Today, hipsters love skater wear and skateboarders are seen as athletes. But for a long time, skaters were regarded as rebellious loiterers, kids who were probably up to no good. They were the ones Hong Kong parents told their children to stay away from.
‘Back in the day there were no skate parks, so we had to skate in public places, and the police would come out every night to check our IDs,’ says Wandy Chan, who has been skating since secondary school and started the Girls Can Skate Facebook group to bring together female skaters. ‘It’s a very misunderstood sport.’
But skateboarding has gone mainstream, even becoming an Olympic event. Luk Chun-yin recently represented Hong Kong at the Asian Games and now aims to qualify for the 2020 Olympics. He recalls a more raucous culture among skaters. ‘When I first started skating, I was surprised by how lively the scene was,’ he says. ‘At times, there would be more than 200 people skating in the same area. It felt like a party. And landing a trick was a thrilling accomplishment, with everyone around you cheering. Now the main venues are skate parks, and the difference is they’re out of the way and spread out. It’s mainly people who are really good who go there.’
Chris Bradley got serious about skating after moving to Hong Kong from the US when he was 15. ‘In the US, skater culture has deep roots, and parents aren’t as negative about it,’ he says. ‘The truth is skating is about hard work and determination. It empowers us with a feeling of freedom, and knowing that all your skills are the result of training – this is the message I hope to spread.’
It used to be natural for Hong Kong’s skaters to stick to their own neighbourhoods, rarely venturing outside their own circles; but the internet has changed how they meet. ‘I thought I was the only female skater until I started the Girls Can Skate group,’ says Chan. ‘Now we are actively promoting the sport through various activities and classes. In contrast to the resistance we once met, parents now approach us to teach their kids to skate. It’s a big turnaround.’