Hugo Papillion is a skateboarder who really stands out in the Montreal community. He saw the lack of spots and quality parks and took initiative to create his own. The first DIY spot he ever made attracted out-of-towners to come film at his stolen concrete-slab bench. Now, Hugo runs his own building company that specializes in skateparks, hoping to put the quality back in the local community that’s become overrun by not-so-local companies. He has some really key points on the industry in Quebec, and its definitely worth your read.
Get Born: When did you start skating?
Hugo Papillon: I started at 11. I’m 26, so its been a long fucking while. I did a lot of snowboarding too, for seven years I was sponsored in snowboarding, shit like that. I kept skating in the summer, but I was really not putting in much effort, it was just a hobby. But, I am super competitive, so anything I do, I will try and get good at it. I do it just for fun with a bunch of friends, but, you know, not that I take it seriously, but I don’t wanna suck at anything.
GB: Are you from Montreal originally?
No, I come from the suburbs, from Joliette. There’s a really sick indoor skate park over there called LND14. That’s a real skatepark. Here (at Le Taz) its more like kindergarten, you know? Its not real skate mentality, but I get it… the city runs this place, so it has to be clean with the helmets and shit like that. Over at LND14 it was more like, I’d bring a six pack for my shift and at 9 you turn off the lights, the kids are out. You turn the lights back on and its like everybody’s smoking indoors, you can have beers, you know, that’s a real skatepark. I used to work there, skate there, I helped with the building, stuff like that. The dudes that started it, they were pretty much the first dudes that believed in me skating. They’re pretty much my mentors. Super good skateboarders, some of the best skateboarders I’ve ever met.
GB: When did you move here?
I moved for school. I did my last session of CEGEP and I knew I was going to university, so I moved here like five or six years ago. Then, I went back for one year to the suburbs and I was like what the fuck am I doing here? Like, worst move of my life.
GB: Could you tell us about ULC?
ULC is an OG skateboard deck company based in Quebec City. Its always been kind of reckless… They were affiliated with Quebec rappers that are quite well known around here. I used to listen to that when I was a kid…the names of the songs are like “God Bless the Topless” and shit. But I always looked up to them when I was a kid cause they were always doing ridiculous skits in their films and talking shit with these rappers…stuff like that. Its pretty much all French. And that’s why it sticks in Quebec more than anything; you close yourself off to the outside world actually. But its legit here. And what’s cool about the company is they do this thing called Bro Models, where they give boards to the dudes that stand out in Quebec. You feel like you’ve made a little achievement, which will never happen to the best of us that go skate in the States. You know, there’s only two Quebeckers ever that have had legit boards under their names in the States: Dan Pagou and PLJ. You know…local pros. If youre trying to get pro over there in fucking Cali, you gotta put everything in it, you know? You can’t go to school, have jobs…its all in. And most people do this, they turn 25 or 30, figure out they’re never going pro, and they’re kinda fucked in life cuz its all they know, you know? Like fine, you got a good kick flip now. You’re 25, you’ve never had a job, and you dropped out of school in like, your first year of high school.
GB: Yeah, its crazy how competitive it is.
Yeah, such a gamble. And its not even about talent, you know. You can have the most talent, but you go out there, you don’t get along with the right guys and it just…you have to be marketable. All this shit you can’t control. Or you get back luck with sponsors, injuries and shit. I respect the guys that have the talent and the guts to take that risk, but it’s a hell of a gamble.
GB: So you prefer being settled in Quebec?
Well yeah, its what I can do. I mean I don’t know anymore. But, I stick with what I got. I went to school and shit, I never had plans to do well in skateboarding. I’m just trying to have fun and stand out as much as I can.
GB: So how did you get involved with ULC?
Five or six years ago they started flowing me stuff, but I was around the suburbs of Joliette and Montreal so I knew nobody on the team. So I ended up going for a company that a bunch of my homies from Trois-Rivieres started, called Mischief Collective. These are all really sick dudes. I was super down for the projects, but in the end, it’s a small company and I had a hard time getting boards. I go through so many boards I could change every week, you know? So I was almost feeling bad asking for boards cuz I knew it was coming straight out of my friends’ pockets. But like…shoutouts to JF Carrier. I went to Trois Rivieres for some CEGEP for the year and met all these really sick dudes, worked at a shop there, and got linked with everybody. After this, I kinda started regretting leaving ULC cause I saw all these dudes getting boards in their names… It just so happened that my friend Frenchie started being the rep for a while in Montreal, so I hopped back on ULC. They started flowing some Montreal dudes so now we’re a really tight Montreal ULC crew. And You Wheels, they have their side company. So when I came back it just fell together super well. It just felt right.
They’re about to have their 15th anniversary. Theyre the only place that puts dudes names on boards and stuff like that, which I really respect. Its cool cuz they always put out videos, and you always wanna see some local shit. In the province too, it shows you what level you have to be on, and its cool to have local people to look up to.
GB: Can you tell us about your designing and building work and how it affects the community here?
So, I started about 8 years ago. We didn’t have any spots in the little city where I come from. Before the skatepark, we had nowhere to skate, so there would be a stair set at the CEGEP and we’d just steal the big concrete plates and build benches to grind on and stuff. And people would come from Montreal just to ride our bench lines. Eventually, we found a foundation of an abandoned building, so we made a ghetto spot over there that’s become super popular—you can see it in the Dime videos and stuff. All the concrete plates that were left, we stole them to bring to the other spot. They’re like a thousand pounds each; it’s a really fucking big project to steal this shit. So that’s how I started building skateboarding shit. We poured a manual pad out of concrete there. The first check-out Expose gave me was actually on a long ledge I built at this place, so I was super stoked.
GB: It must be so rewarding to be able to be able to have fun at a spot you created.
Yeah, for sure. The most rewarding thing was actually to see skaters we looked up to coming down to Joliette just to film on this shit. Its an hour drive just to come skate our stuff. People from Quebec City came too. Like seeing it in Dime videos and shit, we’re all like, “Yeah, fuck yeah!”
GB: You work at Le Taz and your role there has changed. Tell us a bit about what got you there, and where you’re at with it now.
I always worked in a garage; my family had one. So I was always good at manual labor…I didn’t have a choice. So when I came to Montreal I had to get a job. I just came to Le Taz cause I knew I could skate so I worked on watching and renting helmets here, but I didn’t like it much cuz really I was just working with kids. But as soon as I knew I could do the building there, I quit that. Chris, the guy who runs the building of the obstacles at Taz, came to me and was like, “oh you know how to drill and shit?” and I did, so he just hired me and it went from there. So it’s been like 2 years now that I’ve worked on building at Taz.
GB: What was the latest thing you worked on at Taz?
I always do little stuff, like repairs and shit. This week I’m welding new copings on the ledges together. But the last project was definitely the Am Getting Paid set up. All the new white and blue setup, I was involved in. I did pretty much half of it.
GB: Who designed it?
Me, Chris, Charles Deschamps, Josh Clark. But in the end pretty much none of what we had in mind was set up. But I guess people are stoked on it, so whatever. Charles doesn’t do much building, but he always designs the parks, which is good cuz he knows what he’s doing. Casey MacDonaldhelped with the building. I did all the prefabrication, and four weeks along all these guys came to put the pieces together.
GB: What else are you working on?
I’ve started my own company now. So I designed and built a skatepark for St. Thomas, around where I’m from. I did a big mini ramp with extensions, stuff like that. For my next project I’ll definitely work with Charles Deschampes cuz he’s more experienced with design. We plan on doing a lot of stuff together eventually. It was my first contract, I actually got paid today! That’s part of why I left my job here (at Taz) cuz I couldn’t focus on my company. I’m working on other contracts now. Its pretty much my father and me, cuz he’s super down and a really good businessman. And he loves it because he’s like half retired, and just wants to keep doing stuff.
When a project’s budget is under $25,000, the city can give a contract to anyone without an appel d’offre. So I’m just trying to upgrade the skateparks that are already there cuz they’re all fucking shit. For now I can just do pre-fab stuff, but I’ll approach cities just to upgrade their parks. There’s maybe like 3 Quebec skateparks that are working. Like two companies really hurt skating in Quebec, like Solo, TRD…they really blew it. I was so bummed as a kid when new skateparks would come up around town and we’d get there and its like, “oh shit, not this shit company again”. They really ruined skating for a while. I guess these people got rich doing it too cuz some pricing I’ve seen…I’m like… what the fuck.
I guess its just people that never hopped on a board that started doing this stuff. You check the companies that get the skatepark contracts and part of their rep is like, soccer nets, modular parts for kids, and then they have a branch where they sell parks.
GB: How do you try to overcome this?
I guess my advantage is being specialized. People know that I know what I’m doing now, which is actually why St. Thomas called me. The old TRD company that built stuff there was so shitty that the kids were like, “call this guy, he built the Taz and we know he knows what he’s doing.” Now they’ll be stoked cuz I’ve got some sick shit for next Spring. I always employ skaters, too. My welder is a guy I’ve worked with who really loves skating, surfing, and snowboarding. A real rider. For sure everyone I hire knows what they’re doing in skating too.
GB: Do you have a name for the company?
Yeah, I’ll just call it Skatepark Design and Construction. It’s a really basic name, but, when you’re dealing with cities, you just have to get it clear. That’s what I do, I build skateparks. And that’s what makes it specialized, cuz that’s the problem with the actual parks. People that build them aren’t specialized; they’ll just do recreational projects like tennis courts, you know? I don’t ride BMX, so I’m not going to start building BMX tracks tomorrow.
GB: Could you talk more about how you think the lack of skateparks here has affected the community?
Its not just about winter. Check out how many pros come from the other side of Ontario’s border. I think there must be at least 10 well-known pros that come from Ontario. And while we have the same population, we have like, 2? Like, we only have one street pro skater and it was 10 years ago with Dan Pajou. Antoine (Asselin) should have been pro for a while. JS (Lapierre) will be pro too, but its been a long fucking while that we haven’t had a legit street pro skater from Quebec. It can be the companies they ride for I guess, too. But its not a weather thing cuz all over Canada we have pro skaters, you know? Spencer Hamilton, Appleyard, Rick McCrank, all these guys. They’re from the same weather, so I think the lack of good skateparks really affects the fact that we never get pros out here. Cuz look at the skateparks they build in—they build a huge one, really nice, and you go there and see 12 year old kids really ripping. Cuz that’s how you get good rippers, you know? They start at the skatepark.
GB: Do you think that’s the main reason?
Yeah, I think so. Even though I don’t like the type of skaters a skatepark makes, cuz it really makes a kind of skater. I’m more into the real street skaters, but to get really good, like Cali style, you have to be able to rip a fucking skatepark and kill a rail. I never grew up seeing actual good rails at parks, that’s why I do the shit I do. I guess it helped me stand out a bit, cuz I found a niche of trying to get good balance and pop instead of just killing rails. But you get to Cali, think you’re killing rails, and this 14 year old can do them better than you. I guess you have to choose a niche, like in a business. There’s so many types of skating. If you choose the Cali style, good fucking luck making it big. Like, go jump down some steps, good luck impressing anybody. For real. We’ve seen it all now.
GB: What do you see for the future of skating in Quebec and in general?
What I see right now is skateboarding is polarizing. Like, there’s one side that’s super good, rippers like robots, so technically talented. And this other side is like a return to the sources, I guess. Which is good and bad. Now its super legit to drop a video where everybody anywhere can do all the tricks. Back then it was like you gotta fucking rip to be out there. Now, its like some people get known that don’t even rip at all, but I guess its because people need to relate to what they see. Not to be a hater, but I’m gonna say it, a lot of videos people are stoked on aren’t even at the level of the year 2000. People dress the same as the fucking 90s and do the same shit, but I don’t know. If I watch a video and I don’t like it, fuck it, I’m gonna say it. At some point, if something sucks, you gotta realize it.
GB: So tell us your opinion of the actual companies running the scene in Montreal.
Its not great, I guess that’s just how the business works. It used to be little single shops in every city so kids would come up under the wings of their shops. Now, you gotta ride for Empire of you don’t have a shop sponsor for a few years. I ride for Atlas. This month they closed one of their two locations, so now there’s only one in Joliette. It works well, but the business is so hard. People buy on the internet, or they’ll fucking go try something on in store and buy it on the internet, which is the worst. They try on the show and then buy it for ten dollars less on the internet. But I guess we can’t be mad at Empire for taking over anyway cuz the internet is really taking over. Times are really hard. Survival of the fittest, that’s what they say.
Kids need to be aware of this, not just in skateboarding, but just like going to your local grocery store and seeing who owns it. For example, my family had a garage and a franchise. All the profits that would come out of franchise my father would have us buy locally; he would get mad at my mother for going to Costco and hist. All the money we made, we would spend it back in the region locally. Now with corporations taking over, profits go straight into Germany into a fucking big corporation to have some CEO somewhere get another million in his salary, instead of giving it back to the community. Even if it happens with everything, there’s not going to be small business anymore. Everything will be the same.
I wanna build stuff that really good skaters can get tech on while the kids can have a lot of options. I’m not gonna do a square box like they always did. For sure there’s gonna be a side with an angle and stuff. I focus on multiplying the possibilities, cuz that’s what has to happen in skateparks. People that build it, they don’t think about these things.
Hugo can be like the little mouse that quietly fixes shit while you sleep or he could be doing big work like designing a park from scratch. Big or small, Hugo's plans are raising the bar of quality for skateparks in Montreal, and we love to see someone so driven by passion to help their community. Thanks, Hugo, and we're excited to see what's coming up next.