Note: the author was flown to China by Crownboard for this story.
I’m trying not to take on too many freelance writing jobs at the moment; it’s just too much hassle and the money is ridiculously bad. But one day an email popped up with the subject line “Wanna go skating in China?” and I got that feeling. That freelance feeling. “Hi Ingrid,” I typed in reply, “I’d love to go skating in China!” And a couple of months and about 50 emails later...
Bang! I was in China—Nanjing, to be exact. And no, that’s not me on the scooter; it’s just some cool Chinese guy.
Everyone rides bikes and scooters in Nanjing. This fellow got me to sit on his bike so it wouldn’t tip up while he loaded what seemed to be half a house on the back of it. At least that’s what I think was going on; I didn’t understand a word he was saying!
That's me in the middle. And the reason I was over there was to check out this crazy new skatepark that was built on the fourth floor of an office building by a company named Crownboard (with support from the China Roller Skating Association and Nanjing Sports bureau). Apparently it’s the biggest indoor concrete skatepark in the world! The main reason they built the place is to train these guys: the Crownboard national skate team, with the hope that they represent China in the 2020 Olympics. Most of them have been skating for less than a year and they can already slide down handrails and stuff! Meanwhile, yours truly stepped in to show them a thing or two about style.
Turns out they didn’t really need my style pointers. This guy Lee (I think? Everyone has Chinese and English names) already spins a mean tre flip.
This guy knew what he was doing, too. They all did, actually.
Then their coaches rocked up and it was time for me to skedaddle. The park is huge and immaculate. It’s located on what used to be an indoor tennis court. There’s a street league-style obstacle course with all the requisite stairs, rails, banks, and kickers; and upstairs from that is a massive bowl area, ranging from around head height to terrifyingly huge. Did I mention it’s all made from concrete? When I met Danny Zhang, who supervised the whole project, he explained that the park was all laid by hand during the course of five and a half months, and that all the concrete had been transported up in the elevator.
“What?” I said.
“Yeah,” replied Danny. “It’s unbelievable.”
I asked him how many bags of concrete it took altogether, and he told me he didn’t know. Then I said something like, “But that’s insane!” and Danny agreed.
“And how long did it take again?” I said.
“Five and a half months,” said Danny.
“Wow,” I said.
We continued in this fashion for a while. Danny, who grew up in California, is an ex-sponsored skater and has worked in the skate industry in varying capacities over the years, told me how amazing it was to work with people who get stuff like this done.
“I was used to talking about stuff like building a skatepark, but it never actually happening,” he said. “But once these guys decide to do something, it’s on.”
I went for another walk and looked at people riding their bikes around. Lots of them have a jacket rigged up over the handlebars, to keep the wind and rain off I suppose. Looks cool, too.
I went to check out the Stone City, which is a section of the city wall that dates back to about 252 BC, long before even I started skateboarding.
This is Allen from VICE New Zealand, on the roof. Allen came along to translate for me, which was very helpful. Along with the kindly Crownboard folk (namely Danny, Nina, and Frank), he also introduced me to plenty of Nanjing delicacies including bullfrog, duck blood, and stinky tofu. Thanks, Allen.
This is one of the more “challenging” visuals I encountered while wandering around, but it’s really more honest than how we deal with meat in the west.
Back at the skatepark, things were heating up. The whole competition was broadcast live on national television, which meant there were cameras on cranes everywhere.
The China Skateboarding League finals were held over the first two days, in which skaters from all over China battled it out on the street course and in the bowl for ultimate supremacy. Well, it wasn’t that full on; but the top three of every division got to compete in the International Skateboarding Open.
Here we are at the judging table. The MC for the comp was none other than Tim O’Connor, who happens to be one of my favourite skaters of all time and also extremely funny and nice—I love him. He was accompanied on the mic by Danny Zhang, who I mentioned earlier and is also perhaps the coolest guy in China.
People kept hurting themselves and getting taken out on stretchers to the treatment room. It was brutal.
Here’s Little Watermelon (I swear that’s what she said her name was) double kickflipping her way to the top three.
My mate Zoe from the national team is 14 and has only been skating for five months, but still managed to boardslide this rail and do a switch kickflip in her run, taking home first place.
Number one! Look out for Zoe in the Olympics.
Over in the bowl, this guy was lipsliding around the place. Good on him.
Later on that night they had a presentation thing for the national titles. A bunch of dignitaries turned up and it was all quite surreal.
The next day, loads of top-shelf skaters from 24 countries rolled in and started buzzing around the course. Here’s Leticia Bufoni from Brazil and Vanessa Torres from America.
Leticia, frontside ollie.
These Japanese kids blew everyone’s minds.
This is out the front of the place. The only way up to the skatepark is via a lift, which is also the way they got all the concrete they used to build the park up there on the fourth floor. Nuts!
Tim and Danny again. I love these guys!
I took a photo before this and all these pro skaters just smiled at the camera, then I said, ‘hey, look excited!’ and they did this. Consummate professionals.
This guy was having a good time, and no mistake.
The comp was nuts. I don’t really know what to say. It seems everyone can skate everything now, and land all their mind-bogglingly difficult tricks first try. I actually thought Tommy Fynn (pictured, backside flipping) was going to win, but colour me wrong.
The bowl comp was equally heated. I haven’t seen a skate competition as good as this in years; it seemed like everyone was trying really hard to win, but the vibe was still fun. Maybe it’s the Olympics getting people excited? Maybe it was the park? Maybe it’s just that skaters like Jaime Mateu are just really good?
After the comp, we all gathered on the course for the presentation of the oversized cheques. Here’s Danny, Dave Bachinsky (wearing his signature cap) and Micky Papa.
The winners! Of the men’s street, that is. Kelvin Hoefler, Ivan Monteiro, and Jake Ilardi. Jake’s run included a varial flip indy grab, a 540, a backside 180 fakie 5-0 and a bigspin flip frontside boardslide down a handrail.
Well deserved. Bit of a Theon Greyjoy vibe, no?
Female street top three: Leticia Bufoni, Mariah Duran and Julia Brueckler.
Male park top three: Vincent Matheron, Clay Kreiner and the amazingly named Sam Beckett. Sorry I didn’t get more skate photos. You can check Transworld for that.
Then the disco lights came on and it could only mean one thing: afterparty! Tim had just realised he was still announcing even though the comp was over, and the guy to his right is Josh Friedberg, the creator of 411 video magazine!
On the way back to the hotel, I saw this guy with a bike made of balloons. Talk about being blown away. Thanks China!
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