The Anthropology of a Skatepark
I have previously written about the intimate connection skateboarding has with space. This connection has been excellently explored by Iain Borden in his work Skateboarding, space and the city . He draws upon the work of Henri Lefebvre to explore the ways in which skateboarders accommodate and colonise public space for their own needs and performances. Skateparks provide a new challenge to this analysis, a ready made domain specifically for the use of skateboarding. There have been, over the years, a variety of negative responses to the ascent of the skatepark as the chief space for skateboarders to practice their art. There is certainly a stigma in magazines and videos that rely too heavily of pictures or scenes from skateparks. What in essence this boils down to is a fear that the freedom, creativity and rebellion of skateboarding is becoming watered down and stifled.
So I turn to Hong Kong’s newest and most impressive skatepark in Fanling. The park is simply superb. It is a worthy and timely addition to Hong Kong’s skateboarding facilities. It is also an achievement that the skateboard community, particularly those motivated and involved in LCSD negotiations and supporting Hong Kong Skateboarding, should be rightly proud of.
What I want to address here is the placement, both physical and social, that the park has.
Fanling is a new town in the Northern New Territories that encompasses a number of old villages and market area. A variety of new housing estates have been erected as the population continues to grow. It is just 6km from the Lo Wu border with Shenzhen, a major border crossing with the Mainland.
The skatepark takes a plot of land in an industrial estate. Throughout the day and night large lorries with cranes, diggers, and all sorts of produce bustle for space in the street outside the park and the nearby carpark. Skateboarders are now becoming a familiar sight amongst the many workmen that occupy the streets. To contrast this, the spectrum of skateboarders are diverse, kids being dropped off by their parents, teenagers arriving via bus, taxi, or simply on their boards, and veteran skaters driving themselves to the spot. These many types of people converge on this spot from all areas of the territory.
Visiting the nearby toilets at the entrance to the temporary wholesale market site I found the cleaner enthusiastic about my visit. Spotting my skateboard he asked if I was going to the skatepark. He was clearly pleased about the new park and the eclectic visitors he now encounters.
The staff at the skatepark are also largely jovial and proud of the park. Arrivals and departures are friendly. On one occasion the cleaner approached me after I had been skateboarding for some time and asked if I had eaten. Not just the normal friendly enquiry, but also a concern that I needed a break. The staff are LCSD employees, the type you will often find cleaning playgrounds, looking after sports centres, and swimming pools. They appear to take a lot of pride in the park. After my first visit I was encouraged to come back as regularly as I could.
I also met a Pakistani guy who worked in one of the nearby warehouses. He came to pick up his son who had only just started skateboarding since the park was created. He enjoyed the fact that the park was accessible to his son, and that he could visit easily from his own work.
Today when I visited some LCSD administrators were trying to work out how to stop boards gliding under the railing that divides the park from the spectator and entrance area. The used my board in experimentation and made some temporary obstructions which they guarded with flower pots. The skatepark staff seemed quite unsure about how these flower pots were going to integrate with the skatepark.
Despite the skatepark being a sanctioned ready-made place to skate it remains a somewhat marginal and exotic feature in Fanling. Unlike sports centres that have accessible grand complexes, this park is firmly in an industrial zone. It is off the beaten track.
Yet I have found that the ordinary people that have become exposed to it regard it, and its visitors in a positive and open way. I have always found that skateboarding has been a catalyst in engaging with people I would normally not have the chance to meet. To me this is one of the most positive things about the creativity of skateboarding. What I have found in Fanling is that despite being given an allotted space, skateboarding is still able to thrive. The connections it offers people remain and if anything are strengthened by this act of inclusion.