Yesterday Warren Stuart and I were on RTHK Radio 3 discussing Skateboard Culture in Hong Kong and the new rules at 4 public skateparks in the territory that make wearing helmets mandatory. You can listen to the interview here.
There has been a number of issues with these rules. In many cases they have been ignored or rejected by users who are circumventing the new policy in a variety of ways. There has also been a noted decline in the number of users in some skateparks in the territory. In one case the Lai Chi Kok skatepark that has been open for 13 years without the enforcement of any helmet rule has basically become empty.
The introduction of the rule raises a considerable number of issues.
A large amount of public money has been spent on construction of these skateparks. They have been built for the community and are free to use. At the same time they provide an alternative to the street which can be a dangerous and problematic place for skateboarders to use. The street is also an uncontrolled environment for younger teenagers. With the introduction of unpopular rules skateboarders are eschewing the skateparks for the streets
Safety issues. In many ways helmets are regarded as a much safer option for skateboarders, BMX, and rollerbladers. However, part of skateboard culture rejects rules such as these. Skateboarders for example may not wear a helmet when they are skating ledges and small transitions but will choose to wear a helmet when skate larger vert obstacles. The imposition of rules my non-skaters has always been met with suspicion by skateboarders. A key part of skate culture is that skateboarders try and manage and control it.
Park usage. There are 2 new skateparks that have big bowls that take up roughly a quarter of the total park size. However these have never been open to the public. Even with the introduction of the new helmet rule the large bowls remain closed unless an organisation books them for an event. Then only members of that organisation can officially use the booked bowl. One has to question how skateboarders in Hong Kong can ever acquire the skills to ride these bowls in such situations.
The previous policy of the parks that required users to sign in and provide a waver had no issues. This method also provided the LCSD with data on how many users accessed the park, their ages, and genders. In sum an excellent tool to see who the parks are servicing. Since the introduction of the helmet rule no further data on numbers of users is being collected and they therefore have no firm numbers about the effect of the new policy.
Many are in favour of a reversion to the previous arrangement. In this way helmet use was optional, but recommended and users could sign themselves in. It remains to be seen how things will develop from this point on.
A look at skateboarding in Hong Kong courtesy of Hoyeung Lam and the filming of Alex Rodriguez. This evocative video provides a glimpse of skate culture in Hong Kong and the thoughts and passions of a skateboarder and their environment.
As a skateboarder and an academic working on skateboard ethnography, this old excerpt from Powell Peralta’s Public Domain (1988) is poignant. I remember watching this as a teenager with friends and being amused at the attempt to try and intellectualise skateboarding. The piece is intentionally done in jest, and is typical of Peralta’s flamboyant videos of the time.
I read this parody as a preterition, highlighting something by omitting it. It both introduces an academic interest in skateboarding, but by turning it into a joke it rejects its. It makes fun of the suggestion that skateboarding has mores and social structure, a relationship with the city, but at the same time it celebrates such ideas.
Currently I am placing skate culture in a reading of social theory that touches on Bourdieu, de Certeau, and Lefebvre. What seems absurd in doing so is the disconnection between the playful, almost pointless pursuit of skateboarding, and the recognition that it has a much more intense meaning. Skate culture and its guarded authenticity is a subject most worthy of this sort of academic scrutiny, not least because it has sophisticated methods for self-refelction and adaptation whilst remaining void of a rulebook and a dominant controlling institution.
One of the really eye catching projects of skateboard philanthropy in recent years, is that of Skateistan. This remarkable NGO is an amazing vehicle for the promotion of skateboarding in Afghanistan, but it is also one of the most profoundly successful NGOs in Afghanistan. It has had huge success.
There is plenty of information about on the project and I have posted on it twice before. However, today I am posting about the amazing book that the project has published. It is full of excellent photographs, and inspiring text. We get to hear the stories of the skaters, the volunteers, and insights into everyday life in Afghanistan.
More skateboard philanthropy. Hong Kong Board Rescue is asking people to donate old boards, wheels, and even bolts to help kids who can’t afford or get access to a board the chance to get skateboarding.
This Saturday at Tseung Kwan O skatepark it will be Hong Kong’s ‘Go Skateboarding Day’ celebration. There people can also donate their old hardware.
Is skateboarding really as homophobic as people think it is?
Skateboarding has traditionally been close minded in regards to sexual orientation. We still don’t even have an openly gay professional skateboarder. Because of this atmosphere, Sam wanted out. His plan was to leave skateboarding at age thirty, come out on Facebook and live judgment free in Iceland.
Sam turned thirty last week, and we are happy to report that he never went through with his plan. Instead, he decided to come out and to share his struggle with the world. This is Sam’s story.