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Off the ice with… Pierre-Luc Gagnon

A chat with the legendary skateboarder

by Hugo Fontaine, translated by Dan Braverman @canadiensMTL /

A living legend in the skateboarding world, Pierre-Luc Gagnon has won pretty much everything there is to be won as a pro. Twenty-one-time medallist at the X Games - good for fifth-most in the event's history - the Boucherville native may be living in California these days, but isn't one to turn his back on his roots and takes full advantage whenever he comes back to Quebec. We caught up with the skateboard artist ahead of his appearance at the Jackalope festival in Montreal to talk about his career… and some hockey, too. 

You're in Montreal for the Jackalope festival, but you won't be able to participate in the demo you were scheduled to do with Tony Hawk. How much are you looking forward to getting back in action - in a real competition?
I've been doing a lot of physiotherapy for a few weeks, but I'm really disappointed I can't take part in Jackalope. I won't be ready for the demo in Montreal. I still wanted to be in town to support the event and have some fun with my friends. I would have really liked to be able to perform and be 100% ready, but at the same time, I've been a pro skateboarder for 20 years. It's part of the game.

I'm really disappointed I won't be able to perform for the people here, but Tony Hawk will be here and he'll put on a great show. He doesn't do competitions anymore, but the fact he's in Montreal is a unique opportunity not to be missed. One of my really good friends, Elliot Sloan, will be in, too. He won the MegaRamp at the X Games this summer. Lizzie Armanto will also be here. She is one of the best skateboarders in the world.

You settled down in California a long time ago, but do you still sometimes miss Quebec?
My immediate family are all still in Quebec. It's definitely hard to be so far away from them in California, especially now that I have a three-year-old son. That's why I'll be sticking around a bit longer after the event and will go spend some times with my parents at Mont Tremblant.

I also like that there are four seasons in Quebec. In California, there's no winter. It might be better for skateboarding, but I'd like to teach my son how to play hockey, and it's not as popular there. In Quebec, there are skating rinks all over the place in the winter and it's easy enough to find ice and some skates. I'll be able to get him into skiing since there are a few mountains not too far away, but it's different for hockey.

Do you really miss winter in Quebec?
(laughs) I don't miss having to scrape my windshield or shovel my driveway. But I miss snow for the holidays. The older I get, the more often I want to come back to Quebec. When I was younger, I was too busy with traveling around for competitions. I miss home a bit.

Did you ever play hockey?
When I was younger, we would play games for fun on the rink in Tremblant every Saturday. I was there because I did a lot of skiing back then. I was pretty good. I skied with Erik Guay, who competed in several Olympics. We would race each other all the time. Afterwards, I started doing more skateboarding, so it felt natural to get more into snowboarding.

Do you have a favorite spot in Montreal you try to visit every time you come?
There isn't really one spot in particular. I try to eat poutine every time I come back to Quebec. (laughs) You can't find it in California. My go-to would be Mont Tremblant, to see my parents.

What do you think hurts more, taking a spill on a botched landing in Vert or taking a solid bodycheck along the boards?
I think it all depends on whether you see the impact coming. In skateboarding, you feel it the most when you don't see it coming. When you're in the air, you're totally focused on landing your jump and that's all you're thinking about. All of a sudden, you fall and it really hurts. In hockey, you'll often see your opponent coming, so you have time to brace for the impact and to put yourself in a position to absorb it. Also, don't forget that in skateboarding, we practically have no protective equipment when you compare it to what hockey players wear. (laughs)

What's the relationship like among skateboarders? Is it super competitive, or is it the kind of relationship where you'll go out to eat together after a competition?
It's really nice, we're all friends. We practice together. There are definitely some who you like more than others and during a competition, we're all there to win. But in skateboarding, there's nothing I can do that will have a negative impact on my opponent; it's an individual sport. The only thing I can do is be at my best and hope it's enough to win. It's not like if I were a defenseman in hockey and I was trying to slow down an opponent. Seeing others land new moves and overtake you in competitions just motivates me to want to do better.

What do you think when people say that skateboarders aren't real athletes?
I had been working with a physical trainer, Rob Garcia - who worked with Oscar De La Hoya for a long time - for a few years. I was doing lots of boxing and cross-training to be in the best physical shape possible. Not all skateboarders train like that, but I took it very seriously. I worked out with Rob three or four times a week. He forced me to test my limits and I had the best years of my career with him.

The Bell Centre is much smaller than other venues you've competed in, but would you like to see a skateboarding event there someday?
Why not? The X Games have taken place at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, and it's not as big as the Bell Centre. Some of the events took place inside the building, and some were outside. If it ever happens, I'd definitely like to be there. I've always hoped they would schedule events in Quebec and I've always wanted to take part in competitions here. I'm happy something like Jackalope is here, it's going to be really big.

In hockey, some players have won it all in their career. That pretty much describes how it's gone for you in your sport. You're 37 years old now; would you say it's getting harder to get motivated, knowing you've already done it all?
I don't want this to come off the wrong way, but it does get repetitive at a certain point. Everything was going well and I was at my peak. But I got hurt and I realized my body wasn't ready for me to keep going. When that kind of thing happens, it reminds you how important it is to savor every moment. Now, my motivation is to recover and win a competition after being hurt and on the sidelines for a long time.

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