“We’re not trying to fix the addiction problem in Cape Breton. We’re not experts in that; but what we can do is lower the amount of kids who are in that cycle.”

Providing something for the next generation that you didn’t have when you were growing up – it’s a pretty classic dad move. If that’s what dads are known for, then Dave Sawler is the ultimate Skate Dad of Cape Breton.

Photo by Christopher Walzak
Photo by Christopher Walzak

Cape Breton is an island in Nova Scotia with a population of less than one hundred thousand. It’s a quiet place known for fiddle music and lobster that has a tiny but dedicated skate scene. Unfortunately, Cape Breton is also plagued by poverty and addiction, something that Dave is determined to put an end to. A pastor and long-time action sports lover, Dave has made it his mission to provide safe spaces for Cape Breton kids and youth.

These safe spaces are Undercurrent Youth Centres, the first of which Dave opened over ten years ago. The centres provide after-school programs for kids and youth including skate nights, as the two locations are Cape Breton’s only indoor skate parks.

A skateboarder himself for over 30 years, Dave is proud of the skate culture that exists on the island. “I grew up skating and we didn’t have great places to skate. And now being older I have the ability to make stuff like that happen. So why wouldn’t I do it?”

He says running the skate parks are a way for him and the other adult skaters in the community to give back to the next generation of skateboarders, while getting the reward of watching them grow and improve.

Dave feels that skateboarding is the perfect sport for Cape Breton youth; it’s something that takes little to no organization or registration, and allows kids of all backgrounds to participate. “There are whole groups of kids who are never going to play hockey,” he says. “They don’t have parents who are ever going to take them to a hockey game. They just don’t have that kind of support.” Instead of leaving these kids behind, Undercurrent gives them a place to go, and skateboarding, a way to belong.

Photo by Harry Doyle
Photo by Harry Doyle.

“I’ve gotten to travel the whole world skateboarding. And I’ve been in countries where I don’t even speak the language; but you’re there and you can skate, and you’re part of the group. That’s what makes it unique, it’s not based on anything else other than you.”

As far as combatting the addiction problem goes, Dave says prevention is Undercurrent’s main role in the story. He says the government spends a lot of money trying to help people who are already addicted, but no one is working on the ground level to stop kids from becoming addicts.

“We’re not trying to fix the addiction problem in Cape Breton. We’re not experts in that; but what we can do is lower the amount of kids who are in that cycle.”

In the Cape Breton skate scene, Undercurrent is central. As the only indoor location for skateboarding, the centres have become the one place that skateboarders can turn to year-round which has resulted in a unique type of community bonding. “In the summer, the kids are split up between ten different parks,” says Dave, “but for eight months of the year, they’re all in one spot.” It has helped skateboarders in Cape Breton become a close-knit group that stick together and support each other throughout the year.

Words by: Jill Ellsworth
Photos by: Harry Doyle and Christopher Walzak