BIRLING: Skateboarding that fuels community
ABOVE: The in-house Birling brand offers T-shirts, pants, sweaters, skateboards, hats. “Everything from the textiles, graphic design, and colours connect us more intimately to the spots and streets we skate.” — ADAM, CO-OWNER
Birling is Ottawa’s skateboarding hub–a place for skateboarding enthusiasts and beginners alike to find community and enhance their gear.
Four friends who live and breathe to skateboard opened Birling skateboard shop and café in April 2017. Passionate about creating a healthy skateboarding community in Ottawa, they host community events and initiatives–making their shop home to their communal love of the sport where their ideas can push skateboarding in the right direction.
Skate shops have two essential roles: to ensure skateboarders can keep rolling by curating a proper assortment of products; and to be the focal point for the local skateboarding community to gather. Birling embraces the challenge of breaking down skateboarding stereotypes with open arms, especially to parents. They push skateboarding to be the best it can be in Ottawa.
“The best skate shops,” Adam, co-owner, explains, “are owned and operated by those who grew up skateboarding in the communities they are servicing. All that we do, and the main reason why any of it can be categorized as special is because Birling is owned by four skateboarders who grew up skateboarding as much as possible (and still do).”
That is what makes Birling more than a skate shop with gear and coffee: they welcome and teach beginners, spearhead skateboard park building initiatives, document the Ottawa skateboarding community through photography and videography, coordinate fundraisers, and donate skateboards to underprivileged youth. Through discussing the importance of post-secondary education and writing skateboarding articles to promote reading and writing, they are positive role models for Ottawa’s youth.
“In our humble opinion,” says Adam, “Supporting stores like ours mean more because the larger we grow the more work we do for our local skateboard community. We help get skateparks built in Ottawa, we teach kids how to skate, and we’ve even discussed allowing for the city to tolerate skateboarding in certain public areas.”
When COVID-19 hit, the lockdowns revealed the importance of the social side of skateboarding. While it is technically a solo sport, skateboarders rarely skate alone. They develop skills, techniques, and the confidence required for the sport within the community. After all, the best way to learn new tricks is to observe those who are more talented and demonstrate new possibilities on a skateboard. The community pushes skateboarders to shift their approach to obstacles and overcome their fear.
When the pandemic closed the skate parks, and isolation returned skaters to the “original skateboard park”: empty parking lots and driveways–a nostalgic form of the sport for many. With time, the community evolved and adapted. Birling celebrated “International Go Skateboarding Day” on June 21, 2021, by challenging Ottawa skaters to accomplish fun skateboarding related tasks in small teams of up to 5 people. Across the city that day, dogs learned to skateboard, tossed water balloons, and counted flowers painted on the side of Birling. The event was a success and will return even after the pandemic passes. Birling also continues to connect with the local skateboard community through social media outlets and online video premiers.
While Birling is more than a skate shop, they are still a one-stop-shop for skaters in Ottawa. Their in-house brand is Canadian made, “a product of [their] ongoing relationship with Ottawa skateboarding, expressed through urban sketching and photography.” Birling commits to sourcing natural textiles and supporting sustainable and ethical practices in Canada. The in-house Birling brand offers T-shirts, pants, sweaters, skateboards, and hats, among other items. Why? Adam explains, “Everything from the textiles, graphic design, and colours connect us more intimately to the spots and streets we skate.” The brand does just that–connecting skateboarding to life in Ottawa.
Skate shops are the foundation of a skateboarding community, and their impact is undeniable. Birling is a sum of lessons learned, the natural culmination of a skateboarding passion, and a home for the community to gather.
“We are hopefully one of several examples why it matters for business owners to participate in their business’ activity. The best bread is made in bakeries where the owners love to make and eat bread. The best bicycle shops are owned by people who love to bike. When the roots of a business are authentically and passionately tied to its main activity, it shows–and it makes a big difference.”
PHOTOS: COURTESY BiRLING