THUNDER BAY — When Adam Hopkins was a 10-year-old growing up in Thunder Bay, he received a skateboard for Christmas.
He learned the basics practising in a homemade skatepark in a friend's basement.
Little did Hopkins know that, 19 years later, he'd get a chance to compete in the Olympic Games.
The sport makes its Olympic debut in Tokyo this summer.
Hopkins, now based in Vancouver where he's a bartender, is currently the #1 ranked male Park skateboarder in Canada.
Park competitions are held on a hollowed-out course with a series of complicated curves. The curved surfaces at the bottom of the course rise steeply until the upper part of the incline is as close to vertical as possible.
"Spectators of park skateboarding are wowed by the incredible heights riders achieve by climbing the curves at great speed and performing awesome mid-air tricks," Canada's national skateboard federation explains on its website.
Because of his current ranking, Hopkins has been identified as a targeted Olympic competitor by the Canadian federation.
His performances to date have placed him within the Olympic qualification bracket.
But to earn the right to compete in Tokyo, Hopkins must do well in five more international qualifying events over the next few months in Toronto, Peru, California and China.
He said World Skate, the governing body for the sport, will nominate 20 skaters for each gender per discipline. He is currently ranked 19th, and is the only Canadian in the Park category for men.
In an interview with Tbnewswatch, Hopkins recalled how quickly he built a passion for skateboarding in his youth.
Although the family home was in a rural location, he spent a lot of time at a skate park at Third Avenue and High Street South.
"In the summer my dad would drop me off there at 7:30 a.m., before work, and pick me up at 5:00 p.m. It's what I wanted to do," Hopkins said. "I kind of grew up there."
Thunder Bay had no vertical ramp, so he and his father built one in the barn at home.
"It's a half-pipe, usually eight feet or above in height. It goes vertical at the top so it propels you into the air. That was kind of the skating that I always wanted to do," Hopkins said.
As it turned out, the manoeuvres he perfected there and at other locations in the city set him up well for the discipline in which he hopes to demonstrate his skills in Tokyo.
But as a youth, neither he nor the adults in his life anticipated how far he would go.
At school, he said, his teachers were worried about the path he was taking.
"People were concerned that I was a skateboarder, but what they didn't realize was that I had this activity that I absolutely loved. I wasn't playing video games and I wasn't on the computer."
Hopkins said those were the days when skateboarding "had a black mark on it. People would just stereotype us."
Now that it's an Olympic sport, he hopes it will gain more respect, and encourage communities across the country to build proper indoor facilities for their youth.
Hopkins was a member of the Thunder Bay Skateboarding Coalition and a key driver behind the installation of the professionally-designed skateboarding plaza at Marina Park in 2008.
He said it's one of the big reasons the city currently has a "strong, healthy skate scene."
Family members and friends in Thunder Bay will host a fundraiser for Hopkins at The Foundry this month.
It's scheduled for Sunday Feb. 23rd from 6:30 p.m. to 11:00 p.m.