Wednesday, September 05, 2012

The Toronto Board Meeting: A Short History

The First Board Meeting in ’03
Photo: Nick Clayton
The Toronto Board Meeting is a chaotic annual gathering of skateboarders from all over. It primarily takes the form of a joyful, rumbling mass cruise through the streets of our fair city. You’re invited!

This year will be the 10th iteration of this sprawling and shambolic event, celebrating the fun and freedom of shredding on pavement.

Let’s take a look back at the forgotten history of this Toronto skate tradition -- but first, here are some details about this year’s ride:

Where and When
The 2012 Toronto Board Meeting is taking place Saturday September 8th at 3pm.

2012 Toronto Board Meeting Poster

Meeting location: David A. Balfour park. Go to St. Clair subway station and head 2 minutes south-east to the park. Look for about a thousand skaters mingling on the grass.

Lookin’ sharp Nat... (BM ’04)
Photo: Jon Nuss
Dress Code: collared shirt and tie. Fashionistas may disagree, but a white shirt is preferable. AND WEAR A HELMET!

Attendance is free. It will be huge, fun, and insane [but also mellow, in pace and vibe].

The route heads downtown -- last year’s was like this -- and typically rambles around for a couple of hours, before coming to a close in Kensington Market (the end may change).

The notorious (and optional) hill drop at the start south of St. Clair is the Torontonian skate version of ‘running with the bulls’ -- thrilling, messy, and there’s inevitably carnage each year. The hill itself is no big deal; skating it while surrounded by a hundred unpredictable n00bs, on the other hand, is an adventure.

P.S. rumour has it there will be a ton of prizes and free swag...

The Board Meeting Chant - aka ‘Corned Beef’
‘Corrrrrrrrnnnned Beeeeeeefff!’
During the ride, as you roll past onlookers, it’s customary to make some noise and yell out ‘Booooaaaard Meeeet!!!’ to inform people of what’s going on.

If you prefer, however, the substitute expression ‘Coorrnned Beef!!!’ may also be used -- and sounds roughly about the same, presumably due to the Doppler effect, and the vagaries of sound transmission.

After Party & Slide Fu
An event as massive as the Board Meeting tends to spawn off corollary happenings. This year’s bombastic After Party will take place at the Annex Live, 296 Brunswick Ave; doors open at 9pm (19+, sorry groms).

I have heard that there may be alcohol involved. Ahem.

The following afternoon, Slide Fu takes over the Poop Chute. It’s an epic, steezy, and hung-over slide-session. 2pm skate time.

Slide Fu brought to you by Escarpment Surfers and Skate Invaders

When your skate session has sponsors, you know things are a bit crazy! :) And if you don’t know where the Poop Chute is, come to the Board Meeting and find out!

Bonus - Highway Gospel Skate Documentary Screening 
The critically acclaimed documentary skate film, Highway Gospel will be screening at the Royal Cinema the night before the Board Meeting. Here’s a coupon for free admission!

Right-click-save & Print this off for admission to Highway Gospel at the Royal Cinema Friday Sept 7 at 7pm!

A Short History of the Toronto Board Meeting
Here’s the one-minute origin story of the Board Meeting, as told by its founder, Benjamin Jordan (aka ‘Jacob Furlong’):

BM Origin Story

A Slightly More-Convoluted Retelling That Isn’t 100% True
But Is Likely Close Enough 

In the early 2000s, Michael Brooke -- the publisher of Concrete Wave -- and Tom Browne -- Brooke’s erstwhile business partner on CW’s predecessor publication, International Longboarder -- were holding open-to-anyone longboarding cruises on alternate Sunday mornings, meeting up at Hogtown Extreme Sports.

They called themselves the Metro Longboarders.

Jordan exhorts the troops, BM ’03
Photo: Nick Clayton
The story goes that Jordan, a dynamic commercial photographer, loved going to the sessions, and riding with other people, but hated getting up in the mornings to attend.

In mid-2003 he was taking a course in self-expression, and there was a community leadership module he was completing. The module required him to “give something back” to a community he identified with.

Mixed together, these elements inspired Jordan to create an occasion that combined his passion for longboarding in a pack, with the artistic expression he enjoyed through photography.

He had a vision: a fluid mass of skaters -- all wearing business suits -- coasting down Yonge Street, having fun. Along the way, photographers would capture the mayhem.

Photo: Kid With Camera
It would be “a community created from nothing.”  Flash-mobs had been popularized that summer, and Jordan’s idea meshed right in with that aesthetic.

A date was scheduled, and flyers were plastered up around downtown. Unlike the groggy Metro sessions, Jordan’s event would happen in the afternoon.

The whole thing was nearly derailed by the wandering eye of law enforcement. Some anonymous killjoy brought the flyers to the attention of the Toronto Police Service, and they contacted Jordan to inquire about it. Skateboarding on the road is illegal in Toronto.

Was he the organizer? they asked. No, he had “delegated the project to someone else” and “wouldn’t hold such an event in their jurisdiction.” This gave rise to the pseudonym, ‘Jacob Furlong’, who henceforth became the nominal organizer for the event.

The Board Meeting went ahead -- albeit somewhat furtively -- and the rest was history.

Jonathan Nuss’ Board Meeting Photography
Jonathan Nuss, a good friend of Jordan’s, helped coordinate and photograph the event. Nuss’s accumulated skate images tell a remarkable story of the Toronto longboarding community over the years.

Right after this we took over Queen and John for the first time...
Photo: Jonathan Nuss

Describing the Board Meeting, Nuss writes:
...this is my favorite thing to shoot in the world.
Longboarders skating down yonge street during rush hour traffic to take back the streets. To help promote longboarding, alternative transportation, and freedom to skate with no dollar sign attached to it. My good friend ben pulled me out to starbucks to listen to him rant like usual. ;-) This time he had a great idea, he called it the boardmeeting. He had a dream where people skate boarded to work instead of taking their cars. He asked me to help organize the photographers for it.
Taking over Yonge St: A magazine-worthy shot?
Photo: Jonathan Nuss
It was my first year of humber college and i got a bunch of my friends together to help shoot the event. The idea was to shoot everything in black in white film, process that night, and then ben would go to new york for a gallery showing. We didn’t other years we just shot it any old way but bw is still the theme mostly. I wasn’t a very good skater at the time so i rode my bike... later years i found it was much more fun to be a part of it... as my confdence grew as a photographer and longboarder.
We spent two days flyering everywere for the event.. and had no idea who would show up, or if anyone would bother even coming. 60 people showed up... the next year 100... the next year 140... the next year almost 200... I like to call it living art... and over the years it became more then ben and I. It was complete strangers showing each other love for no reason other than to skateboard really fast... 

My First Board Meeting 
While standing at the Queen and Spadina streetcar stop, I noticed a poster for the first Board Meeting. The white poster read, “Bomb Yonge St. Like It’s Never Been Bombed Before!”

Yours truly (2nd from right) at the first Board Meeting.
This photo ran in the Globe. Photo: Adam K.

I was intrigued. What an awesome idea, I thought. I’d skated for a few years, but never really got to know anyone. So when the day came, I put on a shirt and tie, and hoped I might meet some new friends.

To my surprise, everybody had longboards, which were kind of novel at the time -- at least to me, anyway. All I had was my regular popsicle-stick skateboard.

People were nervous about the police. The gathering spot was changed at the last minute, to throw off the scent. Someone asked if I’d left my ID at home. The general escape plan was quaintly Darwinan: if there were enough skaters, the police wouldn’t be able to catch all of us.

Heading off to ‘work’
Photo: Greg

The excitement mounted as more and more of us showed up in the parking lot. Nobody violated the dress code. We took a few photos in front of an office building, and then it was time to go!

We bunched up on the sidewalk, and waited for the lights to turn red on Yonge, before making our move. Ben gave us the signal to occupy the road for our own and we did. People sat dumbfounded in their cars staring at us. We started to roll with a ragged cheer... It was a thrill to ride with so many others. The rumble of urethane was like a growl of rising thunder. And then -- the perilous descent.

The very last skater! (ahem)
Photo: Nick Clayton
I had never bombed a serious hill before. Turns out, a short deck at speed is ridiculously squirrelly! I got to a certain velocity and then -- I had to jump off to avoid totally wiping out and smashing myself on the road. Everyone zoomed past, ever downwards, hooting and hollering.

I took the rest of the hill in another go. Traffic was light that day, thank goodness. It was so sketchy. But I managed to get down to the bottom without getting killed. I could see the others dwindling in the distance, finally disappearing. I pushed like hell and finally, finally caught up to the crew -- at Queen and John!

Photo: Adam K.

It was an incredible, powerful feeling to skate with a group like that. “An electric experience,” Joker once said. It felt like we had taken ownership of the streets, for a while. But only for a while. Oh, how we laughed and scattered when that cop cruiser wound up its siren and booted us from in front of Much Music!

Photo: Adam K.

Phenomenal Growth
Keeper of the flame:
Photo: Jon Nuss
In the following years, Jordan passed on the mantle of responsibility to others, and the Board Meeting exploded well past his initial concept and scope.

Last year before the Meet I ran into Ben, and teased him about kicking the whole thing off. He shrugged and said, with his characteristic modesty, “This is waaaay beyond me. I caused a little ripple and it somehow turned into a huge wave.”

I thanked him nonetheless.

Subsequent organizers (Chicken, Matticus, P-Swiss, Joker, etc.) have all grappled -- mostly successfully, in my opinion -- with the challenge of keeping things fun, safe, and yet not overtly burdened with heavy-handed direction.

BM ‘05: Fitting everyone in one photo

The burgeoning event just keeps growing and growing, and this transforms the Meeting into a completely different animal each year -- 50 skaters is an unruly group; 500 is a rambunctious mob; 1,000 is a nigh ungovernable mess.

Local law enforcement has generally been patient and accommodating, with an emphasis placed on channeling the flow safely, rather than curtailing it or trying to prevent it from happening. As TPS Staff Sgt. Andy Norrie remarked last year,
“We aren’t in a position to arrest hundreds of people.”

In an ironic twist, the Board Meeting is now supported by numerous corporate sponsors. It’s a delicate line to tread.

Does Coke ‘spread the stoke’? (BM ‘11)
Photo: Jon Nuss
Does it dilute the presumed skater air of rebellion when Coca-Cola provides refreshment along the way? Or when a major skate firm ponies up for free t-shirts (emblazoned with a logo, of course) which all the groms will wear?

The original outing was slightly subversive -- a sarcastic poke at the traditional image of businessmen in uniformed attire. Has the renegade spirit been co-opted?

Whatever keeps it rolling, I guess.

Old Skool Olf (BM ‘11)
Photo: Jon Nuss

The Board Meeting has evolved into a powerful Toronto skate community tradition, one that will hopefully continue for many years to come. Other cities around the world have held Board Meetings based on the same model. For a glorious weekend, rain or shine, it unites us in this shared activity, this shared delight of motion within the urban environment.

It reminds us that we are not alone.

Saturday’s shenanigans will spawn a thousand stories, and a thousand smiles. The horde rides on, full of stoke and vigour.

Skate safe, frons -- good luck Saturday and godspeed!

Official Links
(looks like Facebook is the event page location this year)
The 2012 Toronto Board Meeting 
The Board Meeting After Party
Slide Fu at the Poop Chute

The organizers have put in a monumental amount of effort into the affair, coordinating logistics, rounding up sponsors for swag, and trying to keep everyone safe. Please thank them for their efforts!

Please share this post if you like it.

Past skate coverage from me

Sources, omissions, and permissions
The story of the Board Meeting has been covered numerous times, from different perspectives. While researching this post I pilfered from the following articles:

Forget the Film Festival, Gillian Best. Undisclosed, Sept 7, 2003
Dressed for thrills, Rebecca Caldwell. Globe and Mail, Sept 20, 2003
A Different Kind of Board Meeting, Paul Carlucci. Eye Magazine, Sept 15, 2005
Night of the Longboarders, Diane Peters. National Post, Aug 1, 2006
Band of Brothers, Jessica De Melo. Ryersonian, Sept 30, 2009 
Half the Hills All the Skills, Michael Brooke. Concrete Wave, Nov 12, 2011 

I’ve left out mention of many, many fantastic people who have been involved over the years with the Board Meeting. You know who you are. I skipped everything but the start! And even that I glossed over. Someone else will have to cover it; I ran out of time.

I tried to get the facts mostly correct in this post. If there’s anything egregiously incorrect that needs review, let me know!

The Jonathan Nuss photos in this piece are used with permission. He’s a hard-working photographer and a great guy. Check him out. The others, I was too lazy to track down everyone. Discourteous, I know. If you are one of the photographers and object, fill me in and I’ll take it down. Meh.

What it was like last year

If you still aren’t persuaded to attend, here’s my report on from last year, with links to photos, videos, and press coverage:
Aftermath - 2011 Toronto Board Meeting

And here’s a video that captured the atmosphere...