PLG plots a return to X Games gold for 2018
Canadian filmmaker Simon Coutu's documentary about 9-time X Games gold medalist Pierre-Luc Gagnon was filmed in 2015 and meant to chronicle the vert skater's return to glory after several years of skating through injuries. Spoiler alert: "PLG At The Top of the Ramp," originally released in French and with an English-language edition out now, ends with Gagnon settling for second at a Dew Tour competition and a note that he went on to win gold at X Games Austin 2015 a few months after filming ended.
Gagnon, now 37, hoped that win would mean a return to form and an extension on his competitive skateboarding career. Now he wonders if he should have called it quits while he was ahead.
"It took a long time, and a series of doctors, to figure out that I had piriformis syndrome in my left leg," Gagnon says. "The piriformis is the muscle that goes from your thigh to your hip, and in some small percentage of people the sciatic nerve runs right through it, which turned out to be part of my problem. I tore part of that muscle at some point, so every time I would flip my board with my left foot I would get shooting pain going down my leg. I was hurting more than I let on at X Games in 2015, even with the win, and it caused me to miss X Games altogether in 2016. Then, just when I'd finally gotten it under control, I broke my right ankle -- which required surgery -- in May 2017, and had to hobble around on crutches this year at X Games Minneapolis."
Gagnon's career has been truly remarkable, and much of his story is captured in the new film. He grew up in Boucherville, a suburb of Montreal in Québec, Canada, far from the California vert scene he idolized as a kid and now calls his own. Inspired by Bones Brigade skate videos in the 1980s, and with the steadfast support of his parents, Denis Gagnon and Françoise Lavoie, he was determined to make it as a pro skater.
"PLG At The Top of the Ramp" chronicles his dad's efforts to build a skatepark in Boucherville, and to convince the city to allow Gagnon into a special sports education school program originally designed for hockey players and aspiring Olympic athletes. It worked on both fronts: Gagnon went to the school during the day, then skated at the park until 9 p.m. every night.
"My dad was a school teacher then, and all he wanted was to keep me out of trouble and keep me in school," Gagnon remembers. "He knew I didn't really care that much to sit in a classroom all day, so his deal was, 'As long as you're doing good in school I'll support you in whatever else you want to do.' And he did. He really did. I didn't fully appreciate until much later how overboard he went to make a life in skateboarding happen for me."
Gagnon turned pro at 16 and first popped up at X Games San Diego in 1997, finishing 17th in Skateboard Vert.
"It was this big arrival moment, chasing the dream down to California, and it was also a wake-up call to realize how far ahead of me all the California skaters really were," he says.
He's since won 21 medals in his 20 X Games appearances: 7 gold and 6 silver in Skateboard Vert; 2 silver and 1 bronze in Big Air; 1 silver in Vert Doubles; and 2 gold, 1 silver, and one bronze in Vert Best Trick. He admits retirement is on his mind, but he hasn't been able to bring himself to say the word just yet.
"I still feel like I have gold medal runs left in me, which is hard to let go of," Gagnon says. "I would like to come back and film at least one more video part and win at least one more X Games before I call it good. Not because I have anything left to prove to myself or anyone else, but just to be able to get back to what I love after all these injuries."
Still, his mind is already much farther into the future. He'd like to have a role in selecting and coaching the team of Canadian skaters heading for skateboarding's Olympic debut in 2020, for one. And now that his son Leo is 3, watching the finished documentary reminds Gagnon that he has a responsibility to pay forward everything his own father has done for him over the years.
"I take Leo to the vert ramp at the Monster Energy warehouse and he's already pushing around on it on his skateboard, his scooter, and his BMX bike, pretty much doing it all, and just starting to find his own love for it," Gagnon says. "I don't want to push him into skating and be one of those dads who's out there kicking his son off the vert ramp because he's too scared to drop in, you know, going against everything cool about skateboarding, but I do feel like it's really important for him to find something to be passionate about in life. I just want him to find something he truly loves and wants to stick with, and then support him in it any way I can, just like my dad did for me. The saddest thing is when you see a kid who has no passion and sits around at home, bummed at life."
Skateboarding has been Gagnon's passion, for nearly as long as he can remember.
"It's helped keep me happy and motivated through the years," he says. "It helped me avoid gangs and drugs as a kid, and it's helped me avoid the party scene and all that as an adult, all the kinds of dumb stuff other people get into looking for the same kind of rush I already get from learning a new trick or winning a contest. All the months I wasn't skating because I was hurt, let's just say those definitely weren't my happiest months. Maybe that's the biggest reason I'm trying to get back to it again: the pure love for that feeling is the biggest motivation."