Anyone stopping at the light on Millwood at Sutherland knows the corner property with the huge plate glass window. Long-time Leasiders may have known it originally as an auto supply shop, and then the location for hairdresser Elsa and husband Frank, with their house attached next door on Sutherland.
But now a decidedly different business has rolled in and turned Millwood and Sutherland into perhaps the coolest corner in Leaside. Meet Ted Hunter and Norah Jackson of Roarockit.
A professor of furniture design at the Ontario College of Art and Design for 28 years, Ted also happens to be a surfer. He and his wife, fine art and graphic designer Norah Jackson, were in Maui in 2001 when they were asked if they would run a woodworking workshop for local teens. “My design work had always included wood bending, so it seemed like an interesting idea to have the class bend wood to learn to make skateboard decks,” says Ted.
Back home in Canada, they thought more about skateboard decks and by the fall of 2002 had come up with a name, “Roarockit,” filed patents in both Canada and the U.S. for a thin air press that didn’t require electricity, and started a business selling skateboard deck kits. Each kit features a Styrofoam mould for the desired shape, eight custom-cut veneer layers of wood, a vinyl vacuum bag, glue, a sander and the pièce de résistance, the pump.
Interestingly, the pump, made in Holland for them, is modelled on those rubbery pumps we use in our homes to seal half-drunk bottles of wine. And of course, there are instructions. “The beauty of all this,” says Norah, “is that we are not in competition with traditional skateboard shops. We don’t sell finished boards, trucks, wheels or helmets.” But if you are interested in making a beautiful board in any of four traditional shapes, or even a custom shape all your own, Roarockit is the place to go. Just don’t show up at the shop, because it’s a web-based business. Their working space off Bermondsey on Sunrise is full of the supplies needed to assemble and send out kits.
There are two choices of 1/16-inch wood veneer on offer – Canadian maple or Canadian birch. Because of typical Canadian weather, Canadian maple is regarded as the best in the world. The maple has the advantage of being strong and stiff. The birch is light and flexible. Roarockit also supplies Japanese bamboo veneer for those looking for something strong and flexible. In some cases, people want that top layer to be a coloured veneer, so they offer that, too. The completed board deck can be then fitted out as a skateboard, but can also become a work of art, with or without wheels.
There is even an alternative high school run by the Toronto District School Board called the Oasis Skateboard Factory where every school subject is connected to skateboards. the physics and mathematics components of pressurizing the veneer; board construction; marketing the boards; earning money to support the school where Ted and Norah co-chair the community council. Students have even been hired by the Art Gallery of Ontario.
Team-building workshops are another facet of Roarockit’s business. You might see groups at the Millwood and Sutherland site, attending free, one-hour workshops for schools.
It’s not all boards for this artistic couple. Norah designed the artwork still used by the Leaside Garden Society for their annual garden tours.