Old skaters, (mostly) good times: Highway Gospel

A fun, occasionally moving doc on aging skateboarders, screening tonight at the PHI Centre, is reviewed by our own resident aging skater.

It’s tough to watch a documentary chronicling the lives of aging skateboarders. As a member of what has been called the sport’s 30-and-over division myself, I can identify with anyone who, despite the deadening demands of adulthood and a failing (or fatter) body, continues to get out and skate — even if that means simply bombing hills or carving through cones, as the subjects of Highway Gospel do.

Directors Jaret Belliveau and Craig Jackson introduce us to two central characters. One is a group of longboarders, many of them advanced in age, from Kimberley, B.C. Among them is Jody Wilcock, the DIY deck builder behind the lowered longboard designs that rival brands have aped. He and his friends, when not engaging in eminently entertaining exchanges, race down hills at high speeds, drink beer, smoke weed and, most importantly, manage not to give much of a shit about anything but skating.

The film’s other focus is Claude Regnier, a former slalom champion and Ottawa skate stalwart. Regnier has devoted his life to skating and now, at 48, must face the sobering reality that his skatepark — the latest in a long line of skate-inspired businesses — is on its last legs. On top of that, he’s got a heart condition that may steal skating from him altogether. But he wants one more shot at a world championship, which means travelling to Sweden, a goal his second wife (skating ended his first marriage) reluctantly endorses.

The B.C. boys travel to contests, too, and we witness what was at one time a fringe element of a marginal sport gain mainstream traction. Belliveau and Jackson succeed in capturing many good times among bros, which are pretty fun to watch, even if the guy who calls out the races, a hanger-on in a purple pimp suit, is among the most grating human beings I have ever seen. And though you wouldn’t want to live vicariously through Regnier, the directors paint his life in a sympathetic, at times moving, light.

On what appears to be a non-existent budget, Belliveau and Jackson made a movie that even I, a guy conditioned to disdain longboarders and the like, found enjoyable. Sure, there’s a little second-hand embarrassment, as well as a few saccharine moments. But Highway Gospel turns two narratives about aging skateboarders into a more than decent documentary. And that, I think, says something. ■

Highway Gospel screens Thursday, Oct. 25 at the PHI Centre as part of their Skate or Die series. As always, a Bones Brigade-autographed board will once again be given away to a lucky winner after the screening. PHI Centre (407 St-Pierre), 7:30 p.m., $10


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