With the upcoming 8th annual SWAP MEET arriving on March 29th, we decided to look back on how one of Ontario's best skate events blossomed from it's humble beginnings into the huge community event it is now. Who better to take us on this journey than Ontario O.G. and founder of SWAP MEET, Suzanne (Ponyta) Nuttall.
In the fall of 2007, I showed up to an event at Patrick Switzer's Longboard Haven skate shop which was located in a house in the Bloor and Ossington neighbourhood in Toronto. The event had been called at the last minute on the Ontario Longboarding Forum and longboarders were invited to sell and trade their old gear. When I got there, I found all the usual suspects of the Toronto longboarding scene, a dozen skaters that rode fast down big hills and took the sport seriously (unlike me) and I noticed that they all looked forlorn. Problem was, none of them were interested in buying each other's old gear! So to them the whole thing was a non-event. I looked around at the used gear they had brought and suddenly it dawned on me: those old wheels plus that old beat up deck and those scratched up trucks could be a person's first longboard! I saw PO-TEN-TIAL! I really liked the idea of reducing, re-using and recycling gear and thought that it could be an excellent way to "spread the stoke" (an expression we were all using at the time) to newbies or skateboarders curious about the still relatively new longboarding craze. So I decided I would call a SWAP MEET in the spring and go big with it.
I was convinced that the idea just needed to be properly promoted and I happened to have promoted various musical events throughout the years, so I had the skills to create the excitement needed to bring people out. The first thing I made sure of was always referring to SWAP MEET in caps, as though we were screaming every time we mentioned it online. The second thing was finding a cool venue to host it in... hopefully not a church basement! One skater suggested that Roarockit Skateboard Company would be a perfect location. I picked up the phone and owners Ted and Norah were on board faster than you can change a set of wheels on a longboard. We had secured an awesome venue housed in a cool vintage hair salon surrounded by ample parking space. Score! I had yet to find out that Ted and Norah are some of the sweetest and most generous people in the Toronto skate scene. Next up, I began burning the midnight oil, staying up late every night on the OLF website and private messaging every last longboarder and skateboarder that I knew and didn't know to tell them about the event. I also placed ads in Craigslist in the sports equipment section. We needed to get the entry-level skaters interested because they would buy our entry-level gear. As a promoter, I knew that the hardest thing is to coax people to attend an event for the first time, so I promoted and promoted and promoted some more... until people started responding "Yes, I know about it!"
In the spirit of recycling, I asked if someone would run a "Pit Stop" where people could have their bearings cleaned for five bucks and local skate hero Adam "Joker" Winston stepped up to the challenge. People began getting excited about SWAP MEET and were chatting online about looking forward to seeing each other after a long winter of no skating. That's when I realized that it would also be a great social event! Since I'm not an extreme skater, it never occurred to me to have a longboarding session alongside the event, but the community made that happen when they realized that Roarockit was just around the corner from Toronto's infamous sliding hill... The Poop Chute! In 2008, we had about 80 people show up to SWAP MEET, the second year it was about 150 and the third year it was well over 200. Once an event is successful, word-of-mouth is a promoter's best friend!
It was great to find all sorts of old school and new school skate gear that people dug out of their basements and garages... and to buy it for rock-bottom prices! People sold and traded wheels, decks, trucks, bushings, hardware, skate T-shirts, stickers, rusty old banana boards, customized grip tape and even random items like vintage Atari and Nintendo video games and wood-working tools! Roarockit ran a barbecue and gave away free burgers and pop to everyone and donated several of their board-building kits for a raffle. Every actual swap (a rare event, as gear is mostly bought and sold) was celebrated with a group chant of "SWAP! SWAP! SWAP! SWAP! SWAP!"
After three years of organizing and promoting SWAP MEET, just as I felt that I had taken it as far as I could, serendipity came knocking: a skater that I did not know messaged me asking if he could take it over. At first, I was hesitant because it had been my baby, but then I realized that SWAP had taken on a life of its own and felt that the new organizer would take it to the next level. I have never looked back because Rob Defreitas of Bombora Boards has done a marvellous job of making SWAP MEET the event that it is today: bigger with more vendors and people attending, more prizes given away and the slide session at the Poop Chute gets more epic every year. SWAP MEET has become the way that Toronto skaters say goodbye to winter and embrace a brand-new skate season!
Long live SWAP MEET!
Suzanne "Ponyta" Nuttall