Topaz Skatepark

Opening day on August 20th, 2022

Absolute Underground: Who are we talking to today and what are you best known for?
JM: My name is Jimmy Miller and I am a longtime skater from Victoria, BC. At this stage of my life I guess I’m best known for being an outspoken skatepark advocate. Some people may know me from being an aspiring sponsored Am in the late ‘90s/early ‘00s, or maybe from my varying jobs within the Canadian skateboard industry. Nowadays I work as an Education Assistant in School District 61, so lots of kids and parents connect with me and skateboarding this way too.
AU: What can you tell us about Topaz Skatepark, the latest skatepark to open in Victoria?
JM: The Topaz skatepark is a 3,000 square metre all-wheels skatepark with a 6,000 square metre bike park/pump-track. The opening day was on August 20th, 2022 and the reception was one of appreciation and stoke. The skatepark is part of an overall upgrade to Topaz Park, with a total cost of 8 million dollars. The skatepark part cost 3.5 million to build.
AU: What was involved with making this project become a reality?
JM: In 2017, myself and members of the Quadra Village Community Centre approached the City of Victoria about better youth facilitation. My more-general request to council was for smaller satellite “skate-spots” around the city to depressurize our existing skateparks and hypothetically save money/space by doing so. The youngsters’ pitch was about their road that they all skate in their neighborhood, how it felt unsafe due to traffic and how they just wanted somewhere better to roll. Our combined presentations and passion must’ve left a good impression because our suggestions were remembered. As years ticked forward, the Topaz Park itself was up for upgrades, so the City of Victoria created a survey asking the general public what they wanted as amenities. Thankfully a skatepark ranked very high on the list of choices, so the stars aligned from there.
Honestly, with how hard myself and others have fought for skateparks through the years, the budget, size and speed of the Topaz project took me by surprise. This wasn’t luck or windfall though. This project is a product of accumulative proof that skateparks deserve to exist.
The Vic West skatepark showed the city that skaters can share, respect, and utilize a specific location. The city’s youth programmers also helped develop potential with lessons, events and beyond too. Together we make skateparks viable, versatile and purposeful. A big shout out to Ryan Lance for pushing so hard to ensure skating gets the support it needs from within.
AU: What company was involved in Topaz Skatepark’s construction and what did they bring to the table?
JM: Like most construction projects, the search for a designer and builder went to the RFP stage (Request For Proposal). After careful review and consideration, the City of Victoria chose New Line Skateparks as the company to work with. As much as I wasn’t part of this formality, there’s a history between the city and New Line and perhaps that trust contributed in part to their choice. I can say with the atmospheric rainfall that we experienced earlier in the year, New Line’s expertise was leaned into heavily with regards to park drainage planning and implementation, as well as other unseen elements that people take for granted in the geo tech realm. As much as some people may bag on New Line for being a big company, I feel they delivered a rad grass-roots product that took into account all the requests that were made through surveys and steering committees that the city managed.

AU: What makes the park unique in your opinion?
JM: What some people may not know (or remember) is that the City of Victoria once eyed up the Topaz site for a skatepark in the late 80s before Vic West was chosen for Vee Dub. From this point of view, the story seems sort of poetic that we’ve circled back to this area to meet our present needs. I’ve always had a soft spot for local history, so this part is special to me.

It’s also the first skatepark that I’ve worked on that features a pedestrian thoroughfare through the center/diagonal of the park. While this may seem like a bizarre choice at first glance, it’s actually a key element with regards to potential emergency services for the rest of the park, doubling as a rideable street-line with a long ass slappy curb the majority of the time.
With regards to the art installation involved, the metallic indigenous blooms were created by Germaine Koh. They actually light up and respond to the skating and surrounding noises. At first I was concerned that this type of interaction could be distracting or off-putting to riders in action, but that’s not the case at all. I should note that a percentage of all city development budgets are earmarked for art curation and creativity, so this project is no different than say the creation of a new courtyard or green space downtown.
While we’re on the topic of lights: Topaz has them! This was obviously a huge win for the local user-group, especially during hot summer months. The floodlights turn off at 10pm, in sequence, so there’s warning when your time is up for the day. Late evenings is one of my favorite times to ride as some of the little kid chaos has died down as it’s past their bedtime. Haha.
AU: Can you describe some of the other parts of the park?
JM: One of the things you’ll notice when you first arrive is that it’s a very open space. There are lots of fun things to mess around with within the expanse, but the big bowl is something I’m particularly proud of.
The South Island hasn’t had a bowl this deep and publicly accessible since Saanich Skatewave in the early 80s. The pool block portions are 6’ and 8’ deep, while the 10’ features steel coping and an elliptical transition radius.
On the flip side, some of the smaller scale elements of the skatepark were crafted with beginner riders and park-instruction in mind, as the City’s skatepark host program and kids’ camps will extend to Topaz too.
AU: How was the opening day Topaz Throw Down skate comp? What were some of the sickest tricks you saw get pulled off?
JM: Uniquely, the opening event for Topaz was two events made into one; initially the official ribbon cutting/opening was meant to be on Go Skateboarding Day (June 21st) and the “Topaz Throw Down” best trick later in the summer. Concrete delays across the island cancelled that first date, so that led to an event mash-up. Honestly, there were some pretty stressed out people behind the scenes (myself being one of them) because there was a lot to plan/cram together within a single day. I’m happy to say that both aspects went well and proper respect and time were given to various interested parties/disciplines and the celebratory tone remained.
It was actually pretty cool to mingle with the many faces that were involved through advisory committees in person. Due to the pandemic, parts of Topaz were created through discussion via Zoom/MS Teams. Thank you to those that contributed during weird off-hours and props to Councillor Jeremy Loveday and Mayor Lisa Helps for being skaters themselves and always seeing the physical/mental benefits of riding.
As for the best trick part of the day, my favorite skater was Lucas L’Heureux. He just moved into town from Medicine Hat, Alberta and kinda’ cruised around casually dominating each of the obstacles that we focused on. He nearly ollied up the Carlsbad gap, so that was bonkers. Riders like Merrick Orr and James Clarke set the tone in the bowl for sure. Honestly, this year’s event was more of a party. I look forward to next year’s Throw Down as it just seems more fair to actually have practice time. Like, it was a bit of a curveball to host a best-trick on a brand new park, but that was also part of the spontaneity of it all too. NBDs for everyone.

Shout out to my cohost Everett Tetz for taking some pressure off of my MC duties and implementing some wacky games in-between the ripping.
It should be noted that two legendary skaters entered the fray on event day. Rob “Sluggo” Boyce started things off by giving away sixty RDS completes as well as many decks. Rob and his brother Dave grew up in Vic West (not everyone knows this) so I know it meant something special to him to see Victoria get another new park.
The other special skater that graced us with his presence was Southern California’s Kanten Russell. Kanten works for New Line these days designing skateparks, so he was along for the ride in that sense, but we also got a glimpse of his big gap skating during the demo (we got to reminisce about Osiris stuff too, as we were teammates back in the day).
AU: What other skatepark related projects are in the works on Vancouver Island that you know of?
JM: By the time this issue of AU goes to print, the ground will be broken for the new skatepark at West Shore Parks and Recreation. As President of the Westshore Skatepark Coalition, I can tell you this has been a huge battle and a major win to get to this stage after seven years of advocacy.
As a volunteer organization, the WSC is just a group of caring humans going about our lives who stack advocacy on top of already busy family schedules. We’ve gone through births, weddings and passings over the years and we’ve stuck through it. Thank you to our core coalition as well as our broader membership that have helped us on this tough journey!
This is where I’m going to get a bit salty. The fact that Victoria’s west shore is one of Canada’s fastest developing areas, which has young families needing things for their kids to do, speaks to itself. Geez, I wonder why youth disengagement and crime is a topic in the news? If you don’t give inexpensive and accessible things for children to do, they’ll find trouble. Not every kid wants to be an elite sports superstar (and not every family has the time or money to support such ambitions either). The great thing about skateboarding is that it only takes a board and a sense of adventure to become involved. I will always tout these virtues because they are undeniable.
AU: Your passion for skating is Jedi level. What keeps you so involved in all things skateboarding?
JM: Honestly, I love skateboarding and what it has provided me. Full disclosure, my childhood life was pretty rough. In addition to some very tragic family stuff, I was always small in size and got picked on at school. Skateboarding gave me a reason for living and I suppose I feel indebted to pay that back.
Even nowadays, when people talk shit online or act in a bullying way, going for a skate clears my mind. This clarity has given me this perspective: whether it’s willful ignorance or underlying inferiority issues, hurt-people hurt people. As a result, I try to help and include others because I know how it feels being the excluded underdog.
AU: Who are some of the raddest skaters in Victoria at the moment?
JM: Victoria’s in a great place right now! There already was a rich and vibrant scene but now there’s a whole new age of riders that rip. In fact, I feel like every time I go to the park or check Instagram I see a fresh face just killing it.
I will throw some shine towards Dylan Timmins for his loose spontaneous ability to skate anything and Una Farrar for simply being so down to earth, as well as taking/making her sponsored path so intuitively her own. I have to mention Harry Hovata, who just celebrated his 60th birthday and can still crank out frontside inverts if harassed enough. I also enjoy skating with Todd Tessier, Steve McInnes and Evan Reemer amongst others.

AU: Any advice for the youngsters just jumping on a board for the first time?
JM: Maybe skate to have fun primarily? Goal-setting is part of it, like whether it is just aspiring to be free from a stressful day, or actually writing tricks lists to learn, nudge yourself along each session. This can be tough as you age (it’s like embrace the decline). Learning how to fall is a huge one. I’m one of those skaters that envisions the bail just as much as the make. Not everyone does that, but it seems to help my process.
Skating is in such an open accessible place right now. If you’re feeling socially overwhelmed and need support to feel comfortable, try looking up a skate group online to help you out. As much as I believe in this style of community, I also relate to that skater you see waxing a curb under a streetlight alone late at night. To each their own.
AU: Anything else to mention or promote?
JM: How about a VeeDub/Topaz Throw Down combo weekend event next year? This is a dreamy idea I’m kicking around.
I’ve heard some whispers about people in the Qualicum and Parksville area wanted to update their skateparks. It’s still early days yet, but I’d stay tuned for info there. Especially since a new PD’s Hotshop/Skull Skates shop opened in that area (congrats guys).
Tofino recently proved that resurfacing and adding to a pre-existing skatepark can be done, so perhaps other cities and municipalities will start eying up refreshes as their parks age and surfaces roughen.
AU: How can people keep informed and support future skatepark development?
JM: Most people hit me up on social media or pick my brain at the skatepark when they see me. Additionally, your local skateshop is the place to check-in and form a bond. I can’t overstate how beneficial it is to have this grass roots relationship/foundation to skateboarding. Skateshops are the backbone of so many scenes across the world, and I would like to thank Coastline, Goodnews, Artavi and Influence for always having my back when I create/promote something new. On this note, thank you to all my brand and distributor buddies within Canadian skateboarding -so many likeminded people who want to give back to the activity they love, similar to me.
I will say that one of the hardest parts of this process is understanding that this type of work takes time. Some people end up bailing early because they feel it should be a sprint, but it’s not. It’s a marathon …and sometimes one with an ever-changing/unknown finish line. Also, there’s rarely one singular person who commands matters; collaboration, communication and patience is key.
I’ll try to summarize my thoughts here. For me, skateboarding and skatepark creation have always been about facing fears, pushing against limitations, and that shining moment when a triumph takes place. In this respect, I greatly appreciate all the teams of people that pushed hard to get us Topaz, because it is a victory for our growing community. I can’t wait to see how people develop their skills and enjoy Topaz in the years to come.