By Calvin Lau
On a May Sunday two years ago, sponsored skateboarder Rob Dyer found himself stranded outside of New Orleans, Louisiana with nothing but a map in his pocket, his board under his feet, and thousands of kilometres to go before he’d make it home in Toronto.
It had taken about two months to get to Louisiana from Los Angeles and behind him the whole way had been a bus full of friends and supporters. But now he was alone. Erin Hogue, 20, was on the bus when the sponsor who had provided the transportation decided to back out and kick everyone off.
Hogue said Dyer was forced to go on without them. “He slept in a park that night,” she remembers. It was the first Mother’s Day since Dyer’s mother lost a lifetime battle against cancer. Her struggle and death was the inspiration behind Dyer’s decision to start the Skate 4 Cancer campaign — a 8,000-km cross-country skateboarding marathon that took him from Los Angeles to Toronto. The marathon began in March 2004 and took five months.
Dyer skated an average of 50 km a day. The now 21-year-old Ryerson photography student began Skate 4 Cancer to raise money towards finding a cure and creating awareness with youth in a meaningful way. “As people we have to work together and push ourselves the farthest to actually find the cure for this disease, which I don’t think we really are yet,” Dyer says. Today, Skate 4 Cancer promotes concerts and sells clothing. Dyer is also planning an even larger marathon for 2007.
“I had a couple of tragedies in my life that were almost like signs,” Dyer says. “‘This is what you were meant to do’, this is what I’m here for.” During the 2004 marathon, Dyer appeared on radio, newspapers and skateboarding magazines.
Martin Streek of Edge 102.1 checked in regularly with the Skate 4 Cancer crew. Dyer tore through a dozen skateboard decks, more than 25 sets of wheels, hundreds of bearings and more than 50 pairs of shoes — usually only burnt through the left foot. Other than carving, the only way Dyer could control his speed going downhill was to drag one foot behind him, and friction made things heat up quickly. “All of the sudden the rubber is burning your feet,” he says, laughing.
“I’d bomb down a couple of hills, and I’d take off my shoes and there’d be no toe, and my toes would be poking out of the shoes.”
Dyer skated mostly through the summer heat, but some unexpectedly cold temperatures came through the Rocky Mountains. “It took us three days to climb that mountain, and as we went higher and higher it got colder,” remembers Dyer, who hadn’t packed any winter clothing. Instead he just put on multiple layers of t-shirts. The way down the mountains wasn’t any easier. “There was so much slush on the road that I couldn’t see my board,” he says.
“I didn’t even know where I was standing, those were crazy conditions.”
Dyer thought of doing a skateboarding marathon while he was still in high school in Newmarket. “There was tons of doubt from everyone,” Hogue says. “People said ‘You can’t do that, what are you doing? That’s impossible.'” Hogue, also a Ryerson photography student, has been part of Skate 4 Cancer from the beginning, helping with fundraising, promoting and taking pictures on the road.
“He was just ridiculously strong and he didn’t let anything stop him.” This included potential sponsors. “I approached a couple sponsors, and a lot of them laughed,” Dyer says. “A lot of guys didn’t know me and almost said ‘I don’t think you’ve ever skateboarded in your life.’
Other sponsors, however, saw Dyer’s determination. “Right from the get-go they said: you want to do it? Well we’re behind you, because that’s crazy, so if you’re into that, we’ll support it.” West 49, Element, Circa and skateboard distributor S&J were some of the companies behind him.
Skate 4 Cancer raised more than $10,000 for cancer research in the Canada and the United States. But for Dyer, his work is about more than fundraising for cancer; it’s also about awareness, bringing people together and breaking a few skateboarding clich?s. The latest and biggest Skate 4 Cancer concert was headlined by Dallas Green of the Juno Award-winning band Alexisonfire. Green played with local bands in front of a sold-out crowd at Toronto’s the Mod Club.
“It’s an amazing atmosphere at the shows because everyone in the crowd has been touched by cancer somehow,” he says. “You feel this connection to everyone in there.” Skate 4 Cancer also occasionally puts on demos at skateparks and speaks to children at assemblies in schools.
Here, Dyer runs into the challenge of having to explain what exactly cancer is to children. “I never really bring up death and loss, I bring up love more than anything,” he says. “Someone’s gone now, but you still love them,” he’ll explain, “I’ve lost someone, and I still love them, and this is how I show my love for them.”
“It’s easier for kids to understand love, I almost don’t want them to understand death.”