Elladj Baldé brings the joy of skating to underserved communities

Elladj Balde gets ready to skate on a frozen lake in the mountains with the sunrise behind Photo by Paul Zizka

Professional skater and social media sensation Elladj Baldé is marking the one-year anniversary of his first viral wild ice skating video with a performance at an outdoor rink in northeast Calgary. On December 17, the former Team Canada figure skater (who shared his passion for outdoor ice in Cottage Life magazine’s Winter 2021 cover story) will inaugurate a renovated facility in Calgary’s Temple community. It’s the first neighbourhood rink developed by Baldé’s Skate Global Foundation, a nonprofit seeking to foster equality, diversity, and inclusion in skating.

“Skating helped me find myself as a human being, a performer, and an artist,” says Baldé. “I want to use it to address systemic racism and discrimination in society. I want to go directly to the source of the issue.”

Baldé hopes to tackle three interconnected challenges: First, people living in underserved urban areas across Canada often don’t have access to skating rinks; second, people of colour have few role models because of a lack of diversity in skating; and third, the sport can be prohibitively expensive. Growing up in Montreal, Baldé credits his parents’ sacrifice for his breakthroughs in the sport. “My mom took the bus at 5 AM to take me skating in another community,” he says. Better access to rinks will “eliminate barriers,” Baldé adds. “Kids will have the chance to try something new and to fall in love with skating—whether it’s as a career or just for fun.” 

Q&A: What weather conditions generate the best natural ice for skating?

Having recently moved to the city, Baldé says Calgary was a natural location for Skate Global’s first outdoor rink. The foundation’s partner, EllisDon, has been working with local schools on other renewal projects. Baldé says the company brings vast experience in building recreational facilities. More importantly, he says the company has “exemplary practices to fight racism and make opportunities more equitable for marginal groups.”

The Temple outdoor rink is only a start. Baldé envisions new skating facilities—and free pairs of loaner skates for people to use—in communities across Canada and, eventually, internationally. He says outdoor rinks help achieve Skate Global’s goals of equality, diversity, and inclusion. Future projects will address the foundation’s other core values of mental health and climate change. The kickoff event in Calgary next Friday night (Dec. 17th), which will include a community skate with Baldé and other pro skaters, is only the beginning of a movement he hopes will become just as popular as his TikTok videos. “Skating has brought me so much good,” he says. “I want to spread that joy.”

Ice skating trails to lace up and try this winter

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