Bricin Lyons grabs his board, passes the can and then smashes into another player. He's in a secret, underground location, where he and his team are practicing for the world's only longboarding hockey league.
Longboarding, if you didn't know, is like skateboarding, except the board is, well, longer. Hockey played while riding longboards is a fast, tough game. The unofficial season starts up again this weekend and Lyons, a 280-pound guy, can't get enough.
"The hits can get pretty hard," admits Lyons. So players choose their equipment carefully, including the puck. "We use a Sapporo beer can, it's the toughest beer can on the market. I've seen it be run over by a car and not even dent."
The teams compete in a weekly game in front of fans until March when they start the playoffs. It's similar to the NHL, with a few exceptions. Longboarders play four a side, plus a goalie. Players have to keep at least one foot on the board to pass and two to score. And they play for whatever city they live in: no exceptions. If a player moves, he or she is traded.
And unlike the NHL, they draw their fans in secret. So far, no one's offered up a venue for the infamous league, so they practice and play in the basement of a building whose location they won't reveal. "We've been playing there five years and no one knows," Lyons says. "We leave the place cleaner than when we arrive, and if people are causing problems, we get on it. It's our home; we don't want it to be wrecked."
They got the idea for longboard hockey from the Jaks, a West Coast skateboard hockey team and then adapted it to the longboard. The advantage of an oversized, elongated version of a skateboard is that it's more stable and much faster to ride.
But it presents other challenges. "The way you stop is you slide to stop, so it takes talent to maneuver your board," says Lyons. "A short board is easier: you just point the tail and shuffle around."
It's no surprise Vancouver spawned longboarding hockey, since the city is a world hotspot for longboarding.
There's longboarding elsewhere. But only Vancouver has "massive numbers of people gathering," explains Michael Brooke, editor of Concrete Wave, a skateboarding magazine based in Toronto. Like the annual rookie event where over 200 longboarders hit the seawall. Or like the "secret" race (no one will admit to attending) in which longboarders "bomb hills" -- race down a six storey parking lot. Hill bombers hit speeds of over 50 kilometers an hour. And some strap plastic kitchen cutting boards onto work gloves for extra protection against the asphalt.
Lyons is a hill bomber (he wasn't at the parking lot race, of course). "I started hiking hills and bombing hills, and next thing you know, I was getting crazy adrenalin rushes, but it was all by myself," said Lyons. "The energy I got off of riding longboards, I wanted to spread the word."
Lyons started Coast Longboarding to organize events in Vancouver and the Sunshine Coast. At first, he flagged down people on longboards to get their phone numbers and called to invite them to events. He started a website in 2002.
Today, Coast Longboarding's site is the key rallying point for all longboarding activities in the Lower Mainland. It's a bare bones website ("The site needs a lot of work, oh my God," moans Lyons), showcases pictures of local events and hosts an extremely active message board where longboarders connect to go on regular meet-ups around the city. It receives a million hits a month and 500 new visitors every day, mostly from Vancouver, but many from longboarders all over the world. It's where Jeremy Banting saw the notice for an evening seawall cruise, grabbed his longboard and went out for a ride.
Lyons and his site exploit the thrills of Vancouver area hills and invite the city's longboarders out to join them for free fun often sponsored by the longboarding companies in town. The major event of the year is Lyons' Pender Harbour longboarding festival Attack on Danger Bay, which involves a downhill race, a campout and a punk concert free for all longboarders to attend. (The downhill racers at Danger Bay pay a $100 entrance fee and there's a $1500 prize for first place.) In the summer, Lyons organizes games like Cops and Longboarders, an elaborate game of urban tag. And in the winter, of course, there's longboard hockey.
But it's the friendliness of the scene that draws the crowds. At events, experts share tips and tricks. Those with cars offer rides to events or meet-ups. And there's none of the attitude that can plague the trick-based skateboarding culture.
"If you see a longboarder, you nod and they nod back usually; whereas you don't get that with normal skateboarders," says Malcolm Stooke, 19, who's wearing a Coast Longboarding t-shirt and organizes seawall-ride meet-ups.
"Everybody's amazing," Banting says. "It doesn't matter if you're just starting, or if you're one of the top guys. They'll always go out with whoever wants to go."
The top guys are those deep in the world of longboarding, those organizing events and running longboard businesses and the downhill racers who push for top speeds at meets like Danger Bay.
One is Tom "Meatball" Edstrand, co-owner of the Landyachtz longboarding company in North Vancouver and ranked second in the world as a downhill racer.
Another is Graham Buksa, the owner of Rayne Longboards, who ranks highly in Pacific Northwest longboard races and slide competitions. (Sliding is a subset of longboarding where a rider going down a hill spins his board out so it's facing sideways, not pointing down the hill, and performs spins and other moves in this position.) He's a soft-spoken guy who doesn't much care for an elite label.
"I've met people and they look at me and say, 'You're the Graham?' And I say, 'The Graham?'" he says, shrugging in disbelief.
Buksa says another reason there's a great sense of community is because longboarding has a strong element of danger: it operates at high speeds on steep slopes. Lyons and Edstrand say they've hit 106 km/h while drafting their longboards behind cars downhill. (Drafting is longboarding in the wake of a vehicle, where there's no wind resistance, letting you hit higher speeds.)
And there are "more and more women rocking" up there with them - like Brianne, the fastest female longboarder in Vancouver, "She hit 85 kilometers an hour last week, she has no fear!" gushes Lyons.
Whatever the cause, the community feeling being pioneered in Vancouver is already drawing notice worldwide. Michael Brooke was so impressed he ran a six-page spread about Coast Longboarding last year. Feedback was immense--longboarders from as far as Australia wrote in to say they were copying the games and events put on by the Vancouver scene. Brooke, himself, says that if he wasn't tied down to family and business in Ontario, he'd be out in Vancouver in a heartbeat.
"San Diego is the home of skateboarding and it's amazing to skate down the beach," says Brooke. "But where do you really want to go skate? With Bricin and the guys in Vancouver."
If someone donates a venue for longboarding hockey this season, more fans will get to hang out, board and play.
Jhenifer Pabillano is a freelance writer based in Vancouver. Vanessa Richmond is the cultural editor for The Tyee.