Vancouver B.C. is home to one of North America’s most vibrant and lasting skateboard communities.
Canada’s westernmost metropolis has always churned out some of the most incredible skaters—people like Rick McCrank, Russ Milligan, the Red Dragons crew, Wade Fyfe, Spencer Hamilton, and (for the real ones out there) Ted DeGros. While the summers are beautiful, the city is rained out the majority of the year, sometimes making it a hard place to sell someone a skateboard. However, the scene and culture of skateboarding has always flourished in Van, and one can certainly attribute that to the dedication of a place like Antisocial Skate Shop.
Having first opened its doors in 2002 (the year Chomp on This came out on cassette tape), the shop turns fifteen in March. Let’s face it, fifteen years is a long time to be able to successfully keep anything in business, especially a business whose main product is disposable pieces of wood whose retail value hasn’t budged in damn near thirty years. But Antisocial is an international institution, at once a reason for locals to get involved and a reason for skaters from elsewhere to come to town. What is the chemistry that makes Antisocial so dope? It definitely has something to do with their banging video choreography, taste in skate brands, and tight relationship with the community of which they’re a part. It’s usually a prerequisite to have a skater owning a skate shop, but Michelle Pezel brings so much more to the table. Genial, creative, committed, and the opposite of a kook, Michelle is the effortless curator of the shop’s aesthetic, and one hell of a conversationalist. This is what we talked about.
Who are you?
How long have you owned this shop?
Fifteen years in March. We needed a skate shop here in Vancouver. We had West Beach, and West Beach was great, but they weren’t a skate shop. They had snowboards there, and to me a skate shop is a place that just sells skateboards twelve months of the year. It’s their focus. We had the Boarding House. But the Boarding House was transitioning. They were the mail order shop…Keegan [Sauder] rode for them, everyone rode for them. It was the shop in Vancouver. But John Romando, who was the best, was transitioning to another career, a real job. Skateboarding was changing. It was a lull, 2001-2002. I volunteered there and worked sometimes. He was going to close and I was like “can we open a shop?” “Frick yeah, you want mine?” I was like “uh…we kind of want to do our own thing.” He’s like “I don’t know what I’m going to do,” and I was like “I’m gonna go on a road trip and get out of Vancouver.” A bunch of us went on a skate trip around North America in my van for like six months. We went to every town, every shop, and we were like “fuck, we don’t have a shop.” The biggest thing on that trip was that. Skateboarding in Vancouver was only RDS (legendary Vancouver skateshop) . We were friends with everyone, but that style wasn’t what represented our world of skateboarding.
The Red Dragons represented a pretty niche style of skating…
Me and my friends were inspired by art in skateboarding, the side that that wasn’t being represented in Vancouver at all. So when we opened, we wanted an art gallery to bring some art and culture back to skateboarding. We did that trip, and everywhere we went, we went to shops like Uprise and people would be like “come skate with us!” The little shops would be like “come do this!” We wanted to try and make that shop. Come to Vancouver like “where can I camp?” “Over there!” “Where can I skate this thing?” “Over there!” You can connect people with the right people–not every skater has to hang out with every skater. There’s so many different vibes. So yeah, we just opened. I was like “Rick [McCrank], you gotta open a skate shop…with me.”
It was you and Rick?
Yeah. We were all living together in a skate house—it was like, six of us living together, and he was down. It was something to do. Paint some walls white, have some parties. This wasn’t the original space—we were one block up. We had triple the amount of space, mini ramp, art gallery in the back. It was cool. Main Street got all popular, the rent went up, so we moved, seven years ago, to this location. We still have lots of fun in here, we do lots of stuff in the alley.
Yeah, I saw you have a ton of ramps back there.
Yeah! We skate, we have junk jams, and we do lots of events in the store. We have a small art gallery where we do shows once a month. Then we have music shows once a month. On Wednesday we had a Stand Up for Standing Rock fundraiser for Dakota, and that was cool. It was a hip-hop show with lots of breakdancing—it was fun. Dance shows, hip-hop dance class, we hold the Vancouver Skateboard Coalition monthly meeting. We do lots of fun stuff.
How have things changed here?
Skateboarding’s changed, so that’s exciting. I think it’s a really nice time right now. I was kind of bummed a little while ago, I didn’t really know where it was going. I like all the small brands and I like that people are doing them. There’s a lot right now so it’s a bit much sometimes. Back in the day, I feel like we wanted to support all the little things that ever existed because there weren’t as many. Now we gotta say no—we can’t carry every skateboard brand. We only have fifty spots on the wall. But I like the fun, I think the fun of skateboarding got put back into skateboarding a couple years ago.
Do you still skate a lot?
When did you start skateboarding?
I started skateboarding when I was sixteen so, 1996.
Was the skateboarding community welcoming to you as a woman?
No. My friends were. The world wasn’t welcoming to skateboarding, so girl skateboarding was on a whole other level. But we had a good crew, a little crew of about six ladies here. It was awesome. It was before the Internet. I was just talking about this with my friend Lisa Whitaker who runs Meow, and she was like “what the frick!” because it’s twenty years later. The first All-Girl Skate Jam was in 1997. We all drove down to San Diego and met then. It was a big day when I think about it. Patty Segovia did it. The same girls are still doing it—your Cara Beths [Burnside] and your Mimis [Knoop]. Jen O’Brien. There were like five vert skaters, then Jaime Reyes and Elissa Steamer, and then all of us “ams” or like, beginners. It was cool to know that there were other girls out there doing it. You just got to travel and meet them. We kind of just travelled around. But it’s always different at home. I remember growing up, being in high school and dudes were not nice. But that’s just high school I guess. It was weird. “This is our spot!” and I’m like “I don’t know…it’s a curb at a Tim Horton’s.”
What do you think about the current state of skateboarding and its relationship with women?
I think it’s cool. Sometimes I find it funny. TransWorld put out that new issue and it’s so fucking awesome but it’s just funny because it feels like girl skating just started happening while it’s actually been happening for a really long time. Cara Beth’s been in the contest circuit since like ‘78. There just hadn’t been support, but now there is. I guess the level got higher, you have your Alexis Sablones, Elissa. It’s exciting that more girls want to do it. I set up a girl every couple days with a board. That never happened until this year. Vancouver has been super supportive, there’s always been girl skating in Vancouver. I don’t know if it’s because I work here so the guys are buying skateboards from girls, but they’ve just been supportive of girls overall.
There’s definitely something to walking into a skate shop and getting your first skateboard and having a woman help you and set it up…
It’s cool, parents and moms are always super stoked. I don’t really think about it, but then when I do I think it’s cool. For years, it was like “no no, I’ll grip my board,” and then you just watch dudes struggle and try to give advice. Some dudes still do that and it’s quite comical. Sometimes you have to ease them into it like, “it’s cool…I’ve done this before. I’ll show you how to do it…if you want to listen…” But also guys are shy and it’s a girl at the skateshop. And I’m old, so it’s even weirder! I’m older than some of the kids parents, so it’s quite funny.
What do you see for the future?
The future? The future is scary. Is climate change real? It’s The Truman Show all over again. The future of what? Skateboarding? Antisocial? Well, that’s top secret.