Home>News Center>Life

Going to extremes on skateboards
Updated: 2004-11-16 08:50

They're a new breed of athlete -- the risk-taking world of X-gamers -- and they would appreciate a more appropriate arena in which to practice than a square on Nanjing Road, Shanghai, writes Zhou Zuyi.

A young man practices his skateboard skills. [sohu]
The sight of the youngsters in saggy-baggy trousers performing acrobatic stunts in the air above the May 30 Square on an otherwise pedestrian weekend afternoon is a good reason for the passing crowd -- most of whom are out on shopping sprees on Nanjing Road -- to stop and enjoy the impromptu street show put on by a small bunch of skaters and bikers.

The square centers on an imposing monument to commemorate a massacre 79 years ago when the then colonial authorities opened fire on thousands of protesting workers on Nanjing Road and sparked a nationwide revolt.

Today, the square is the scene of another sort of action -- the hot-blooded sport of free-wheeling X-Gamers.

"We're not rebelling against anybody or anything," says one inline skater on the square who gave his name as Leo. "But maybe you're right in saying that self-expression in the core of extreme sport itself -- to go against some elements in the mainstream of the cultural context here. Anyway, there's no right or wrong on this. We just go along with our instincts."

Leo and his friends are not the easy-going and garrulous personalities we're used to in highly professional sports. If you don't join them in the "flips" and "flies," they'll view you as an outsider.

They don't want to know you and they don't want to speak to or about anybody who is outside their circle. But Jiang Xiaobin feels he has to speak.

At 29, he's a veteran skateboarder but he has moved on from the pure pleasure of being part of the extreme sport action scene to its business side by joining Quicksilver, a well-known global skate-wear maker, as a marketing executive.

"Well, people who do tricks on skateboards and BMX bikes like to challenge themselves," Jiang says. "It's quite natural that they don't care too much about other people. Maybe that explains why so many skaters I know are job-hoppers -- they find it too hard to tolerate their bosses for too long."

So many? Maybe that's a bit of an over-statement, Jiang admits. He took up skateboarding in his late teens inspired by a TV program on extreme sports. Today his target customers in a city with a population of more than 16 million number only in the hundreds.

"I expect there are no more than 200 out there who regularly play the sport although the number of potential customers who may buy a skateboard for occasional leisure use are in the hundreds of thousands," says Jiang.

"Most of the regulars here go into either skates or skateboards because they're a lot cheaper. You need a bit of luck to see BMX bikers or mountain bikers."

Extreme sports encompasses skateboarding, inline skating, BMX biking, mountain biking, surfing and snowboarding -- the last two certainly out of the question in Shanghai.

But even the small group of local aficionados is plagued by a lack of proper space in which to perform. "The May 30 Square is a nice place with open space and stairways, on which we can try lots of tricks," says Leo. "But you can't be a real X-Gamer if you don't pull some tricks with the 'vert,' the hand-rails and the ramps."

And Jiang's working to address his fellow X-Gamers' headaches about adequate venues. Quicksilver is now talking with Tongji University to take over an on-campus skate park, renovate it and build it into both a gathering place for extreme sports junkies and a platform to pitch its products.

And elsewhere in the city, somebody is planning something even bigger. Shanghai Chengtou Corp, a government-backed urban construction investment company, will pump about 60 million yuan (US$7.2 million) into setting up a theme park in the planned New Jiangwan Township, in the city's northeast Yangpu District, featuring various extreme sports facilities, including a 12,000 square-meter skateboard plaza.

The mega-playground will be ready in a year's time and aims to be the site of a future venue for local and international extreme sports championships. Overseas interest is already awakened and a start has been made on a campaign to groom an X-Game culture in the world's most populous country.

A group of the world's top-notch extreme sports exponents descended upon Shanghai late last month to compete for the title on the Shanghai leg of LG Action Sports World Championships at Changing Stadium.

Some of the names on list would send the shivers up the spine of any fan: America's king of BMX John Parker, Brazilian Sandra Dais who currently rules the world of skateboard and Japan's Yasutoko brothers who haven't lost at an inline skate competition since 2002.

"It used to be a North American sport but now it is growing globally at incredible speed," says Rick Bratman, president of Action Sports Events, the organizer of the world championships. Among a diversity of recognized global events of its kind, the Action Sports World Championship stands out as the first to make inroads into China.

Some US$1.25-million has been spent on setting up two competitions in Shanghai and Beijing this season as well as two exhibition events in Chengdu, Sichuan Province and Guangzhou.

"We're very optimistic about seeing the investment pay off in the near future," says Bratman. "We'll travel back to this part of the world same time next year, for sure."

One thing that boosts Bratman's confidence is the International Olympic Committee's latest decision to add extreme sports to the 2008 Olympiad.

Men's and a women's BMX racing events will be on the games' calendar in Beijing. "We'll inspire and hopefully engage in the process of grooming local talent," says Bratman.

"If we find one or two that could be competitive in the Olympics, that'll for sure bring huge fortunes." But leaving the money talk aside, if you ask Jiang -- whose company sponsored the events in China -- you'll find the otherwise sharp-minded marketing professional has lost his business acumen.

"I sort of hate my job at the tournament," complains Jiang who had to take care of Quicksilver's hospitality booths just outside the stadium.

"The thunderous cheers for Yasutoko brothers and John Parker filled my ears. But I even didn't manage to take a single peek. I promised myself that I won't let it happen again next year."

Nicole Kidman to be be Citizen of the World
New 'Canto-pop kings' list
Zhao Wei releases new music album
  Today's Top News     Top Life News

Powell quits, Rice to be new US Secretary of State



Foreign investment soars in 10 months



Beijing sounds alarm on Taipei intentions



Survey finds 20,000 more HIV carriers



Nation's retail sales realize mild growth



Report: US marine kills wounded Iraqi


  Nicole Kidman to be be Citizen of the World
  Why isn't Maggie Cheung a Hollywood star?
  Leonid meteor shower expected this week
  New 'Canto-pop kings' list
  Survey: Shanghai men make lousy workers
  The tale of the mouse that soared
  Go to Another Section  
  Story Tools  
  Xu Wei: Every minute is fresh