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“We notorious,” goes the opening line in the Rascalz’ 1998 CanCon classic “Northern Touch.” Two decades later, that statement rings especially true for Canada. Whether it be the top of the Billboard charts or the sports world, the Great White North has found a new gear, producing more world-famous talent at a higher rate than ever. So we’re capturing a few of those rising stars before they go supernova. This is Northern Clutch.
There’s a saying that gets thrown around when professionals get to a certain skill level in Canada: “When you start to make it, you have to leave.” And if you’re looking for proof that it’s not true, TJ Rogers isn’t the best place to focus.
The 28-year-old professional skater and Olympic hopeful currently lives in Los Angeles, California where the concrete is free of snow and ice year round, unlike in his hometown of Whitby, Ontario, where things tend to freeze sometime shortly after August. But the Canadian boy hasn’t gone full Cali just yet.
As a child, Rogers used the Whitby and GTA skateboarding scene as an escape from his troubled home. At one point, as both parents struggled with serious drug addictions, he found himself living in foster homes with no friends or family and only his skateboard for consistent companionship.
“Skateboarding helped TJ a lot when we were going through some serious problems,” says his father from their shared home in Whitby. “He was at the skatepark all the time, and that was his way of venting. You know, everybody does something to forget about something and I think the park was a big thing for TJ. He blocked everything else out and he just concentrated on the next new trick or the next new jump or whatever.”
Apparently, TJ’s childhood skate-therapy worked. Because today, as a pro skateboarder for Red Bull, famously with a smile constantly plastered to his face, he regularly returns to his hometown to visit his father and give back to the community that gave him everything at a time when he had nothing.
What first attracted you to skateboarding?
Skateboarding kind of attracted itself to me. I used to actually ride a bike when I was young because of where I was living, it was just easy transport, but as I got older, I saw all these kids skateboarding and they had such a tight community that I really wanted to be a part of that. So I ended up getting a board from a friend and the rest is history.
Why not like baseball or basketball?
I used to do baseball when I was like four, and basketball was always kind of a thing, but I didn’t really like doing that because it was a team sport and I couldn’t do it on my own, where I could have the freedom of being able to just skateboard whenever I wanted to, learn new tricks and kind of evolve as a person.
What was it like growing up in Whitby?
It was cool. Your average suburb city, you know? Nothing too special going on, but I loved being super close to the city.
What’s the skate scene like out here in Whitby?
The skate scene had its days. When I was younger it was a little bit more poppin’, but as I’ve gotten older a lot of people, especially my age, fall out of it. Some new kids are coming up. It’s just kind of the chain reaction of going through waves every four or five years as new kids come up.
"In skateboarding there’s no right and wrong, you just kind of do you. You’ll make some mistakes along the way, but you’ll keep getting back up."
In the documentary Smile, you talk a lot about your tumultuous childhood. Talk to me about that.
I’ve definitely had my ups and downs in my life, kind of had some difficulties. I was in foster care for a little bit, and then I was in a shelter home when I was younger, high school age. It is what it is. Sometimes kids get privileged and some kids don’t. And, you know, I had the best of both worlds as I was growing up so I kind of understood the importance to having a good future and wanting to make the most for myself. I think that’s what drove me so far to get where I’m at and to keep going.
How would you say that impacted your career?
It definitely impacted it. Once everything started to lift off for me I was about 14, 15 years old and was just getting out of foster care… Right as I got out I won this contest called DC Nationals in 2005, and from there I got a free trip to Calgary to go skate one of the most infamous Canadian skate contests called Slam City Jam… Ever since then I started to get sponsors and everything started to collectively come together.
Skateboarding was an escape from reality for me for sure. I was free and I could do whatever I wanted and no one could tell me whether I was doing it right or wrong. In skateboarding there’s no right and wrong, you just kind of do you. You’ll make some mistakes along the way, but you’ll keep getting back up... that’s the beauty of skating.
How do you feel when you skate?
Honestly, I just feel free. As an artist, you get to do whatever you want and there’s no limitations to that, so it’s really great to do whatever I feel. If I’m not really into it that day, I don’t really need to push myself if I don’t want to. And as I’m getting older, I pick and choose my battles a little more wisely rather than just being like "Oh no, I need to do this right now!” I definitely do, but sometimes I can take a step back and think about all the other things that are going on in my life and make sure that it’s going to be beneficial to me as well.
Skateboarding was supposed to make its Olympic debut in Tokyo this year. How do you feel knowing this sport that you’ve been a part of for so long is now finally going to be a part of the Olympics?
It’s cool that skateboarding is finally being recognized as a sport. I wouldn’t really call it a “sport” because everybody does it for their own different reasons, but I’m just stoked that skateboarding is going to be able to have some type of recognition for how many people it has saved along the way. I’ve been skateboarding for 20 years and I’ve seen countless people, you know, who could’ve lost their life, could’ve made so many wrong choices, but skateboarding kind of saved them. That’s why I love skating so much. I’m really looking forward to getting out there and representing my country in the best way possible and along the way just make sure I have fun, too.
What’s your favourite trick?
I like to skate a lot of switch… so a switch frontside 360 is kind of like my go-to, famous trick that everyone knows me for. Also a good-old switch heel flip is pretty great too.
What’s your style? What do you wear when you skate, when you’re not skating?
What you see is what you get, man! This is what I rock these days. I rock 38-40 jeans, XL tees, 2XL sweaters, you know, and that’s just my style. I grew up, as I said, not in the best position to where I had people able to clothe me, so I’d always rock hand-me-downs from everybody back in the day and I was smaller than I was now and I was rocking 38 jeans. I almost grew into it… I’ve had sponsors in the past just give me clothes and I just rocked it because I wanted to support them, but as I got older I was like, I don’t really care to be that poster kid and not have my identity as a person. So now I rock a lot of blank clothes because I don’t want people to judge me on what I wear.
What’s your outlook on Canada’s skateboarding scene?
Canada’s skateboarding scene is ...interesting. There’s a lot of kids in different areas that are kind of in a clique where it’s not so much a bad thing, but it’s definitely different from where I live in California where everyone comes together and we skate. We obviously have our own crews when we do whatever we need to do, but I feel like, since I have moved to California, it’s definitely changed a lot.
Tell me about your relationship with your pops.
It’s really good. When I was younger there were certain things that made me very frustrated with him, but as I got older I started to understand certain things about what was happening, so I didn’t really take it personal anymore. We all have our demons and we all have our ups and downs. At the time that I was growing up he was having a down moment and I never let that discourage me.