BLADE LIFE: An Interview with Charles Nantel
Hey Charles, how have you’ve been? What is Quebec like this winter?
Hey Immony, I guess I’m doing good. It’s getting cold right now in Quebec and there’s not much to do. It’s that time of the season where there’s not enough snow to go skiing, and ice rinks are not ready yet.
I found a link that your might like: The Sweater, An NFB Animated Short. I remember reading this book when I was growing up. You played hockey when you were younger right? Would you want to talk a bit about what it is like to grow up in Quebec city?
It’s funny, because it’s probably my favorite book from my childhood. I read this book thousands of times. I still take a look at it sometimes! It’s a children’s book about Maurice Richard and the MTL Canadiens, of which I’m a big fan. When I was growing up in Quebec, it was all about hockey. I remember that I was playing all the time… after school, after supper, during the weekend. Playing on the ice or in the street. I was living to play hockey. Watching the games on TV, trading cards with friends, everything in my life was related to this sport. I guess it was the same for other children.
It sounds like you’ve always been on skates… What pulled you away from hockey? How did you start rollerblading in Quebec City?
At first, I started skateboarding. Probably because of my friends, and at the time I had traded my hockey gear for a snowboard. Then I heard about this new thing call aggressive skating, it’s was already popular in Montreal. They had their own magazine call “ASPHALTE.” I remember that moment exactly: I was looking at this magazine and I saw this guy doing a rail. I immediately said to myself “that’s what I want to do,” and I bought my first pair of skates. It’s how it all started. I guess getting there was a natural progression. Due to the fact I was playing hockey when I was younger.
I remember seeing some clips of you skating at the first Taz skatepark in “Walking Shadow.” I’m sure you made frequent trips to Montreal… Can you describe what the skate scene was like in Quebec-Montreal during that period of time? (I’ve heard of older events such as CAT Tours, Skatespaces, Daily Bread Shoots, etc.)
The skate scene has always been really small in Quebec city. We never had a nice skatepark here, although last summer they built a new Skate Plaza, but it’s still not that great. So if we wanted to skate we had to go somewhere else, and the closest place was Montreal. Some friends of mine started to organize bus trips to go skate at TAZ. We were making trips every two months. The rest of the time I was trying to a find a lift, so I could skate during the winter while waiting for next summer. That was the beginning, then I started competing. The competition circuit was called the “CAT Tours” ( Canadian Aggressive Tours). That’s the time I met most of the people I know today. Sleeping on floors of people I didn’t know, sneaking in hotel rooms. I even slept outside in front of the CNE, downtown Toronto, on the night before the finals. The scene in Montreal was quite big at that time, and the level of skating was amazing. With instant fame from both Jon Bergeron and Nikki Adams, people started to notice something was going on in Montreal. Like you said, Daily Bread came to do a photo shoot, mainly with Ian Frenette. This guy was awesome — unpredictable — he had the best style I’ve ever seen. Mathieu Ledoux was already killing it, but for some reason he was in the shadow of the others for a long time. I’m happy for him today, that he is getting the recognition he deserves.
You’ve told us about your childhood with hockey, and these wild stories about sleeping on public benches in Toronto to skate the CAT tour… Do you remember what made you feel so strongly about rollerblading? Was it a particular event?
I was driven by the passion. I felt like nothing was gonna stop me from it. It just happened, that I fell in love with rollerblading.
So we’ve heard a bit about your past experiences. You seem to be quite driven/motivated with your skating. What are your other passions and interest aside from rollerblading? What do you do as a profession?
Beside rollerblading I love photography, but it’s more like a hobby right now. Time is the main factor, I don’t have enough time to spend on it. My days are pretty much full. I’m co-owner of a dental laboratory. It’s a family business, I have the chance to work with my father and my sister. We are making crowns and veneers. It’s a really interesting job. You have to understand lights and colors, just like photography. Really often the best ceramists are really good photographers. Globally, being a ceramist focused on reproducing natural looking teeth.
Let’s talk about your skating this year. You’ve had an unfortunate series of events occur… Can you fill us in with what happened? How have you’ve been handling everything?
2011 has been by far the hardest of my life, and it’s not over. I guess it all started at Bittercold when I hit my head. At this time I didn’t have any symptoms, a least I didn’t think so. I felt a little tired, but not that much. I thought it was common fatigue. I kept carrying on with my daily routine for weeks without bothering much with it.
A month and a half later, I was partying with my friends. The Habs just won the game against the Boston Bruins. During the evening, we decide to take our bikes for a ride. It was snowing outside, and it seemed to us that it could be fun… On our way back, I lost control and hit my head again. Since then a part of my life has been on hold. I have constant reoccurring headaches, foggy vision, and fatigue. Doing simple things is harder now. It’s been 8 months today, it’s getting better, but it’s still not quite there. Consecutive hits resulted in the condition I have now. I never thought it could happen to me. Right now, I’m holding on to the things I have and that I can do. I still feel lucky to have what I have. It could have been a lot worse. I know it’s a long process to recover from a concussion, so I keep up hope. I wish I was able to play hockey like before, or skate again. But the most important thing for me now is to be able to spend quality time with my family and friends, everything else come second. Skating competitively does not mean anything to me today, but skating with friends means everything. That’s what I’m looking for.
That’s a great mentality to have after two back-to-back concussions. It’s not an easy thing to deal with, especially within those early stages when you were dealing with those intense headaches for weeks. Did you go through a stage of denial? Did you think you could ignore you condition, and continue to try to skate or go to work?
Yeah, mentally, I have been trough a rough time. At the beginning of the season I was really motivated by working on filming a new section. When I have something in mind, it’s hard to take me away from it. So, I tried skating again at the end of the summer. But I soon realized it was a bad idea. When you used to be really active, when you’re passionate about something, it’s hard to totally stop and accept your condition. For a long time, every single night I went to bed wishing I would wake up in shape, ready to go skate. But that’s not how it works… So I guess I finally accepted the fact that I may not be able to skate anymore… it’s quite possibly the worst scenario. When you have several concussions, your brain becomes more vulnerable and susceptible to head injuries. Being patient is the key. This week I met a chiropractic neurologist and I will follow a rehabilitation program, it is the same one Sidney Crosby went through. I hope it’s going to help me.
That is really serious buddy, but you’re taking the proper steps to move forward and stay healthy. Would you like to talk about your relationship with Lylac Skateshop? Any future projects?
With Lylac I’m giving my support to a guy, who believes in our sport. Guillaume Roy is a good friend and I try to help him in my own way. Promoting the shop when I’m out skating or making edits. But basically, to me, Lylac it’s a group of friends. I know Guillaume is starting some projects for the shop, but I don’t want to speak for him. Personally, I don’t have any future projects, I try to live in the present moment. I don’t want to be disappointed, if I don’t fully recover. I’m just letting it go… for now.
I would like to go back to the earlier question: Who was your role models growing up? (It can be skate-related or not) Have you met them?
I guess my parents are the people that influenced me the most. But I think I never looked at someone specifically. In skating, I could say that Jon Elliot really influenced me. The way he skated was just different; he had a different approach than everybody else. I think he had something special, almost mythic. I met him once in Dallas, and he was judging the contest. I had the chance to tell him how I looked at is skating. He just told me that day that I was the one who inspired him. I suppose he liked the way I skated during the contest. I never thought I deserved that much credit.
I would like to ask you to leave the reader with a closing statement. It can be anything else you would like to share “thank yous,” advice, or a little bit of everything.
If I have any advice to give, it would be to listen to your body after you have a hard fall. I never did, and today I’m paying the price.
There’s too many people to thank. Dave and Py, we started skating together and we still skate together after 15 years. Dan Laroche and Félix Rioux, for everything they did for me. Guillaume at Lylac, we always have good times. And a special thanks to Mathieu Ledoux. It was about ten years ago, Félix was planing a trip to Cali with Nikky, Ian, Steph, Tom, Mathieu and me. At that time, I was going to school and I didn’t have any money for the trip. So I told Félix I would not be able to join them. This is when Mathieu came up to me and offered to pay for my ticket. It was my first trip to Cali, and I remember every single moment. I can’t thank him enough for that. Thank you Immony for this interview, I hope people will read it. I never read interviews myself. Except for the LAST Jon Elliot interview… ha, ha!
Interview by Immony Men
Edit by Charles Nantel
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A well-written and long deserving interview, merci Charles!