Inside Shanghai’s tight-knit skate scene
Four riders on how their busy city became China’s skateboarding mecca.
It may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Shanghai but amongst its futuristic architecture and mazes of old lanes, China’s largest city has long been a bonafide skating hotspot. Attracting many of the region’s best skaters as early as the 80s, the skate community that emerged there has continued to evolve and support new talent ever since. Here we speak to some of the people at the centre of Shanghai’s skate scene about their experience, how things have changed for them and their friends over the years and why they love what they do.
Jeremy Hu When did you start skating?
I started skateboarding 20 years ago. I grew up in Shanghai and would see the older kids skating and thought it was so cool. We got to know them when we were pretty young so it really helped form my values in life. I learnt and saw things that are not taught in schools. Ever since then, skateboarding has been my life and my work. It’s given me everything I have. In 2014 I launched a brand call AVENUE&SON with some friends. The goal is to voice our understanding of street culture, to help young skaters, and to create a bigger platform for our community.
How would you describe the skateboarding scene in Shanghai over the years?
We used to love skating at the Shanghai Concert Hall. We called it the Love Park because it was very similar to the Love Park in Philadelphia, where many of the world's best skaters gather. It was the iconic skateboarding landmark of Shanghai but we’re not allowed to skate there anymore. The security guards throw us out. There are more and more indoor skateparks in Shanghai now, so kids these days aren’t skating on the streets as much.
Stephen Khou How has skating changed your life? I remember the first time I saw someone skating. I was walking in the street and I saw them do a shove-it and a kickflip, and I was like WTF? It blew my mind and I started skating right away. Skateboarding has brought me a lot of friends, travel and also an education. It influenced my taste in music and fashion and my way of thinking generally. I put all that into my own brand Helas.
Why is Shanghai a good place to skate?
Because there’s marble everywhere, not much security and generally people are pretty cool about skateboarding here. There are so many different areas and different vibes during the day and night, so there is a lot to explore. Also as more people are skating, there are more skateparks being made, more skate shops opening and more support generally. To tell the truth, I also think the skaters are coming for our Shanghai nightlife.
Kyle Ke What has skateboarding brought to your life?
I started when I was eight. Skateboarding is not easy. I practised my ollie for half a year before I could do it perfectly. After learning the basic moves, you can start to play with this piece of wood with all of your creativity. People ask why skaters are so stubborn, or obsessed; it’s because we want to complete a move. And as we get into this habit, it gradually affects our personalities. I’ve had a great life thanks to skating. In 2004 I already knew some of the first generation Chinese professional skaters, like Johnny Tang and Che Lin, after we met at a competition in Hong Kong. I also remember shooting for the first skateboarding magazine in China called WHATSUP. Ten years later and I was in a team with almost all of China’s first generation professional skaters.
Tell us about how you ended up in Shanghai? When my friends founded AVENUE&SON, they asked me if I wanted to skate for the label. In 2016 I was supposed to come to Shanghai and stay for a week, but I ended up changing my return flight again and again, gradually becoming a fixture of the Shanghai skateboarding community.
**What separates Shanghai from other cities in terms of skating?
**It’s the level of skating I see all the time. Other than Japan, Shanghai is probably the city where people skate at the highest level. It’s like if you want to be an actor, you go to Hollywood. Shanghai is a place like that for the skateboarding community because you go out and film with a lot of great skaters and photographers here. This is also what drew me to Shanghai in the first place.
What drew you to skateboarding originally?
I met a guy called Nanmin, who was the first person to open a skateboard shop locally. Thanks to him I became interested and have been skateboarding ever since. Before I started skating, my life was just going to school, playing football and chilling at internet cafes. When I started, that’s the only thing I wanted to do every day. I met all of my friends through skateboarding.
**Why do you love skating in Shanghai in particular?
**I haven't been to many places, but I did live in Beijing for four years before moving to Shanghai. My experience is that there are more opportunities for career development in Shanghai, since all the media and major companies are based here. There are also more skateboarding events, exhibitions and competitions here than anywhere else. There are many new skateparks in Shanghai now and while some are inevitably, gradually disappearing, being demolished or fenced up, there are others that take their place. Shanghai is developing very quickly, always changing.
Test Didi Hu
Translation Em Guo
Photography Bilal Ali