Skating and the City
Skateboarding is a sport that originally developed within the city’s public spaces, in vacant places, or in improvised locations where urban topography allowed for the possibility of sliding: streets, stairs, benches, parks, squares, etc. Over the years, skateboarding has become a new form of urban exploration, a positive sign of the appropriation of public space by the population, and an innovative means of transportation that allows one to explore the city and its built forms in new ways from new angles.
When forms are optimal to the practice, the specific places chosen by skaters (both young and old!) become “spots” to meet. In many big cities, we find places known among skateboarders worldwide by word of mouth or through websites listing optimal skate locations (for example, Quarter Snacks, which provides an updated list of skate spots in New York). The Shanghai LP (Love Park), near the metro station Dashijie, the Trocadero in Paris, and the Plaza De Macba in Barcelona are a few other examples of popular skate spots.
In this documentary, we discover Shanghainese skaters, who are usually not tolerated by the municipality and city guards (Chengguan), engaging in this new sport directly imported from the West. Could this be a sign of advanced globalization? Skateboarders in Shanghai are continually discovering new prime locations for skating throughout the city, and in the process, generating an entire culture (dress style, skate shop, etc.) built around the sport. Here, as elsewhere, skateboarding, as a recognized sport and craft subject to competitions, has also led to the creation of “skateparks” that reproduce the sport’s improvised urban forms in organized and supervised spaces.
In the documentary, Jeff Han, founder of Fly Skateshop, estimates the number of skateboarders in Shanghai to be about 1,000. Skateboarding in Shanghai remains rather restricted in comparison to other major modern cities. Chinese parents are also often reluctant to permit their children to take on the sport. Some see skateboarding as not only dangerous, but as a frivolous distraction from more pertinent academic studies. As Boss Xie W.K., a professional skateboarder from Shanghai, notes, few parents are able to see skateboarding as a productive recreational activity that can also grow into a prosperous career.