To skateboarding ‘Aunty,’ her backyard ramp is not just a pipe dream

Spring can’t come soon enough for Oorbee Roy. That’s when she takes flight. In her backyard.

“It makes you feel good. I forget about the world and do something just for me,” explains the Toronto mom.

Roy started skateboarding five years ago in her early 40s. She didn’t want to be just a spectator while her two children and husband, avid skaters, had all the fun.

Now she rolls, spins and jumps, free as a bird on the halfpipe ramp they built in their Riverdale backyard, a home they bought partly because of its outdoor space.

“We built this ramp for me, for my mid-life crisis,” laughs Roy, who spends a “liberating” 30 or 45 minutes a day on it.

“It’s the perfect size for me and mellow enough for my knees,” she adds, pointing to the “transition,” or curved part, at either end.

Known as “Aunty Skates,” a character she created to spread joy and positivity during the pandemic, Roy became a TikTok star for skating in a flowing South Asian sari.

The family built their backyard mini ramp last summer with help from friends and parts of another ramp supplemented by new materials. Oorbee Roy estimates a DIY structure costs around $1,500.

The toughest part of getting out of her cushy comfort zone and onto hard wood was “progressing through fear,” she recalls of the learning curve.

The fun took hold.

“For us, it’s a way of life,” she says of her husband Sanjeev Shah, her 10-year-old son and her 13-year-old daughter. They visit local skate parks to navigate bowls, banks and obstacles.

Roy also teaches beginners how to skate during weekend sessions in her backyard. (She’ll be hosting a free introductory clinic for adults on Saturday, May 13 from 1 to 3 p.m. at Toronto Beaches Skatepark in Ashbridges Bay at Coxwell Ave. and Lake Shore Blvd. E. Details on auntyskates.com.)

Constructing ramps is in the family’s DNA, Roy says.

“My husband loves building ramps!”

The one they erected last summer to replace an older, rotting structure used a combination of new materials and recycled parts from a teardown at his office.

Shah, who’s in the food manufacturing business, likes to take a therapeutic spin before and after work, she explains.

With help from friends, they built their new ramp in modules so it can easily be taken down or moved. “It took a long time; it was a labour of love.”

Backyarding activities have become a habit for Canadians, according to a recent survey by the TurfMutt Foundation, an organization that promotes outdoor spaces and experiences. Almost 90 per cent of those polled said they enjoy using yards, parks and other green spaces.

"I forget about the world and do something just for me," says the avid skateboarder, who'll spend 30 to 45 minutes a day on her ramp once the snow disappears.

As winter winds down and thoughts turn to outdoor recreational activities, Roy encourages other homeowners to consider making their own ramp after first checking municipal codes for rules and requirements.

She estimates the cost of a DIY halfpipe or mini ramp, which has two sloped sides and a flat section in the middle, at around $1,500. A professionally built structure could cost about $5,000, says Roy, who consulted Ramp to Rail, a Toronto-based ramp builder

A smaller, quarter-pipe ramp with only one sloped side is easier and cheaper to erect, costing $200 or less if you have scrap wood kicking around, says Roy, who has instructions for building one on her website.

The secret to success with a half pipe is “all about getting the dimensions right,” she points out. The three main factors to consider are height, width (so you can turn back and forth) and transition, the concave part at either end that can be steep or not so steep.

“The base of a ramp or quarter pipe is a frame which is easy to create,” she says. “The most difficult measurement of a ramp is the transition.”

Materials required include plywood sheets; pressure-treated 2-by-4s; round metal pipe, called coping, that runs across the top edge; roofing paper to cover the plywood; and Skatecrete, a high-pressure laminate overlay.

Roy recommends constructing a ramp on paving stones so the wood doesn’t rot.

After that, it’s smooth sailing … or flying.


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