Why don’t skateboarders skate in the skatepark?

By Athena Chan and Kun Wang

Skateboarding, an extreme sport, an art form, a recreational activity, and a method of transportation, has embedded a sense of rebellion and bravery in its own unique spirit. There are about 3,000 skateboarders in Hong Kong according to the report from South China Morning Post in 2016. The major development and expansion in skateboarding is demonstrated by its inclusion as a new programme in the 2018 Jakarta Asian Games and in the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. On August 28, 2018, Jonnie Tang and Luk Chun Yin made their debuts in men featuring skateboarding in Jakarta Palembang 2018 on behalf of Hong Kong, which was the first time that our skateboarders compete in such a large scale integrative sports event.

When skateboarding is going to make its debut in the Olympic Games, entities in Hong Kong, the government, organizations and individuals are all together preparing to showcase a brilliant skateboarding performance in Tokyo. Hong Kong Roller Sports Federation selected a group of elite skateboarders through strict qualifiers for “the 2020 skateboarding programme for HK”. To match up with the high-level training requirement of those skateboarders, they appointed Warren Stuart, The “godfather” of HK Skateboarding and the head judge in 2018 Asian Games Skateboarding competition, as the head coach of HK team. There are total 15 outdoor skateparks opened by Leisure and Cultural Services Department (LCSD), supporting skateboarding training as well as promoting the extreme sport among Hong Kong residents.

As a skateboard sneaker and apparel leading player, Vans dedicated to penetrating skateboarding culture in the Hong Kong region. Coordinating with 8FIVE2, an iconic skate shop opened for almost two decades, House of Vans initiated the Hong Kong’s first indoor skatepark in Kwun Tong. Vans has signed and sponsored three Hong Kong skateboarders since 2009 as ambassadors to share skateboarding culture around the world. Luk Chun Yin is the No.1 Pick skater in Vans Hong Kong Team. Regarded as a phenomenon skater in this region, Luk has always finished on the top in many world-class tournaments and put Hong Kong on the skateboarding map. He is striving for the qualification to 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Luk described skateboard more like a responsibility, “If I win more medals in international events, the government tends to allocate more resources in skateboarding and then more young blood will get involved in it.”

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Brian Siswojo in his 8FIVE2 skate shop

Julius Brian Siswojo, the owner of 8FIVE2 and a free indoor skatepark, one of the founders of All Hong Kong Skateboarder Association (ALHKSA), the emcee of skateboard programme of Jakarta Palembang 2018 Asian Games, has shared his view on skateboarding scene in Hong Kong. Being able to skate since 1988, he agreed that the skateboarding is growing since it has been announced to be included for the Asian Games and Olympic Games programmes. Although the customer age range for 8FIVE2 shop remains unchanged with around 10 to 50 years old, Brian noticed a significant change with parents’ attitudes. Compared to the early 2000s, parents are more willing to take kids to the skate shop for purchasing a skateboard.

With a will to promote skateboarding culture in Hong Kong, Brian and his friends founded ALHKSA to work tightly with Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) and LCSD. He and Warren Stuart held annual skateboarding events including Hong Kong Street Skateboarding Contest and Go Skateboarding Day together with sponsor brands and the organizations. He is grateful for the effort the local government had made for skateboarding, especially for the 15 skateparks built in this cramped city. Now he is asking for a street leak format park on behalf of the ALHKSA, and the government agreed to renovate the Lai Chi Kok Park Skatepark. “I have seen the blueprint already. The skaters will go crazy,” he added.

Screen Shot 2018-12-12 at 8.09.27 PMA helmet is mandatory to enter the Po Kong Village Road Park

However, as the Hong Kong Federation of Extreme Sports has pointed out, a number of skateparks in Hong Kong are facing problems, although some of the skateparks attract more than 8,000 people annually. At Lai Chi Kok skatepark, the surface concrete has eroded and become abrasive. A large part of a publicly funded skatepark is wasted as the government made them off-limits to users regardless of the safety equipment they wear. Po Kong park built a replica of world-famous Bondi bowl, which has been gathering dust for three years because the authorities deem it too dangerous.

Moreover, not all Hong Kong skateparks have a mandatory helmet rule, yet it causes inconvenience to the skaters as the weight of helmet would affect the body balancement. A helmet is mandatory for vert skater under 18 in the Olympic Games, but the regulation does not state the age threshold for wearing a helmet. When journalists tried to enter the Hong Kong Velodrome Park, security guard suggested us to borrow a helmet at a store near the park to gain access.

Despite the allegedly misplaced safety directives, there are other issues swell skateboarders’ concerns. A Yiu, a rider with 5 years of skating experiences, told us his reason for a low visiting frequency to skateparks. “I have been to several skateparks, but most of them close at 10. I usually get off work at 7, after going back home and having dinner, it’s almost 9. I usually skate on the street during the weekdays.”

It is crucial to understand that skateboarding belongs to street culture. With a street DNA in their veins, most of the skaters prefer to play tricks on real streets despite seemingly sufficient local skateparks. The differences between skate in the park and in the street are huge. “Skateboarding has different styles. Vert skaters skate the vert, bowl skaters skate the bowl, and street skaters, always skate on the street,” said Brain, “even though the park skating and contests are popular, you have to film on the legitimate street for two to three minutes to be considered as a real and respected skater inside the skateboarding community. Because when you are skating on the street, you are dealing with not only the stairs or ramps, you are dealing with cops, security guards, weathers and everything.” Street means unexpected challenges and unlimited possibilities.

The public perception of skateboarders is often negative with an accusation to their “care-free spirit”. The loud thud made while playing tricks, especially during the night time, has annoyed the residences. Most of the local people treat skateboarding as a normal sport which is supposed to stay only in the skateparks, in lieu of accepting it as a lifestyle with unconstrainted characteristics.

Thus, the conflicts between citizens and street skaters seem to be insoluble. Elton from Pierboyz, a skateboarder group, shared his view on the street culture. “I don’t think that (skating and peace of residence) supposes to be opposite, but I can’t control how people think about the others. People might think we are disturbing them, but I think we all have the same right to use this city. This is a city of everyone.” Whereas Brian is more positive with the situation by adding that, “dealing with people is a part of it (skate on street), and it’s part of the fun too actually.” Anyhow, for skaters, routinely confronted by police and ready to be kicked out for every skating spot is an unwinnable situation.

Screen Shot 2018-12-12 at 8.19.52 PMPierboyz are looking for skating spots in the city

By virtue of the inclusion of 2018 Asian Games and 2020 Olympic Games, plus the efforts contributed by skaters like Brian and relevant associations, skateboarding has slowly transformed from a subcultural pursuit to a mainstream and popular sport. The Hong Kong government is pushing down-to-earth measures to catalyze the development of skateboarding in Hong Kong. However, it is not precise to define skateboarding as only a form of sport with conformity to formal rules. Skateboarding is more like a personal lifestyle and a carrier of street culture spirit.

It might be a long way to bridge the gap between stale social convention and the emerging dynamic lifestyle, or we are not far from the destination of mutual understanding for all parties, the time when our city embraces the skateboarding culture.