Michelle Pezel (and Antisocial)

For skateboarders living in Vancouver, Canada, and the countless skaters who have visited the city and made their way to Antisocial skateshop (or even found refuge on her couch), Michelle Pezel is a legend. She is the co-owner of Antisocial with Rick McCrank, and has relentlessly offered community-building, launch parties, creative outlets, and even activist-activity through the shop. And this year is Antisocial’s 20th Anniversary – launched back in 2002 in its original location on 2425 Main Street.

Michelle is renowned for her ability to pull off an incredible mix of skateboarding-related events and run a small business or two on the side, and while she isn’t keen on the limelight, she definitely deserves affirmation and gratitude.

Photos: Norma Ibarra

In an interview with Rhianon Bader, who also worked at Antisocial for years, Pezel explained that she started skateboarding in 1996 at age 15, defying her mom who suggested that only “bad kids” skateboarded. Pezel embraced the freedom of skateboarding and wasn’t phased when skaters in high school gave her attitude, claiming certain spots as their own, especially after she joined “a crew of about six ladies.” This crew quickly expanded to include Laura Piasta, Katie Piasta, Hana MacDonald, Michele DiMenna, Tracy Vernelli, Alison Matasi, Natalie Porter, Char Hunter, Isabelle Ranger, Cory Nagel, Maya Credico, Kerry Ridge, and others.

Photos: Natalie Porter

This crew began to skate together at Confederation skatepark in Burnaby, BC and went on roadtrips together, making connections with the skaters behind Villa Villa Cola (VVC) in the U.S., and seeking out events like the All-Girls Skate Jam in September 1997 and 1998 in San Diego—the first of its kind. Pezel also appeared in issue #5 of Villa Villa Cola and eventually made her own ‘zine called Idlewood from 2009-2014, with six issues.

Photos: Nicole Morgan, Dylan Doubt

Even before Antisocial, Michelle was a leader in making change in Vancouver and being an organizer. For example, the biggest skateboarding event in Canada was the annual Slam City Jam, drawing pro skaters from around the world to compete in street and vert. Michelle and a crew of her female friends approached Ed Templeton at Slam City Jam in 1997 and essentially demanded that he bring his Toy Machine teammate, Elissa Steamer the following year.

Progress was made in 1998 when the organizers of Slam City Jam agreed to include a category for women, which was made up of primarily Vancouver skaters and star performances like Steamer and Jamie Reyes. The street contest was a jam format with twenty-six competitors divided into three heats, then ten skaters progressing to a final. The price for entry was reduced to $20, cheaper than a 3-day pass, since only a handful of the skaters were sponsored. Vancouver amateurs performed well with Michelle placing 5th in street. In 1999, 35 skaters entered and Michelle placed 3rd in street behind Elissa Steamer and Jessie Van Roechoudt. In 2000, the SCJ organizers limited entry only to sponsored skaters as the enthusiasm grew.

During her travels, Pezel experienced skateboarding community and imagined an alternative to the soulless extreme sporting-goods stores—she wanted a space that was vibrant, and to support her artist friends with a gallery.  Canadian skateboarding pro, Rick McCrank invested in the idea, and the magic began even though 2002 wasn’t exactly a high time for skateboarding, as explained in her 2015 feature video for Huck magazine with several other shops closing down.

Antisocial was firstly a skate shop and meet-up place, but also a gallery and music venue that showcased the creativity of skateboarders and those connected to the scene. Pezel stated, “I don’t understand the concept of having a store where you just open and close every day… To have none of that extra-curricular—art shows, music shows, community events—would be wild. I’m always trying to figure out a way to have something else going on” (Adams).

Even when the storefront had to move to 2337 Main Street in 2007 due to gentrification and there was no longer room for a mini-ramp, the action continued with back-alley parties, film screenings, book launches, a more intimate gallery space, and fundraisers. And more recently when COVID restrictions prevented indoor gatherings, Antisocial supported initiatives via the Vancouver Skateboard Coalition (VSBC) like the green ramp on Granville Island, preserving the Britannia courts space, and outdoor events like CitySkate and Skate for Change to keep the community connected, to name a few.

Photo: Jeff Thorburn

Michelle has been a long-standing Board Member of the VSBC. During and after the heart-breaking tragedy of local skateboarder, Lee Matasi’s murder in 2005, Pezel was critical in rallying the community for justice and honouring his memory. The collective efforts to celebrate Lee and protect the DIY skatepark which he had established called “Leeside” motivated many skaters to rally together, fundraise, petition, protest gun violence, and celebrate a friend and brother. Antisocial was at the heart of this protest and in 2007, Matasi’s artwork was featured in a show called, “Until we get Leeside.”

Fundraisers by a skateboard shop are not uncommon, especially when the intention is to build a new skate park, but the situation of Lee Matasi’s passing and the efforts to preserve Leeside was a catalyst for social action. Today, Leeside continues to evolve with concrete obstacles and annual skate contests, and the space is a sought-out destination.

While Michelle is the last person to declare herself a champion for justice, she’s been described as a “powerful community builder” (Vadi) by the likes of skateboarding photographer, Norma Ibarra. Bader also explained that, “[Michelle] has a natural influence that she uses as a force for good, whether it’s representing the skate community at city council meetings, fighting to protect the Leeside DIY skatepark built in memory of a friend who was killed by gun violence, being the first skate shop with a float in the pride parade, or donating skateboards to youth.”

Pezel’s “force for good” has extended to hosting fundraisers for Skateistan (originally supporting disadvantaged youth in Afghanistan to pursue school and skateboarding, now including Cambodia, South Africa, etc.), “Stand Up for Standing Rock” during the 2017 Dakota pipeline protests, the Unist’ot’en camp and Wet’su’weten Nation resisting non-consensual pipeline development in 2019, safe spaces for LGBTQIA2S+ and BIPOC skateboarders, and promoting the outreach work of Nations Skate Youth led by Rose Archie, bringing access to skateboarding for and with Indigenous youth.

Photo: Dan Toulgoet

The impact of Antisocial and Pezel’s relentless energy for hosting events, welcoming all to skateboarding no matter their background or skillset, and bringing light to issues that matter to youth is simply immeasurable. Antisocial has never been a typical skate shop, intent on pushing merchandise as a retail outlet. Instead, Pezel cultivated a community hub by breaking down barriers that might prevent participation, as she always has second-hand gear to distribute, and there’s often random things happening from Idlewood ‘zine making sessions to board launch parties, to her endeavour with friend Alana Paterson, which is a flower bouquet and veggie box distribution called Valley Buds Flower Farm (DiPietro). Only Pezel would pair flowers, veggies, and skateboards, and have it become a raging success.

Several years ago, Michelle Pezel shared with me her favourite book – Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous wisdom, scientific knowledge and the teachings of plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer of the Potawatomi Nation. I was pleasantly surprised, not that she loved a book about Indigenous philosophy and botany, but because I couldn’t imagine when Pezel would find time to read. Michelle Pezel’s days and nights are consumed with skateboarding-related and community-building activity, as well as her passion for gardening and native plants.

Photos: Alana Paterson

Happy Birthday Antisocial and thank you Michelle for all the skateboarding magic you make. Wishing you a bountiful garden and many more years of success.


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