A group of friends has made a permanent commitment to neighbourhood pride.
It’s not the tattoos themselves that set the four founders of Team East York apart from their peers. A lot of skateboarders have tattoos, after all. But not many have tattoos of the pre-amalgamation East York flag.
When Nick Pierre, Nick Fulton, Gerrard Whittaker, and Andrew Cavalier—all aged between 25 and 33—first met over 15 years ago, East York (located between the Don River and Victoria Park, north of the Danforth) remained Canada’s only borough, still semi-autonomous from the City of Toronto. The four young skateboarders shared the enclave’s sense of independence. They bonded immediately over two things: their neighbourhood, and a love of grinds, flips, and ollies.
“The early years of us skateboarding together was the best time of my life,” Pierre told Torontoist. “[Skateboarding] wasn’t as popular in the ’90s, it was pretty dead. If I saw another person that was skateboarding, I would race over to them, and say, ‘Oh my God, you’re skateboarding. Oh my God let’s hang out.'”
But after skating everywhere they could across East York, collecting more and more skaters along the way, the friends’ community grew large enough to require a name. In 1998, Team EY—a small group of like-minded boarders—was born. And in 2003, when Whittaker (not pictured above) was set to move to Victoria, he permanently inked his arm with the signature blue and red “EY.” Within the year, Pierre, Fulton, and Cavalier all had the same tattoo.
“You can take the boy out of East York, but you can’t take the East York out of the boy. It was something to keep the hometown pride with him,” said Pierre, who modified his EY tattoo with an outline of himself doing a trick on his skateboard. Cavalier, whose nickname is “Skatebat,” got an outline of the Batman symbol.
“It’s the only tattoo I have. I’m not really the type to get a tattoo,” said Pierre. “But it represents an amazing time in my life, even if I grow up and move out of East York.”
In the decade and a half since its formation, the team has been a leader within the East York community, organizing word-of-mouth skateboarding competitions and, in 2006, spearheading the creation of a brand new skate park in Stan Wadlow Park. For their work, Team EY was named “Toronto Youth Group of the Year” by the City’s parks division in 2008, and has since advised other communities across Ontario on building skate parks. The team holds skateboarding lessons across Toronto, runs an offshoot video production company, and even built an indoor skate park in 2010.
“Because Toronto’s so big you sometimes get lost in it, but [East York] still has a community vibe. It’s supportive, it’s easy to connect with other people, people can identify with it,” Pierre said.
The skateboarding scene in East York today looks nothing like the one the founders of Team EY knew in the ’90s, but Pierre and his friends haven’t lost their passion for the sport (or their neighbourhood) over the years. And they’ve proven their dedication to both in sweat, cement, and ink.