I had the awesome experience of hanging out with Aaron and some of his friends as they skated the streets of Ottawa. With my camera in hand, I captured some great photos while chatting with Aaron and getting to know him more.
From a young age, Aaron knew he wanted to make a difference in his community. He was fortunate to be a part of politically charged debates with his family around the dinner table, which helped shape his values and beliefs. Aaron knew that he had the ability to make an impact on the world, but the question was how. He pursued the traditional post secondary route and has a background in business and economics from both Carleton University and the University of Ottawa. That helped lay the groundwork for his future endeavors but Aaron knew that he wanted to do something that he loved while helping to build a community.
“Things can be very complicated and I don’t know what I am doing but I am trying to make a difference doing what I know.”
Aaron has been skateboarding for over 20 years. He first got involved to make friends but it quickly became a passion. He enjoyed how there were no rules and regulations to skateboarding, a self directed sport that is easily accessible with no need to book ice time, or organize a large group. One of the things that excited him most about skateboarding was meeting people of all ages, from all walks of life, as skateboarding is so inclusive. Aaron felt that he could make a the best impact with what he was an expert at, skateboarding.
“Malcolm Gladwell said that you are not an expert until you have done something for ten thousand hours. Skateboarding is about the only thing I have done for ten thousand hours.”
Aaron felt that there was something missing in the Ottawa skateboarding scene. He believes that skateboarding is one of many tools that can be utilized while building relationships and community. He decided that skateboarders need their voices to be heard in order to strengthen the community. Loving the city that he grew up in, Aaron wanted to put Ottawa on the map for skateboarding.
“I want people to come to Ottawa to skate our parks and be impressed. Ottawa is not boring.”
Aaron took on two major endeavours with supportive partners by his side. He is the founder and co-owner of Birling Skateshop with Tom Pajdlhauser, Adam Wawrzynczak, and Kyle Robertson. They started the shop to give a place for skateboarders to call home while creating a brand that represented Ottawa. Since the opening they have partnered with Tom Pajdlhauser Adam Wawrzynczak Kyle Robertson to create a future vision for the shop.
“We have big plans for the shop but I don’t want to give too many secrets away, maybe an empty pool in the backyard.”
Aaron envisions Birling becoming more than just a store that sells merchandise. He is tired of mediocrity in businesses and believes that Birling has the potential to become a hub for a welcoming community. Aaron and his team want Birling to be something that is known outside of Ottawa.
The second major project that Aaron has undertaken is the Ottawa Skateboard Community Association (OSCA). He partnered up with Meag Isaacs and Chris Sheppard to create one organization that can be an umbrella for all of their goals. OSCA has three major pillars; For Pivots sake, Girls+ Skate 613, and Skateparks for Skateboarders.
For Pivots Sake is a program to give recycled boards to youth in low income communities and engage them through skateboarding. Aaron knows first hand the value of giving a kid a board, he has seen the impact the sport has made on peoples’ lives. Skateboarding can be used as a way to engage youth that are alienated or at risk of becoming engaged in troublesome behaviour.
Girls+ Skate 613 is a collective that engages individuals of all ages, identities and abilities to become empowered through skateboarding. They provide a welcoming, inclusive space for marginalized groups in what is often a male-dominated scene.
Skateparks for Skateboarders is a communication tool to lobby the city of Ottawa to build parks that are efficiently and effectively designed. Aaron uses OSCA to work with the builders to help inform them of what the people of the skateboard community want in their skateparks.
Since the recent opening of Birling and the formation of OSCA several years ago, Aaron has been recognized in the community for all of the awesome work he has done and continues to do. Aaron received the United Way’s GenNext award, and he’s not stopping there! Aaron has a lot of big plans for the future and wants to put Ottawa on the map as a welcoming community for skateboarders. And though dynamic, he can’t do it alone! He and his partners are always on the search for volunteers and donors to help grow and amplify their programs. If you have a passion for skateboarding or just want to make a difference in a person’s life, check out their website and learn more.There are so many different opportunities for people to get involved in the skateboarding community of Ottawa. Try stopping by Birling on Somerset near Bay St. to have a coffee and say “Hi!” to some very friendly faces.