same with South Africa: the people were awesome, they were inviting....

Winding down switchbacks in the French Alps
Photo: Robin Sandberg

I was about to ask you, and you just mentioned it, you came back recently from a [skate] trip to South Africa. Can you describe the skate scene in South Africa? What’s it like down there? How is it different than here?

It’s much like the scene a couple of years ago here -- it’s just getting started, they’re starting to get more and more brands in, and there are tons and tons of local riders. So generally at the international races you’ll see... a lot of the same faces travelling around to every race, but in South Africa it’s one or two of the guys travelling there, and then tons and tons of locals.

40 or 50 locals will show up, and they’re always stoked to skate.

What races did you participate in down there?

2nd place at Houwteq HDX in South Africa, 2011
In South Africa there was Houwteq HDX, and then Hot Heels Africa.

You placed 2nd in Houwteq didn’t you?


Good! Congratulations is what I wanted to say.


Can you talk a little about that experience? Have you done better in any other race?

Definitely not in an IGSA [International Gravity Sports Association] race. I’ve placed well in other World Cup races that were good.

It’s a big milestone.

Absolutely. Getting on the podium was a big deal, and it was super nice to be there [read Justin’s complete Houwteq race report here].

Looking back to some of your other races and events, what was your favourite event this past year? Why?

Hot Heels was really great. The crowd and the atmosphere was super nice. The hill was very challenging -- there wasn’t a lot of drifting, but it was still difficult.

Skating in close quarters at Verdicchio ’11 (Justin: red & gray)
Photo: Dave Kessler via IGSA

Verdicchio [European Championship] in Italy was, I think, by far the best course. Yeah, that was probably my favorite race.

The course was so... [technical]. It had a bit of everything -- there were hairpins, straights, sweepers -- it included all of the different skills in racing.

How long have you been competing in races? For downhill.

For downhill specifically I’ve been competing for four or five years, and then before that I raced 2 years of Slalom.

I heard that you organized an (outlaw) event recently, did you not?

I did -- the Winter Slide Jam in Toronto...

How did that turn out?

Fishing out the death rail at WSJ...
Photo: Rob DeFreitas
It was pretty successful. The first hill that we went to, I was pretty sure that it was going to get shut down... and before I arrived it got shut down [laughs]. So we moved on to the local favorite hill, and just skated there all day... There were just over 30 people I think, it was pretty successful.

What prompted you to hold it? Just felt like it?

Yeah basically. Holding events and getting people stoked is part of it [the responsibility of giving back].

You’ve been skating all these years. You’re now... pretty good at it. Last year [2010] you finished eighth in the junior division of the IGSA world cup series, and this year you moved to the men’s division and placed 15th overall.

So it’s kinda interesting, here I am talking to someone who is, from a certain perspective, one of the new, rising downhill skaters in the world. How does it feel to be that guy?

Justin (red & gray) @ Maryhill FOS
Photo: Dawn Moisanen
It feels good! I definitely want to improve next year.

But... it’s about skateboarding -- the racing is great, but it’s not about the rank -- so I’m not too worried if I’m going to do well at a race. If something happens it happens, and that’s the way it is.

It’s about the skating --

Definitely it’s about going to the roads. Having the races is again nice, because you have that kind of closed off atmosphere where it’s just you and skateboarding, and friends.

I wanted to ask you about the competitive aspect of racing. Do you find that it detracts at all from the purity of the skating?

Sometimes; unfortunately this year there were a couple incidents: there’s going to be competition, people are going to [inadvertently] knock each other off their boards, or send one another into hay bales, but at that point you just have to move on from it... there’s going to be another race the weekend after, so it’s not really a big deal.

At Padova the previous year
But yeah there were some fights and some arguing this year...

Do you find it’s still a tight community nevertheless?

Yeah. Everybody’s forgiving, you know, you get angry and heated in the moment, but after that, it’s just, you know, it’s gone, it’s over.

Have you ever had any big bails or close calls?

Yeah, I have had some broken bones -- not always from skateboarding.

What was your worst crash?

A little off-road riding...
Photo: Chris Law
Worst crash? I haven’t had anything that bad. I broke my collarbone skating in a garage. So it was not really that intense. But it was unfortunate. I ran into another rider into a figure 8 track, where you can cross paths. So it wasn’t ideal.

I think injuries are a part of skating.

For sure.

Let’s talk about your sponsors for a little bit. When I was a kid growing up, the secret dream of every skate kid was to get sponsored.

I know that you’re a Rayne team rider. What attracted you to them, in order to accept them as a sponsor? Why did you choose them?

I have been riding Rayne boards for a little while; I’ve had a couple... my first board was a Rayne, my second board was a Rayne I’m pretty sure. And they’ve always been good products, you know they support it too, so if you have any issues they are willing to help you out and figure out what went wrong.

But -- their stuff doesn’t fall apart on you! So you can feel safe with them under your feet. That’s big. Having confidence in your gear, that’s part of it.

Rayne longboards. Ahem.

Have they been supportive of you?

In my travels? Yeah. They’ve absolutely been helping out.

Who else sponsors you?

Switchback Longboards:
Ke$ha or die!
Switchback Longboards helps out from time to time, they’ve definitely been supporting me in getting to South Africa, and hopefully they’ll be helping me out next year as well. And that’s it for now.

I want to talk to you about your skate influences. Who’s influenced your skating the most?

Everybody. Everybody you see has a different way of skating… specific people, it’s hard to name.

What about ‘classic’ skaters like Tony Hawk, or Rodney Mullen, or...?

Natas Kaupas: a big influence
One of the guys who was kind of in the beginning of skateboarding, Natas Kaupas, had one of the styles I liked better, [he] rides off of everything, more of a street style.

A long time ago he was skating, and people today [still] can’t replicate what he was doing, on the gear he was doing it on -- so it just goes to show, it’s all about the rider.

While I was doing research for this piece, it was interesting to me, the Ontario scene has produced what feels like a disproportionate number of skilled riders. If you look at the geography around say Toronto, it’s pretty flat --

It’s definitely not downhill oriented!

But then if you take a closer look, there are a bunch of people who have skated with our group -- Patrick Switzer, Braden Tibbles, John Barnet, Luke Melo, Dasha Kornienko [and numerous others I haven’t mentioned here] -- it just seems weird to me.  Why do you think that is? Is that a fluke? What is it?

Prince of the Pooper in ’08 [local race]
Photo: Maggie Dron
Ontario is a different scene, you know it helps in racing, because every hill we go to, we have to push and push and push to just have fun; you have to really give it your all on the hills to actually get the speed, so you have to tuck the hardest, you have to be close to one another and I think the fact that --

You know, when everybody sits in a draft train going down a hill just to try and get a little bit quicker, it makes you comfortable riding around other people, and for racing that’s ideal.

Do you think that helped you learn? The skills?

It helped me learn a lot. Having great people to skate around, all the time, people who are better than you -- it always pushes you to the next level.

At a certain Escarpment spot... Photo: Sterling Pearce
The other thing is, not everybody is ‘the best’ at one thing, so there are people who are better at free riding -- you’re always trying to catch up to people who are better than you in another thing, you’re always learning something different. So it’s not always about being fastest down the hill.

I wanted to ask you about Luke Melo [also a Rayne team rider]. You’ve been friends with Luke for a long time. Since you both were kids, right?

Yup, since grade seven when I started skateboarding.

You still friends with him?

Yup! I see a bit less of him now because he’s in Waterloo, at school, but I travelled with him this summer, and I skate with him whenever he’s around.

L to R: Scoot Smith, Luke Melo, Justin Readings
At col de la bonette observatory, the highest paved road in Europe

I was reading a bit about Luke, and he’s had a considerable skate career as well. He’s competed in [and won] the Canadian slalom Jr. championships, and last year he finished 2nd in the junior division of IGSA, the World Cup series. Most people would agree he’s a fairly accomplished rider.

Is there ever any sense of ‘sibling rivalry’ between you two?

I’ve never really felt any pressure. Obviously we both push each other...

At Teolo 2010, Justin drafting behind Luke Melo (leading in red)
Photo: Daniel Morandin

Are you competitive with each other? Have you raced against him?

Yeah, we’ve raced together, but I think when we race together it’s a bit different. We’re both... we’re not always looking to beat each other, we’re genuinely looking for both of us to advance. We’ve never been in a finals type of situation, where it’s like, first down the hill, where you have to be first --

So we’re always looking out for each other on the hill and if you’re going to make a pass, you don’t make a risky one basically.

PEC 2010 Jr. division...
[1st: Luke Melo, 2nd: Justin Readings, 3rd: Noah Hellreich]
Photo: Liz Kinnish

Now I do know that, at least according to the rankings that I looked at online, you did beat him last year (in the rankings) -- how did that feel?

Last year?


Yeah, I did beat him [smiles], it feels pretty good. The points do tell a bit, but seriously... it’s kind of different because he competed in an event that I didn’t race, and I competed in two that he didn’t race, so it’s kind of a... it’s a mix, so it’s not... unless you race head to head it doesn’t really tell...

Don’t worry, I’m not starting to start a rivalry thing here or anything...


I’ve known you for quite a few years as well... I remember meeting you, and Luke, when you were both kids. I also remember in those days, people in the Toronto scene used to give you two a really hard time. Just for being young.


For being groms.


Back in the day: a carefree, long-haired, helmetless, stinkbugging grom...

For example, people would call you names, for not dropping in at the Hoof... and that sort of thing. How did you feel about that? Looking back...

Definitely it was good stuff!  It helps you push yourself, and you know --

I mean, now that you’re one of the acknowledged veterans  -- Do you think it was fair?

Rolling in at the Hoof - ’08
Definitely fair; it makes you grow up a little bit quicker, obviously; it makes you learn some lessons, you don’t ask as many silly questions; you get your answers on your own and the help when you really need it.

It was good!

Do you think we treat young skaters differently now?

Yes. I think maybe it’s because there are a lot more of them now.
There might be a little different attitude. But there’s still some... yelling and coercing them to do better and push themselves.

Do you think the scene has become more supportive of young skaters?

It was supportive back then as well -- it wasn’t that we were ever... that they told us to go home -- it’s certainly supportive still.

Shred Central ’06 - An OLF winter gathering: Luke Melo (2nd from left, top row), Aubs, Bex, Directive Zero (top right), Dr. Go, Justin (bottom right)

I remember that you guys would come in from like Scarborough to skate downtown garages on ‘old skool’ night. Most people wouldn’t commute that long to go to work! What kept you coming?

Just skating with people is always a good time; sometimes the garages were in better shape than the hills were, and it was always fun to skate with people that you weren’t skating with all the time, so... coming down to the garage was worth it.

And at that age everybody was quite a bit farther ahead, so it was good to be able to push myself.

At the Hilton Byrne Memorial Skate ’11 - Photo: Scott Harrison

I know you’re an adult now, but I’m going to ask anyway -- when you were a young teenager, did your parents approve of your skateboarding?

Yeah they were pretty big into it, it was kinda weird the first time, showing up and meeting people from the internet when I was thirteen, but after then it was a lot of fun -- they were really excited about it. They thankfully have supported me.

Switching back to the Ontario scene -- tell me about the Escarpment Surfers. Who are they and how did you get involved with them?

“Half the hills, all the skills”
The Escarpment Surfers are basically the local crew that skates the Niagara Escarpment, or anything in Ontario pretty much. We don’t really have a lot of mountains... we have cliffs -- and hills running down the side of them.

I guess they were the biggest skating group in Ontario when I was starting, so to be skating with them was (to be skating with) the biggest downhill crew.

Would you say you learned downhill skating from those guys?

Yes. For sure!

Escarpment Surfers DH Crew (partial) in France (L to R): Patrick Switzer, [James,] Andrew Chapman, Chicken, Kevin Reimer, John Barnet, Luke Melo, Justin Readings
Photo: Patrick Switzer

I want to ask you about something we both participate in. Which is (or OLF as a lot of people refer to it).

Now as of yesterday -- I looked this up -- you’ve spent 86 days, and 8 hours logged into OLF.


[we both start laughing]

Next to Hev, you’ve spent the most time of any member online. And that’s only OLF 2.0, that doesn’t include the first version...

[more laughter]

OLF is dead. Long live OLF!

What do you get out of OLF, and why is it important to you?

You know, there’s definitely a lot of page refreshes on there... [wryly reflects]

When you’re sitting around at home, with the snow outside, and you know maybe you’re too tired to get out that day, it gives you something to read, or, there’s often videos posted up, or maybe you’re organizing an event and you’re trying to get people interested, people stoked...

Do you think it’s important to the local community?

OLF: a notorious online hangout
for Ontario skaters
It’s probably the sole reason the community is so big [in the GTA].

Having a base to talk about skateboarding, but like meet up to go skate, and find out other people to skate -- that pushes the scene. Without it, I don’t think as many people would know each other, or even if there would be as many skateboarders without it in Toronto.

Do you think people spend too much time online versus skating?

Probably. Definitely.

Maybe it’s wrong to ask you that question --

Hahah -- yeah, without doubt. Probably people spend too much time online, but it’s… better than smoking crack or something like that...

I know from personal experience that you also rock climb. Why do you like climbing, and do you think it helps or hurts your skateboarding?

I think it helps. I rock climb because it’s fun --

A similar reason why you like to skateboard presumably --

Exactly -- you have to keep in shape while you’re not skating. But going to the gym -- the normal gym -- is boring. Climbing is a fun way to keep in shape.

Do you do any other sports?

Not really right now. I played rugby for a bit, and I liked that, but it just didn’t fit in with going skateboarding all summer.

When the racing season is on, do you follow a training regimen? Do you exercise for that, is there a fitness scheme that you follow or not, or do you just skate?

Pretty much just skate. The only way to get better is skating. There are practice runs...

Practicing the tuck...

You don’t practice your tuck while watching TV or anything?

No... I don’t know, there’s nothing you can do off the board that truly helps skateboarding more than just skating itself. You can do some leg exercises and things like that, but it’s muscle groups acting together, more than training one muscle, that’s kind of the goal.

I’ve seen you in a couple of videos that have gotten some pretty heavy rotation and circulation on the internet. Can you tell me about those videos? (I think there was one of you guys in Europe?)

Yup, I did a euro tour edit for this year, for our time spent in Switzerland, so we had a couple days at one pass where we were filming a lot and skating a lot, so that was a good place to start and then, a couple of the other hills on Switzerland -- it went up on the Rayne channel and got thousands of hits, it was pretty good.


What advice would you give to a new longboarder getting started?

Go out and skate whenever you want to! Don’t let being too tired or not being motivated get in your way, just go out and do it. Start skating, and skate a lot!

What skills would you say you need to be a successful downhill skateboarder?

Slowing down pretty much is the ideal skill. In any way you can, so --

Sliding, footbraking?

Exactly, sliding, or footbrake, predrift...

Never go faster than you can slow down from, is the biggest thing to learn. Also knowing your limits is definitely in there. You don’t want to be -- you know [when] there’s a whole bunch of guys on the hill, you don’t want to be going down, because they’re going down [you don’t have to go down]. Just do what you’re comfortable with.


A lot of skaters, they watch the videos online, they hang out with the group or whatever, but they haven’t competed in downhill races. I was hoping you could briefly describe that for me. What’s that like? Do you have a race strategy? What do you try to do? Do you try to lead all the way? Draft people?

There’s a whole bunch of strategy with it, but it changes with every course.

In Hot Heels it was kind of, you could lead down all the way, but it was likely that you were going to get drafted, so you want to mix it up. There were a couple of passing opportunities for sure.

But in other courses it’s good to lead all the way; there are clearly races where -- if you stay in front and you hit your line -- there’s no way people are going to pass you, because if you take the better line, they can’t -- they can’t take a better line around you.

Laying down a hand at Insul 2011 - Photo: Edvard Hagman

What are you doing in “normal life’? Work? Study?

Normal life -- I pretty much just work to save money to go skateboarding. I climb during the week, generally three or four times, but other than that it’s pretty much work.

What’s next for you: are you going to continue downhill skating? Are you going to try to become a full time skater?

Full time skater is the ideal goal. This year I’ll be travelling again, not just for IGSA, but to spend time skateboarding I’ll be out in BC for probably around two months, Europe for another two months, maybe more -- we’ll see how it pans out, there are no plans yet.

Hopefully I can make it out to South Africa again at the end of the year, and possibly Australia in April, but that’s looking tight.

You have a website, right? What is it?

Yup! My website is

Do you have a Twitter handle?


Excellent. People can find out more about Justin, at either of those two sites. Any last comments? Any trash talk? Any shout-outs? Props?

We’re good.

Justin -- thank you very much for your time. And thanks to Longboard Living and Ryan Rubin for graciously hosting us.



 A sampling of skate videos with and by Justin

Par For the Course: Rayne Onterrible Goes Golfing

Never Stops from Justin Readings on Vimeo.

Houwteq DHX 2011

Whew! Good luck and best wishes to Justin for the future.

Catch Justin online
Twitter: @justinreadings

Hearty appreciation is extended to the many skilled photographers who generously provided permission to use their respective images of Justin.

[If your photo is in this post and you haven’t given me permission to use it, or if there is a crediting error, please contact me so we can rectify the situation. I’ve tried my best to cover everyone, but there may be a shot or two that slipped through... I am grateful for your kind forbearance.]

Thanks also to Ryan Rubin of Longboard Living, who let us set up and conduct this interview in his shop -- even while he was planning something else.

Please share this article if you enjoyed it!

Past skate coverage by me
• Is skateboarding illegal in Toronto?
Concrete Wave’s Lame ‘Pin-up’ Cover
  + Concrete Wave’s Publisher Responds
Letter to Councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon: Why Jeopardize the Ashbridges Bay Skate Park?
  + Councillor McMahon Responds
• Speed! Thrills! Women! FUBU Skate Race Recap
• Grappling with another longboarding death
• Aftermath - 2011 Toronto Board Meeting
• The rise of Patrick Switzer, Downhill Skateboarder
• Our first longboarding tragedy