Skateboard ground in Chai Wan

Skateboarding has become ever more popular in Hong Kong -its origins, charms and challenges

Skateboarding has captured the city’s attention after making its first debut in the Tokyo Olympics 2020. As skateboarding grows in popularity, many Hongkongers have started to learn skateboarding. However, is the Olympics the only driving force for the recent trend in Hong Kong? What is it about skateboarding that enchanted generation after generation and country after country? This article may have the answers for you- read on and find out more about the origin of skateboarding, its development in Hong Kong, and its future challenges.

The Origin of Skateboarding

Skateboarding was first invented in California in the 1950s. Some surfers, at that time, wanted to transfer the feeling of riding waves onto the streets. Therefore, they made the first skateboard with a wooden board and four wheels attached to its bottom. Roller Derby released the first official skateboard in 1959, which allows skaters to develop new tricks and maneuvers.

The first official skateboard
Roller Derby released the first official skateboard in 1959. Photo: ThirdShift Vintage

Skateboarding then became the next bandwagon after surfing and more considered it fun to play. In 1963, the first skate contest was held in Hermosa Beach, California. The skateboarders could demonstrate their skills and assemble teams to promote companies’ products, such as Jack’s, Kips’, Hobie’s, and Bing’s in a platform.

The first skateboarding magazine, “The Quarterly Skateboarder”  was also published in 1964. Surf City, the first skatepark in the world, was built in 1965 in Arizona, US. All these publishment and establishment suggested the peak landmark for skateboarding.

“The Quarterly Skateboarder”
“The Quarterly Skateboarder” was published in 1964. Photo: Pinterest

Yet, skateboarding lost its popularity from the late 1960s to the early 1970s due to a drop in sales in the market. Many cities banned skateboarding due to the high number of skateboard injuries in hospital emergency rooms nationwide. Skateboarding was seen as a dangerous sport, and as a result, parents stopped buying them.

Frank Nasworthy changed the situation. He introduced polyurethane wheel technology in 1972. The new wheels allow skateboarders to ride more comfortably, faster, and smoother.

Different skateboarding styles, such as freestyle skateboarding and downhill skateboarding, experienced another height of their popularity. Alan Gelfand invented “ollie”, a fundamental trick for learning other complicated tricks, in the late 1970s. The skateboarding trend sparked public interest again and skateparks were being built gradually. The entrepreneurs also built more facilities to boost sales and popularity. There were over 200 skateparks in 1982.

“Ollie” is a fundamental trick for skateboarders to learn other complicated tricks. Photo: gettyimages

Commercial skateparks dominated the market at that time. Skateboarding was considered a “pay-to-play” activity. However, the rising insurance premiums forced the skateparks, which mostly operated on a small scale, to shut down. It then has resulted in skateboarding on the streets. 

A Timeline of Skateboarding History

Skateboarding Culture: Freedom and Individuality

Street skateboarding was seen as a new approach to skateboarding by taking the elements from the existing skateboard styles in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Skaters made use of the urban areas and public spaces to practice their tricks. Street skateboarding not only has changed the way of skateboarding but has also become part of the street culture. As a subculture, it has its own fashion, language, as well as values, and beliefs. 

“Skateboarding should be something unrestrained, and it should not be confined to the designated areas at the designated time,” said Mouse Tong Shing-yan, the head skateboard instructor at the All Hong Kong Skateboard Association (AHKSA), who has been skateboarding for over 20 years.

Skateboarders believe that skateboarding is not a typical sport. Instead, it is a lifestyle. It is an act of spiritual freedom expressed through the body. Skateboarding is just like running, and people should be able to engage in this activity anywhere.

Mouse Tong Shing-Yan
Mouse Tong Shing-yan is the head skateboard instructor at the All Hong Kong Skateboard Association (AHKSA) and has been skateboarding for over 20 years. Photo: AHKSA

We might see a group of people skateboarding on the streets sometimes. However, they are not competitors. Rather, they are friends gathering around and showcasing each other their new skateboarding skills. Skateboarding culture stresses individuality, and the competitors are their own instead of other skaters. To improve and defeat themselves, they have to practice the tricks over and over again until they succeed. Therefore, daring to try out something new is a cardinal rule of skateboarding.

Although skateboarding originated in the United States, it has changed popular culture and influenced the world, including Hong Kong. Skateboarding culture is still relatively new to Hong Kong, but the spirit of skateboarding and its beliefs are visible and crucial for its development. After the Tokyo Olympics, skateboarders and citizens are paying more attention to skateboarding and its development in the city.

Reasons behind the sport’s increasing popularity and its development in Hong Kong

Zoe Tse Wan-chi, a staff of the AHKSA said more people are inquiring about their classes in summer 2021. Although she could not provide an exact number, there were more than 200 people participated in their summer camp.

Chu Tsz-chiu, a staff of the Hong Kong Skateboarding Academy, an organization providing skateboard lessons and promoting skateboarding in Hong Kong, also sees an increase in the number of their class enrollments.

Why is skateboarding becoming more popular?

“Unlike other sports such as football and basketball, where you need a fixed venue to play or practice, skateboarding is more convenient because you can skate everywhere,” said Tong, the head skateboard instructor at AHKSA.

Having skated for 19 years, Mouse thinks the Olympics also helps a lot to promote the sport, especially in bringing its positive image to the public.“Something special about skateboarding is that, unlike basketball and football where athletes might treat their competitors as enemies, skateboarding athletes look like they are having a party,” said Tong in a carefree way.

Tong thinks, it is indeed the friendly culture of skateboarding that attracts more people to ride on the board. “In competition, skateboarding athletes don’t think much about winning others but themselves. They might think ‘I need to do that action well, and that’s enough,’” said Tong.

On the parents’ side, the friendly culture is also one of the reasons parents put their kids to the sport.

A sport that can educate the hearts

Mrs. Hui, a mother of a 6-year-old boy, thinks skateboarding is a rare sport that has “all the elements” to “organically” train a child’s mindset for adversity and nurture a good attitude.

 “People who play this sport are not competitive and I think this atmosphere is very healthy for my child’s growth and development,” said Hui pointing to the helpful and encouraging skateboarding community.

Just minute after Hui finished her sentence, her son Aidan Lau came.

“Mama, I met a new friend here, let me show you,” said Lau.

Then, he began to skate stumbly towards his 20-year-old looking friend and do a handshake with him.

Preparing the young minds for adversity

“It is very difficult to teach a 6 years old how to face failure- but skateboarding can do it,” said Hui while gesturing her hands in the air. She thinks skateboarding can teach children the bravery to start again after they fail in their life.

Hui then explained, “as the moment a child gets on the board, they know they will get hurt and expected it, so gradually they will be less afraid of the pain and can bound back faster and faster after each fall.”

Hui, also thinks skateboarding increases her son’s span of concentration. As in skateboarding, a skateboarder may need to repeat the same action for hundred to thousand times in order to learn a new trick.

There are many young children engaging in the roller-sports, such as skateboards and roller. Photo: Ida Kwok

Sense of Achievement

Chung Jai, a 19-year-old student, first started skateboarding 3.5 years ago as he thinks the sport is “cool” and “carefree.” But he particularly likes the sense of achievement the sport brings to him.

“I like skateboarding because it gives me a sense of achievement. When you learn a new trick, it could take you thousands of time trying and failing, so when you finally succeed in doing it, you will feel very satisfied,” said Chung.

Chung also said being able to meet new friends is another reason he enjoys skateboarding. Photo: Ida Kwok

Hong Kong government’s attitude towards skateboarding

Skateboarding has been gradually increasing its popularity in a more friendly environment when tracing back to 20 years ago. Although the government did not put a complete ban on skateboarding like in the US before the 2000s, it gave no support to the skateboarding community.

There were no park facilities in Hong Kong to cater to the needs of skateboarders. Therefore, many skateboarders resorted to skating on pedestrian sidewalks or any plain surfaces that they found. Popular spots to skate included the flat concert land in front of the Revenue Tower in Wan Chai and the Sha Tin Town Hall. At night and on weekends, they could be as many as 300 teenagers skating outside the Revenue Tower.

Sha Tin Town Hall
People have been skateboarding at the open spaces outside the Sha Tin Town Hall since the 2000s. Photo: Cherry Tse

Unfortunately, the street-skateboarding brought disruption to people living nearby, and many people complained about the noise that skateboarders made when attempting tricks. Some people also regarded skateboarders as a group of disruptive teenagers who like to hang out on the streets.

The first skatepark

To settle public discontent, the government has placed “No Skating” signs in several skateboarding spots and set up skateparks where skateboarders can focus on the sport without disturbing others.

No Skateboarding
Some warning signs are stuck on the benches, stating “No Skateboarding” in the open space outside Sha Tin Town Hall. Photo: Cherry Tse
Pack up the skateboards
Skateboarding is not allowed in the open public area at Yee Shing Lane Temporary Sitting-out Area, and an LCSD banner is displayed there, stating that people should pack up their skateboards. Photo: Cherry Tse

The Morrison Hill Road Playground in Wan Chai is the first public skatepark in Hong Kong. Shortly afterward, the government built two more skateparks in Lai Chi Kok Park and Chai Wan beside a public swimming pool in 2004. These public facilities not only encouraged the rise of skateboarding’s popularity. More importantly, it transformed the development of skateboarding in Hong Kong.

Chai Wan Pool-side Garden
Chai Wan Pool-side Garden is one of the skateboard grounds managed by the LCSD. Photo: Cherry Tse

Before the opening up of skateparks, skateboarders focused on street skateboarding. They practiced tricks like sliding on top of boxes and rails that are commonly found on the streets. However, the park skateboarding stream finally became an option for skateboard lovers in Hong Kong after the parks were opened.

Park skateboarders ride bowls and U-sized ramps, obstacles that are not typically found anywhere on the street. Some skateboarders found it more exciting because of the speed-induced adrenaline rush.

Multiple skateboard grounds all over Hong Kong

There are currently 8 skateboard grounds and 5 skateparks all over Hong Kong. Unlike skateboard grounds where only skateboards are allowed, skateparks allow the riding of 4 extreme games. These include freestyle BMX, skateboarding, aggressive inline skating, and the newest member of the family, freestyle scootering.

Lai Chi Kok Park is one of the skateparks. Being the second oldest skateboarding park in Hong Kong, it was rebuilt into a brand new, tropical color-themed skatepark in 2019, in contrast to the other concrete skateparks with no decorations. More importantly, its new facilities have allowed it to become the first international-standard skatepark in Hong Kong.

Lai Chi Kok Park is 1600 sq. meters big and the only skatepark that reaches international standards. Photo: Ida Kwok

While the government has become a lot more supportive of skateboarding as a sport, some still believe that it is not enough. Mr. Lau, a skateboard lover who has experience with wakeboard and snowboard, said the government is yet to be ready to truly promote the sport in Hong Kong.

“Look at this skatepark, even though it is the only venue in Hong Kong that fits the Olympic standard, there is no auditorium for people to sit here,” said Lau, while pointing at the 1600 sq. meters Lai Chi Kok Park. “The government should build more skateparks so that people can have more access to practice,” said Lau. He added that the government should provide equal resources for skateboarding as other sports.

Elite skateboarders in Hong Kong

Although the government has provided more skateboard facilities to show support on skateboarding, it has often been criticized for its little support towards professional mainstream athletes like runners or football players. The support for professional skateboarders is even less.

Luk Chun-yin is Hong Kong’s first and only elite skateboarder that is eligible to receive funds from the Hong Kong Sports Institute (HKSI). However, this does not give him access to train in HKSI’s sports grounds like other elite athletes.

Luk said it is because the professional skateboarding performance in Hong Kong is still not good enough. “It (skateboarding to be trained in HKSI as a professional sport) is only possible if our athletes have a higher grading and win more medals in some recognized competitions,” said Luk.

Luk Chun-yin
Luk Chun-yin is Hong Kong’s first and only elite skateboarder. Photo: AHKSA

Instead, he now trains in the Lai Chi Kok Skatepark with skateboard beginners and freestyle BMX riders. As the riders of different sports often have different trails and beginners, especially young children, may not be constantly aware of skatepark rules, collisions often occur. As an elite skateboarder, the injuries caused by such collisions could be the end of his career as a professional athlete.

There is still a long way to go for more people in Hong Kong to treat skateboarding not only as leisure entertainment but a competitive sport. More support from the government in terms of funds, training grounds, coaching, and medical services to elite skateboarders would be a stepping stone to achieving the goal.

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