Kick-flipping Thai skateboarders are flipping the bird at authorities, joining pro-democracy rallies in Bangkok to vent their anger over a lack of respect and dedicated public space for extreme sports in the kingdom.
A youth-led democracy movement began in Thailand in July last year, demanding reforms to the monarchy, a rewrite of the military-scripted constitution and the resignation of Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha.
A deadly third COVID-19 wave and the detention of protest leaders sucked much momentum from the movement this year, but there have been near-daily small-scale rallies since June.
The sluggish rollout of Thailand’s vaccination program, and the financial pain from restrictions has heaped political pressure on Prayut’s government.
During a recent demonstration at the Democracy Monument — a major intersection in Bangkok — groups of skaters slid over metal bars and benches, while others scaled the central part of the monument to drape a giant cloth banner with anti-government messages.
Nattakarn Tewarit, 17, said that he and other skaters are unfairly maligned as troublemakers and deserve greater respect after the sport was included in the Olympic Games for the first time in Tokyo.
“We see skateboarders being shooed away by police and security guards,” he said, adding that building new skate parks would mean fewer collisions with pedestrians in public spaces.
“Normal protesters use their voices as a tool against the government, but we use skateboards — they are our weapon,” he added.
Skater Thana, 19, is upset about the government’s handling of the COVID-19 outbreak and said that most skateboarders are working-class young people whose families have been hit hardest by the pandemic restrictions.
The closure of Bangkok’s few dedicated skate parks, as part of restrictions, has had an effect on the community.
“It’s where lost souls come together,” Thana said, adding that the hobby has helped many of his friends cope with depression.
“It’s more than just a sport,” he said.
Ice, 18, said that the protest allows her friends to express their creativity.
“When we skate across the mock-up dead bodies with the face of General Prayuth ... we want to express our anger and disapproval against the government,” she said.
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