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Ambush skateboard competition emphasizes inclusivity

Event will feature pro-skateboarder Rosie Archie and a new award to honour a past competitor who died of cancer in May.

The Ambush skateboarding competition rolls into St. Albert for its sophomore year on Saturday, Sept. 9.

One of the first events of its kind in Western Canada, the Ambush invites women and girls, as well as transgender, non-binary and gender-expansive people of all ages, to take part in friendly competition and skill development at St. Albert’s Woodlands Skatepark. 

This year 80 participants have registered for the competition, which will feature learn-to-skate board workshops and skateboard art.

While competitors will race across the park, drop into concrete bowls and go airborne, the true spirit of the event is inclusivity, joy and a chance to form bonds with others in the skateboard community, according to Rosey Kulba, one of The Ambush’s organizers. 

“For some people it’s their first time, some have been in bigger national competitions,” Kulba said. “We’re trying to pump them up and support them … Competitors can show their flair, their style and their tricks, and they’re celebrated to show their personality through their skateboarding.”

Hosted by the Edmonton-based Tigers Skate Club for women, girls and 2SLGBTQIA+ people, the Ambush roared into existence when Tigers founders Denise Biziaev, Rosey Kulba and their friends started “dreamscaping” about just how big they could take the Tigers club.

Someone suggested a skateboard event, but there was a debate about what they should call it.

One Tigers member liked the name “Ambush.” The group looked up the dictionary definition of ambush and discovered that one meaning of the word is “when a group of tigers lie in wait for their prey.”

“Obviously, we don’t lie in wait for our prey, but we are very much a group of tigers,” Biziaev said.

Today the competition is being sponsored by every Edmonton-area skate shop, as well as major skateboard industry players New Line Skateparks, Vans Canada and Canada Skateboard.  

It is also bringing Vancouver-based professional skateboarder Rosie Archie to judge competitors.

Archie co-founded Vancouver’s Stop, Drop and Roll event for women, girls, transgender, non-binary and gender non-conforming skaters in 2013. She is also the founder of the non-profit Nations Skate Youth for young Indigenous skaters.

“I love that events like these are starting on their own, within their own communities,” Archie said.

A skateboarder since the early '90s, Archie said she remembers hitchhiking an hour from her home community in Tsq’escemc on Canim Lake, BC to Williams Lake, BC, just to find a group of girls she heard had taken up skateboarding.  

She said skateboarding saved her life when she was growing up facing racism and the deaths of close community members through alcoholism and suicide, and she wants to use the sport to empower young people.   

“There will be Indigenous girls coming from the Edmonton area, and I know there’s still a lot of racism that happens. I just want them to know it’s OK. Growing up isn’t always going to be easy but skateboarding is going to be one of the most accepting sports,” she said.

“No matter how hard of a time you’re having in life, you can pick up a skateboard and go.”

Award honours late Tigers member

This year the event will feature a new award for a competitor who shows “courage, fearlessness, kindness, leadership and grit.”

The Ruby Walter Spirit Award will be handed out by the competition’s judges, but also by parents Colleen Mah and Derek Walter, who lost their 14-year-old daughter Ruby Walter to Ewing sarcoma, a type of cancer, in May. 

Ruby joined the Tigers Skate Club two years ago when her father, an avid skateboarder himself, encouraged Ruby to take her skateboarding from the driveway to the skate park, where they met Kulba and the Tigers Skate Club. 

“She used to come home completely ecstatic about what she learned, and she got really into helping others and encouraging others who were there that were new, and it just really became a big part of her life,” Walter said.

Despite being a beginner, Ruby competed in last year’s Ambush. She was being treated for cancer at the time.

“You’d never know it,” Mah said. “She just had this energy that was all about being fearless in her own private life but also with skateboarding, and it just really shone through at the Ambush … That can be intimidating to skateboard in front of dozens of people watching you, and she just went for it.”

Mah and Walter wanted to do something to honour their daughter at the Ambush, and they were happy to learn Biziaev and Kulba had been thinking the same thing. Together, they came up with the award.

“Ruby was always stoked about doing fun stuff,” Mah said. “I think that event was quite special just in the fact she was surrounded by other girls doing the same things she was doing. To be around 80 of those other girls and women on the same day in St. Albert was really awesome.”

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