Written by Michelle Markson.
Giant leafy palms, fruit trees, and vibrant flowers gently sway in the salty breeze of Maui, where Ted Hunter and wife, Norah Jackson, make their home away from home. More than a decade ago, Ted pioneered an innovative skateboard-building technology here – Roarockit – that now resonates around the world. But it all started far away in Ontario’s Blue Mountains.
Born the eldest of three, Ted Hunter and his family moved throughout northern Ontario before settling on a small farm outside Stayner near Blue Mountain. This move was important for a teenager who found the notion of sitting still in class rather demanding and favoured the challenge of building and creating. Ted would take up this challenge by taking auto mechanics and welding classes at the local high school, Collingwood Collegiate Institute (CCI). Ted was inspired by his art teacher, Bert Selles, who encouraged the teen to advance his interest in working three-dimensionally. After high school Ted was accepted into the prestigious Ontario College of Art & Design (now OCAD University) with the help of a portfolio containing many of his wood sculptures.
Shortly after graduation, Ted worked briefly as a big engine mechanic before leaving to pursue sculpting. He met a group of talented sculptors in Toronto and together they formed The Wood Studio, a cooperative still active today, which allowed Ted to focus on three-dimensional works of art, utilize his knowledge of welding, and make a few dollars. During this time Ted accepted a job as a professor at OCAD – the school, he says, that taught him to “be a creator, not follow others’ rules and make art for myself rather than for other people.”
Ted and Norah met at Salmon Point, Lake Ontario, brought together by their common love of windsurfing, a sport that eventually took them to Maui where in 2001 Ted volunteered his time to a group of teenagers at the Hui No’eau Visual Arts Center. Needing a project to engage the teens, Norah suggested teaching them to build their own skateboards, since bending and manipulating wood was Ted’s specialty. After much success from the project, the couple returned to Toronto and began pursuing ways to make Ted’s skateboard process economically tangible, seeking out different materials and concepts. They launched their company, Roarockit, the following year, and today it’s in schools around the world.
Here’s how Ted’s journey comes full circle: a student unsure of my future but nonetheless encouraged by my high school art teacher, I was accepted into OCAD myself. During my foundation year, Ted Hunter was my three-dimensional class professor. Later I took a teaching position in visual art at CCI. Seeing a need for something unconventional and relevant to engage our youth, the non-traditional visual art course (dubbed Street Art), was created. The course provides students with an opportunity to learn experientially through skateboard innovation – and in the process, nurture creativity, build confidence, and persevere through challenges. Students have the opportunity to build their own longboard or skateboard provided by none other than CCI graduate Ted Hunter’s Roarockit.
It is an incredible moment walking in downtown Collingwood, seeing students cruising down main street on their hand-built longboards. “My job is awesome!” I paused while building our boards in the classroom. “This is my job! Can you believe this? Building skateboards with you guys on a Tuesday afternoon!” I have much to be thankful for. It is implausible, being part of this full circle of a brilliant man’s journey.