Hong Kong skateboarders hurdling bureaucracy, one ollie at a time
Eva Lui Yi-ting leaps off the ground almost in slow motion, her skateboard floating beneath her feet before she lands with a loud and satisfying thud.
“This one’s called an ollie ... it took nine months to learn that,” says Lui, 19, referring to one of the fundamental moves in skateboarding.
Lui took up the sport four years ago and it now rules her life. She teaches teenagers how to ride at an outreach centre in Sai Wan Ho, and earlier this year competed against more than 40 males in a street skateboarding contest.
An only child, her family and friends think she’s crazy. Fearless and ambitious seem more apt.
“Feel this finger,” she says, stretching out her hand. “It’s bent – I broke it skateboarding.”
A scar on her forehead is another reminder that the sport’s not for the fragile.
And she’s not in it just for fun. She wants to compete at the highest level so it’s a good thing that skateboarding was this year added as an official sport at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.
“If I make the team for Tokyo in 2020 I’ll let you know,” she says.
Skateboarding’s inclusion at the Olympics is long overdue: the sport’s roots date back to the 1940s when surfers took it up to satisfy their need for speed when waves were flat.
The 1980s saw its fan base grow, spurred on by cult film classics Thrashin’ and, more recently, Lords of Dogtown.
Market research firm American Sports Data says the number of skateboarders worldwide increased by more than 60 per cent between 1999 and 2002 – from 7.8 million to 12.5 million. In Hong Kong, there are about 3,000 skaters. A tiny number at first glance, but impressive considering the city’s relatively small population and lack of space and sporting culture.
And it’s big business. The global market for skateboarding equipment market is expected to exceed US$5 billion by 2020 according to a study by Technavio.
Lui picks up her skateboard and looks around. “You can’t skate here,” she says, pointing at the park’s entrance. “See those grates? They’re to stop skaters.”
Rules and regulations are a thorn in the side for the city’s skaters.
Later, at skateboarding store 8five2 in Causeway Bay, Warren Stuart, vice-president of Hong Kong Federation of Extreme Sports and a skater for more than three decades, reminisces about the “good ol’ days” of skateboarding with Brian Siswojo, 8five2’s owner.
Both men are in their 40s, but their love of the sport remains strong. Siswojo says skateboarding gave him the confidence he was looking for when he arrived in Hong Kong from Indonesia in 1985 as an 11-year-old. Siswojo also owns an indoor skatepark in Kwun Tong.
Stuart says the scene in Hong Kong is far different from the 1990s – “it was smaller then, but bureaucracy plays a bigger role now”.
“We have these great parks but for many skateboarders, we can’t use them. I’ve encountered so many chicken-egg situations: the government is reluctant to support skateboarding unless the standard improves, but how can it improve unless people get to use the skate parks to their full potential? Blocking off part of a park because it’s considered too dangerous is crazy.”
One of the city’s best skaters is 29-year-old Luk Chun-yin, who has been skateboarding for 15 years. He’s just returned from making a skateboarding video in China and says the scene there is less restrictive.
It’s a public holiday and the Hong Kong Velodrome Park in Tseung Kwan O is buzzing. Couples are picnicking under trees while others seek shelter from the sun under the many colourful tents pitched on a large field, the grassy expanse a rare site in Hong Kong.
In one corner girls are choreographing a dance routine while kids give their remote-controlled cars a spin. There are bicycles everywhere.
But it’s a different vibe at the skateboarding park. Opened in 2014, the 2,600 square metre venue has half-pipes (U-shaped ramps) and a bowl designed by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department.
Today, only a handful of skaters are using it and most of the action is taking place outside the padlocked fence enclosure.
Johnnie Tang – known to friends as Johnnie Banana – walks up and casually jumps the fence. If skateboarders are known for their rebellious image then Tang might just be Hong Kong’s poster boy for non-conformity.
“I know the security guards are just doing their job but there are too many rules,” says the 31-year-old, also one of the city’s best skateboarders (Tang won a gold and bronze at the 2014 Asian Beach Games in Phuket).
A section of the park cordoned off with orange cones, a dip deemed too dangerous by government officials, further highlights Tang’s frustrations. The idea is comical considering the subculture of skateboarding is rooted around a rebellious lifestyle and all things edgy.
“The skateboard subculture is more diluted in Hong Kong,” says another skater Jacky Yuen, adjusting a wrist bandage from a recent fall. “I was talking to a skateboarder from Paris and he thought it was tame in the city, but he also thought it was great that it was not caught up in the drug side of the scene, that dealers were not loitering outside parks like in some cities, so that’s a good thing.”
Access isn’t an issue at Siswojo’s indoor skatepark. Entry is free, and at 9pm on a Tuesday there are eight skaters zipping around the impressive 900 square metre venue in an old factory. Pumping punk beats add to the mix and, after a couple of hours of rising and falling over slick wooden ramps and rails, so are blood and sweat.
This is the city’s skateboarding scene at its energetic best.
Hong Kong’s best skateparks and skateboard supplies
Tseung Kwan O Skatepark
The city’s ultimate skate venue was established in 2014 and has been the place of choice for the city’s skaters. Be warned: you need a helmet to get past the tight security and some of the space has been cordoned off, deemed unsafe by the powers that be.
105-107 Po Hong Road, Tseung Kwan O
Mei Foo Skatepark
Some say Hong Kong’s first true skate park is overdue for an upgrade. Easily accessed by the MTR, the area – also called Lai Chi Kok Park – has two half pipes and several quarter pipes, single rails and fun boxes. Most ramps are higher than 1.8 metres. Has been used by professional skateboarders Chris Haslam, Terrell Robinson and Mike Peterson. Local indie band My Little Airport wrote a song about it. Lei Wan Road, Lai Chi Kok
Vans Sk85ive2 Indoor Skatepark
This uber-cool venue designed by California Ramp Works provides a safe, authentic, dry and air-conditioned skateboarding experience for all ages. On the seventh floor of an industrial building in Kwun Tong, it also has a pretty good skate shop.
Units D&E, 7/F Hang Seng Fty Bldg,185-187 Wai Yip Street, Kwun Tong
Costing HK$51 million and built by the same company that built TKO, PKV and Tung Chung Skateparks, Fanling has the best surface of all of the bowled parks.
39 On Lok Mun St, Fanling
Tung Chung Skatepark
Great for beginners, this is a fun concrete bowl with a street section with flat banks, ledges and rails.
Hong Kong’s first bowl park opened in 2010 – it has a good size bowl area and some fun boxes.
29 Man Tung Rd, Tung Chung
Tsing Yi Northeast Park
This street plaza skatepark is in a green location, the sparseness of skaters making ideal for some quiet rides.
10 Tam Kon Shan Rd, Tsing Yi
Best places to buy skateboarding gear
1/F, 522 Jaffe Road, Causeway Bay
2/F, 10 Pak Sha Rd, East Point, Causeway Bay
9/F Capital Commercial Bldg, 26 Leighton Road, Causeway Bay
Skate City Hong Kong
2/F 55 & 61 Granville Road, TST, Kowloon