There is no denying that certain cities can have an effect on the soul. Montreal: steeped in centuries of history, kissed with European influence, and fully bilingual, is such a place. That’s why it’s no surprise that Montreal — what Todd Richards, after announcing for Jackalope in 2022, referred to on ‘Monday M.A.S.S’ podcast he co-hosts with Chris Coté as “a little place outside of France” — would inspire the third largest multi- action sports event in the world.
Jackalope is a recognized brand in Montreal. I’ve known about it for a long time. Years ago I volunteered for Skateboards for Hope, a not-for-profit founded by Betty Esperanza who now works with Jackalope’s parent company Tribu Expérientiel. In the summer of 2022 I stayed in town and threw my hat in the ring to be a Jackalope driver. I was tasked with bringing athletes and other VIPS from all over the world to and from the airport to the contest venue – Montreal’s Olympic Stadium. Since its build for the 1976 summer games, the area that surrounds the stadium has evolved into a base camp for Montreal skateboarders. Now home to a Vans Skatepark, skateboarders around the globe know all about “The Big O.”
There are two unexpected benefits to working as a driver for an event of this nature, size, and scope. One: you get to be an ambassador for your city, and two: you meet all kinds of interesting people who you might not otherwise encounter in everyday life. Felipe Nunes who rides for Tony Hawk’s company Birdhouse signed my daughter’s skateboard. Over the course of a few days, I was given a window into a group of athletes and artists who strive towards the common goals of entertainment, joy, community, and the spirit of athletic competition, all fueled by that secret sauce we all love – Adrenaline.
The timing could not be more perfect for a story about Jackalope and its parent event company Tribu Expérientiel. The inaugural U.S. Jackalope in Virginia Beach, Virginia, wrapped up in June which included a vert showdown with Tony Hawk and was the final destination for Long Island skateboarder Chad Caruso’s 3,000-mile skate across the United States to raise money for addiction awareness. A number of Jackalope qualifying events across Canada have recently or are about to take place, with Jackalope Montreal coming up on August 25-27— an event that the public can attend for free.
So where, when, and how did it all start? Like all stories about amazing things, this one begins with one visionary and his idea, Micah Desforges. I had the sincere privilege of meeting with Micah, Tribu’s CEO, and founder, over Zoom on a quiet Friday morning, and we got into the nitty grit of how it began over two decades ago. Micah is a new dad, still in his 30s. He started all this as a teenager.
How did a young skateboarder from rural Quebec become the founder of the third-largest multi-action sports event in the world?
“I grew up in Saint-Romain near Lac Megantic, where there were more cows than people. There was a lot of time to think and daydream. My family didn’t even have cable television for years. It was quiet. It was watching Tony Hawk’s 900 at X Games, with Dave Duncan announcing, the excitement of that iconic moment that planted a seed. I started a skateboard brand, Ripper Skateboards, distributing boards to local skate shops, while attending CEGEP in Sherbrooke (for the non-Quebcers CEGEP is an innovative education program, specific to Quebec, that most students attend after completing five years of high school).”
By 2009, Micah had moved to Montreal where he and his two housemates in Rosemont started hosting themed events centered around a snowboard backyard jam.
“It was special in a weird kind of way, families started coming by with their kids to watch, and the themed events grew in size and scope on a dare (“you should do it bigger next year”), from 100 people jibbing a backyard ramp in winter to the first “Amnesia Shack Attack,” a snowboard and freeskiing competition, which drew nearly 800 people.”
By 2015 Micah had moved the main backyard event, now Empire City Troopers, to Montreal’s Quartier Latin neighborhood on boulevard St. Denis. It was founded on the idea of “bringing the spirit of the mountain downtown,” featuring the urban snowboarding that this city is known for. The city of Montreal and big businesses were starting to take notice. The event was recently relaunched under a new name APIK in 2023 and attracted upwards of 25,000 people.
“Events of this nature can generate a huge economic impact,” Desforge said.
When was the first-ever Jackalope? Did you ever imagine that it would become what it is today?
“2012. It’s been a trip. It started randomly and evolved organically. We had zero portfolio but people trusted us. Dave Duncan (yes, thee Dave Duncan, an icon in the skateboarding community) was there the first year. A few years later I got a phone call from Tony Hawk’s agent, I didn’t recognize the number. I thought it was someone telling me I’d won a trip to the Bahamas … . Tony Hawk came to Jackalope for the first time in 2017, and drew a crowd of over to 10,000 people.”
How were you able to launch your event company, ‘Tribu,’ and what kind of support did you receive starting out?
“Tribu launched in 2010. I’d been laid off from my job, I went to a school where you can get an education in how to start a business, and some funding for the first year or two. Brands … Smirnoff, Molson, Rogers, Coco-Cola wanted to sponsor our events. I realized that there was a lot more money in event sponsorship than selling twenty Ripper skateboards to make $500 gross, maybe. I wanted to have fun and make money.”
Do you think being in Montreal, a bilingual city, is an advantage, or a disadvantage for your business that involves attracting top action sports athletes from all over the world?
“The way I look at it, we have the best of both worlds. We can export to the United States, we have this European influence. Look at Cirque du Soleil (the internationally-famous billion-dollar entertainment business started by street performers from Montreal). We’re thinking of our brand and the next ten years. Jackalope has grown to become the third largest multi-action sports festival in the world, next to X Games in the United States, and FISE in Montpellier, France. Jackalope could be a Lululemon story, that’s the goal: creating and fostering community, and creating jobs for thousands of people, around the world.”
Your company, Tribu, also runs the Crankworx summer series in Quebec City. Can you talk about the other events in your portfolio?
“Crankworx is a licensing agreement. We run their summer series in Quebec City which are main event qualifiers. We’ve started a similar program for Jackalope. For Barbegazi we’re introducing snowmobiling, which is huge right now. All cities are competing for heads and beds and Montreal is our sandbox.”
As a fan who has had the opportunity to meet your heroes in sport through your company, who has made the most memorable impression on you?
“Tony Hawk. It’s a dream come true. He’s the GOAT. I’m not the type to be starstruck, but with Tony it’s different. Standing beside my hero at Jackalope Virginia Beach, I left like I was still a kid, fifteen years old.”
The first Jackalope on U.S. soil, in Virginia Beach just wrapped up. How did it go?
“It was amazing, but we were stressing out over weather during the build. Tony was coming to Jackalope for the first time since the pandemic and at Virginia Beach, where he placed 2nd in a vert contest in 1986. It was a huge deal for him to come and we made it work; close to 50,000 people showed up, compared to the 10-15,000 people that typically attend Jackalope Montreal. The skateboarding community has been there since the beginning. It’s close to Montreal, twelve hours driving, part of the thinking is to bring back Canadian tourism using the VB event. The West Coast has Huntington Beach, on the East Coast there wasn’t someone taking that spot. Between Montreal and VB, Jackalope is a hub for action sports on the East Coast.”
What’s new for Jackalope Montreal 2023?
“We have ‘Jackalope Block Parties’ in communities in Quebec, and Jackalope qualifiers where athletes can win a ‘Golden Ticket’ to come to Montreal (like TTR “Ticket to Ride” in snowboarding). We’re opening the tour to cities in the United States next spring, which is one way to work with other events and create and build community. We’re also working with events in Europe & Brazil. Montreal 2023 is our ‘Back to the Roots’ edition. We’ve gone from a ticketed model in 2022 to a free event in alignment with Virginia Beach. We’re using the VANS skatepark this year, which we haven’t used for previous events, and we have Pedro Barros from Brazil, the best transition skateboarder in the world, coming this year.”
What is the secret to your success? Do you work 24/7, or are you able to take a step back?
“Hard work and dedication. Growing up in the middle of nowhere you grow up understanding that working hard is the way to go. I’ve always worked super hard, and I work even harder now, and I enjoy the ride along the way. And luck, and taking chances. You won’t win the lotto if you don’t play. Passion is real.”
Montreal is known as the City of Festivals. The events that have defined the city for decades, the International Jazz Festival, and the Just of Laughs Festival, take place in two short months of summer. Micah and crew — inspired by architecture and cityscape, and against the icy backdrop of winter — created something incredible and turned it into a year-round community for adrenaline enthusiasts that has now gone stateside and is set to conquer the global stage of action sports.