Sat, Sep 25, 2004 - Page 16 News List

Sk8er boys and girls come out to play

Taipei's concrete jungle and lack of enforced legislation against skateboarding makes the city a skater's paradise

By Diana Freundl  /  STAFF REPORTER

Chen Ji-luan(陳季論), sponsored by Globe, at Taipei 101 park

PHOTO COURTESY OF JIMMY SUN

Punk band Faction's Skate and Destroy was written in the early 1980's in response to the association of skateboarding with vandalism in North America. While much of the action has been pushed off the streets and into skate parks in other countries, Taiwan remains a skater-friendly spot for local and foreign boarders alike. With a large number of concrete parks and courtyards, and no enforced legislation against using them, Taipei city has a number of ideal locations to ride.

"There are places everywhere. Most of the public parks have perfect rails and ledges to grind. You don't need to go to a skate park to skate in Taiwan," said Paul Clenton, who has been riding here for more than seven years.

The major difference for Clenton, who is used to being banned from skating in public areas in the UK, is the lack of hassle from local authorities. Pointing to a sign outside Zhongshan Hall (中山堂) that read, "No skateboarding" in both English and Chinese, Clenton said the only police he encounters are those who come to watch.

Skateboarding originated in the US in the 1950s with the Roller Derby, a wooden board with clay wheels. It was another 20 years before skating gained marginal popularity, mostly among surfers who would take to the streets and empty pools when the waves were low. Skateboarding, like surfing, was a lifestyle rather than a sport. As time passed it claimed its own niche, separate from surfing, and rare was the day that a skater would be caught with out his or her deck.

A few American films formed initial interest in Taiwan during the mid-1980s and, much like the US, the majority of those who took up the sport were surfers, said Jimmy Sun (孫益民), one the island's original skaters and first equipment distributor.

What started as a small shop to provide him and his cronies with quality gear has grown into three stores and the largest distribution of decks in Taiwan. Now with a Mandarin Web site and magazine, Sun is more interested in establishing a skater culture.

Contrary to the number of people donning skate rags, he said the actual percentage of boarders is dropping. His three stores combined sell an average of 30 boards to beginners a month, but he estimates less than three will keep with it. Trying to increase the interest among Taipei's youth, Sun's employees are now offering lessons to beginners.

Clenton said two years ago 50 or more skaters would be at Zhongshan Hall on a Saturday. Last weekend, on a warm, clear afternoon, there were less than 10. The peaks and valleys in skateboarding's popularity exist everywhere, but additional obstacles like high school examinations and mandatory military service account for some of the consistently low number of riders in Taiwan.

Seen as being more of a sport than a lifestyle, skateboarding has never been viewed as a viable means of transportation in Taiwan, for reasons ranging from unruly traffic to laziness.

In the mid-1990s, when extreme sports were popularized with the help of the Asian X-games, skateboarding became a quick fix for teenagers looking for some excitement. With visions of cash and prizes grinding in their heads, many saw skateboarding as a get-cool-quick scheme, but it didn't always pan out.

"A lot of young kids start because they want to compete. They're only interested in learning tricks. If they don't win they lose interest. What they don't understand is that some of the best skaters in the world have never been to a competition," Sun said.

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