117. Next Level Skateboards

September 8, 2023
September 8, 2023 Will Mackie

Welcome back to another round of Comacan questions, this week we have another special guest for you. This guest is one we have crossed paths with a few times over the years but finally had the chance to meet this summer. We’ve followed them online for a couple years having come across them from some of our other ties in Nova Scotia, but then we also were involved in a skateboarding instructing course where today’s guest was also enrolled. Not only have we known today’s guest from those interactions, but we also had the opportunity to check out the shop and meet them personally while on the road this summer. We’ve got nothing but nice things to say about today’s guest, but we will let them share more about who they are, what they do and why they do it! We hope you enjoy this week’s interview with Next Level Skateboards.

What was the inspiration behind opening a Skateshop?
What inspired the Next Level Skateboard Shop was our people and our citizens. You don’t open a skateboard shop to get rich, you just have to love skateboarding. I live in a small town in Nova Scotia called Antigonish. I grew up in this town and then moved away after high school because as a skateboarder I didn’t feel welcomed in my town. I moved to British Columbia where there is a strong and welcoming skateboard community. 25 years later I came back to my town to visit for a couple of weeks and didn’t like that my town had not really progressed in a way that I saw other towns and communities progress and there was no skateboard scene or culture in my town. Now that I am an adult and have a skill set and experience, I decided to stay in my town and build a skateboard park. It took 3 years of meeting, planning and negotiations to build a park and then another year to raise the money to build the park. I had been to a lot of towns and communities around the world that had skateparks and I thought, “if they can do it, why can’t we?” I didn’t want our people or myself to have to drive an hour to the next town to skateboard at a park. After we got the approval to build the park, I then felt responsible for our citizens driving out of town to buy skateboards. In parallel to us raising the money to build the skatepark I started to work on the business plan and the logistics of opening an online skateboard shop. I launched the online shop one week before the Antigonish Skatepark opened. People would go online and look at our products and then call me or email me and I would meet them at the park to give them their product. This worked out really well. A year after opening the online store I then opened the physical Next Level Skateboard Shop on James Street in Antigonish, which is across the street and around the corner to the Antigonish Skatepark.

Where are you located?
The Next Level Skateboard Shop is located on James Street in Antigonish, Nova Scotia and online at nextlevelskateboards.com. We are in the James Street Plaza which is a strip mall and the Antigonish Skatepark is pretty much across the street from the skate shop.

Why did you choose the name Next Level?
I actually struggled for almost a year on the what to name the shop. I tried and tested a few different names, but they didn’t really stick with me or connect to me. I was listening to The Nine Club podcast, and I think it was Kelly Hart or Steezus that was describing a trick and said something like “Yo! That is next level!” And I repeated it a few times in my head, and I liked that I was almost a stand-alone phrase, that it was a positive descriptor and that it was used in colloquial terms. I figured people are already saying this and I’ve used this term before and what I am doing in my town is some next level stuff and then I just ran with it. I designed the logo to represent progression and connection. The three circles are on three different levels which represents different levels of skateboard progression. One circle could be when someone learns to ollie. The next circle could be when they learn to ollie down some stairs. The third circle could be when they learn to ollie board slide the rail down a set stairs. Each is a level of progression, and they are all connected because each skater knows the struggle and slams it takes to get to the next level and learn a new trick. So, the feeling of each trick no matter the trick matters to the skater and that is at the connected feeling of being a skateboarder. It does have a triangle shape and I pointed the triangle to the west because even though I am from Nova Scotia it was in the west that I found my people and was able to flourish and thrive and progress as a skateboarder.

What other products do you have under the name Next Level?
For the first 3 years Next Level Skateboard Shop was in business we were a single branded shop. I designed and sourced production of every product needed for skateboarding. We have our own Next Level boards, trucks, wheels, bearings, hardware, grip tape, hoodies, hats, t-shirts, backpacks, ankle braces, knee braces, gloves and we even have our own line of shoes called Next Level Footwear. I am really stoked on the footwear and love wearing and riding Next Level family of products. Most of the kids in our town started on and grew up on Next Level but as our community grew and developed kids started to follow skateboarding more online. I had some kids say to me “did you know there are other trucks out there other than Next Level?” I told him “Yeah man, there are lots.” And he replied, “can we get those?” I said “Sure!” And then I started getting in Thunder Trucks and Venture Trucks and Girl Skateboards and Chocolate and Real and Habitat and Anti-Hero products. People respond really well to the familiar brands, so I got more and more brands in the shop. I love seeing how far our skateboard community has grown.

What does skateboarding mean to you?
I got my first skateboard on my eleventh birthday in 1986 and I have been living with the life of skate or die since then. Skateboarding is my identity. Everything good in my life I accredit to skateboarding, anything bad in life; well, that’s just stuff that happens. Skateboarding can save the world if they’ll let us.

Where can people view available products?
The best place to see what is available at Next Level Skateboard Shop is to come into the shop. The next best place is probably on YouTube because we do unboxing videos and go through and show each and every new product that comes into the store. Then there is the Next Level website nextlevelskateboards.com. There is always so much going on with the shop and the community that I’m not always up to date with the web site. Sorry.

Do you teach skateboarding lessons?
When Next Level first launched, I knew that Antigonish didn’t have a skateboard culture and there was almost a thirty-year gap in a skateboard scene in our town. That meant that there was no one to show anyone how to skateboard and what it meant to be a skateboarder. Whenever anyone bought a board from nextlevelskateboards.com they got a free skateboard lesson. I didn’t want to just sell someone a board and have them fall hard and hate and not want to skateboard again. I also has people see me teaching lessons and ask if I would teach their kid too. So, I started charging people for those lessons. That first summer I was at the skate park everyday doing lessons. It was pretty much a full-time job. When I opened the shop, I didn’t have as much time to do lessons. Over the winter months starting in January or February I started teaching skateboard lessons in the shop. It was great. It’s indoors and kids get to skateboard and learn, and it brought people in the store when it would normally be empty.

How did you turn skateboarding into a university course?
The first summer the Antigonish Skatepark was open was also the first summer Next Level Skateboard Shop Online was operating. Anytime someone got a Next Level skateboard they got a free skateboard lesson. I sold a lot of boards that first summer and did a lot of skateboard lessons at the Antigonish Skatepark. Word got around that I was doing skateboard lessons at the park and the feedback was great. Dr. Charlene Weaving runs the Human Kinetics Department at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish. She heard about the skateboard lessons I was doing at the park, and she came up with the idea to include skateboarding into their university skills program. She called me and asked if I would be interested in teaching skateboarding as a skill at St. FXU and if I could come up with a curriculum and lesson plan for a 3-month course. I owe this opportunity to teach skateboarding as a university course to Dr. Charlene Weaving; she has the vision, she saw the potential, she created the opportunity to spread skateboarding, but I don’t think she realized she would be creating skateboard history.

What does your skateboarding university course entail?
The 2023 St. FXU Human Kinetics Skateboarding classes started on September 5th, 2023. The first class of each term I get the students to print their own boards on the Next Level heat transfer machine.
The course outline is:

 Skateboard Skills and how to skateboard. We teach to all skill levels, starting at beginners to people who come into the class already knowing how to 360 flip and slide handrails.

Skateboard History – Skateboarding came into existence in the 1950s and has been constantly evolving and growing in terms of equipment technology, trick inventions, new skateboarders, and mental perspectives of the global skateboard community. We will review photos and magazine publications as well as the evolution of the “skateboard video”.

Skateboard Culture has always been the tip of the spear for what is or isn’t “cool” in the current zeitgeist. Skateboarders have been steering and developing language, fashion, music, and art in our culture for the last 40 years. Mainstream pop culture is usually about 5 years behind skateboard culture in all these categories. We will talk about why it seems like skateboarders have a “too cool for school” attitude. These discussions will include mindsets, setting goals, achieving goals, and tracking and building on success and how all of these mental skill sets can be applied to other aspects of your life; including jobs, school, projects, personal goals and how we talk to ourselves. We will also discuss the irony of talking about being “too cool for school” at a school.

Mind Set of a Skateboarder Skateboarders see the world very different than regular people. We see architecture different because we are always thinking about how it can be applied to skateboarding and used in a way that it was not intended to be used. We look at failure as a necessary part of success and not a setback or something negative. Skateboarding allows us to understand who we are to ourselves.

Skateboard Industry The skateboard industry helps to drive innovation of equipment, they develop skateboarders from local park heroes to world class superstars, they spread the culture of skateboarding around the world, they inspire people by showing people what is possible on a skateboard. The buying and selling of skateboarding encourage skateboarding to grow and more skateboarding makes the world a happier place.

Anyone you’d like to thank?
There are so many people to thank!

Megan Cameron Jones was an amazing mentor to me and changed my mind set and perception of myself and how I see the world. She has an emotional and mental intelligence I have not seen in anyone else.

Shannon Bouchie is my contact at NOBL. NOBL is a finance that helps small businesses. She read my business plan when banks would not, and she saw potential in what I was doing and how it would affect my community. I call her when I stressed about business stuff and helps create clarity and solutions to business problems I may be having. And sometimes I just call her to update her on the good stuff happening at Next Level. She has been great to talk to and she has been an amazing unofficial counsellor to me.

Dr. Charlene Weaving is incredible because she is not someone who just accepts what the mainstream is already doing. She saw the potential in skateboarding and used her position to create an opportunity to offer skateboarding to the world in a way that it has never been presented before. She is not a skateboarder and does not come from skateboard culture. Her background is fitness, healthy choices and personal growth and saw that skateboarding aligned with those values. Thank you, Charlene!

I want to thank Bryan Kennedy for being the videographer for all the St. FXU Human Kinetics Skateboard classes. Bryan documents and records skateboard history for every university skateboard class.

Chad Dunbar and Colin Boyd are the landlords of Next Level Skateboard Shop. They have been completely amazing to me and the skateboard community in Antigonish. There was a time when I didn’t think the Next Level Skateboard Shop was going to make it and this is just after they bought the property, they told me that they love that our town has a skateboard shop and a skateboard park and they have been supportive to me, to Next Level and to our skateboard community. They even donate money to allow us to host pro skateboard events. We’ve had Jeremy Leabres, Jordan Powell, Will Marshall and TJ Rogers come to our park to put on demos for us.

Rab Kooner is someone who gave me his time and patience and showed me how to write business plans. This has been a valuable skill over the years as I’ve had to write a lot of business plans and proposals and grants. I would not have been able to any of this if I wasn’t able to articulate my plans and translate my ideas into a written plan that others can read, understand, and share. He didn’t give me a fish; he showed me how to fish.

I would like to thank the mayor of our town Laurie Boucher and the Warden of our County Owen McCarron for working with us and encouraging us to build a skateboard park in our town when former mayor’s and warden’s would not.

I would like to thank St. Francis Xavier University and the Mi’kma’ki First Nations for working with us and providing the land and space for us to build our skateboard park. Our skateboard park is on unceded land from the Mi’kma’ki First Nations.

I want to thank the People of Antigonish for supporting the building of a skateboard park in our town and for supporting Next Level Skateboard Shop and believing in what we can become as a community rather than just accepting what we were.

I also want to thank my new sponsor GoodLIfe Fitness in Antigonish. They see the value in the skateboard community and what skateboarding can do for a persons mental and physical health. 

I would like to thank my parents Tina and James Mason. They don’t always understand what I do or why I do the things I do but they have always trusted me and supported my plans and ideas.

And of course, every day and always; Thank you Skateboarding!