Why Shanghai skateboarders choose to fall in Love

Shanghai’s skateboarders, local and immigrant, are slowly building a community from a patch of concrete and marble called Love Park

By Hunter Braithwaite 24 August, 2010

“It’s A Wrap,” the first skate video from China. Put on by Fly Skateshop and Gift Skateboards. Youku.com video.

On the waxed marble ledges on the corner of Jinling Dong Lu and Xizang Nan Lu, the core members of Shanghai’s small but dynamic skateboarding scene talk about last night’s party while practicing their hardflips. This is the unoffically named Love Park in the middle of Shangahi, the quietly beating heart of skating in the city. Nearby, the Dashijie metro station spews a constant tide of commuters, oblivious to the scene developing around them.

All for the ‘love’

Love park is named after a famous skate spot in Philadelphia. Officially named John F. Kennedy Plaza, it was rechristened Love after the iconic Robert Indiana sculpture on display. Although featured in almost every skate video for a decade, a skateboarding ban was strictly enforced there in 2002, sending boarders scattering for a new place to practice. Thankfully, although not surprisingly, things are a little more relaxed here in Shanghai.

“We’re not allowed to skate the concert hall’s stairs until a little later after the crowds have left,” says Danny Zhang, who manages a local bar, Windows Too. “Right now we’re technically on public property, so security doesn’t bother us.” He points to a seemingly arbitrary line in the sidewalk that divides public and private property then up to the security guards who, though curious, keep their distance from the Shanghai skateboarders.

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Shanghai skateboarder: Johnny Tang

Chinese skater Johnny Tang dominates other local talent at Love Park and is one of the few local faces that frequent the Asia X Games.

There are other spots for the local skateboarding community, including the fountain above the Science and Technology metro stop and the 13,700 square meter SMP Skatepark (the world’s largest extreme sport skate park which regularly hosts the Asia X Games) by Jiangwan Stadium. There are also countless marble ledges and miles of fresh asphalt around the city. But this square of granite and marble at Love Park is more than a place for Shanghai skateboarder to practice  — here they also are building their community.

“The scene is small enough that it’s really personal, almost everyone is a familiar face,” says Zhang. “If there’s somebody new, it’s like, ‘what’s your name? Ah dude, you skate? Great.’ You end up skating and partying all night together.”

International influence

As we sit and chat about the local scene, some of the local pros roll up. Johnny Tang was the best skater in Hong Kong before he grew tired of the scene and moved to Shanghai. Boss and Jeremy, both professionals sponsored by Nike who only go by one name, also arrive and start skating the stairs nearby.

The small crowd forming at Love Park is a mess of cultural signifiers. Chinese skaters, in skinny jeans and Vans, are indistinguishable from their American counterparts who have made the Shanghai skateboarding scene their home. Such is the bizarre power of skateboarding; something prefaced on fierce individuality in its supporters is also one of the most successful examples of cultural exchange.

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Shanghai skateboarder: Zach and Danny

Zach Davidson (left) and Danny Zhang (second from the left) sit with other boarders checking out the scene at Love Park.

It’s difficult to tell the locals from expats like Zach Davidson. The Oklahoma native teaches art at a school in Pudong. “I use my board a lot for transportation, but it’s also stress relieving. Popping over something or going down some stairs feels good. Here you can go out, you see the city changing and you meet so many new people.”

Skateboarding on the Shanghai streets

Love Park is where skaters come together to warm up, but they quickly push off on their own to find their own bits of concrete.

“It’s so much fun to bomb through buses, holding on to the back of taxis,” says Zhang. Suicidal though it might be, “skateboarding through Shanghai’s streets offers a completely new experience. It seems the city was made for this.”

“Shanghai has become so developed,” Davidson says as he catches his breath after a trick. “It’s basically a playground for architects and urban planners. And when that happens, it becomes a playground for skateboarders as well.”

getting there

SMP Skatepark
2100 Songhu Lu, near Guohao Lu
淞沪路2100号, 近国浩路
tel +86 21 5525 0901

704 Changle Lu, near Fumin Lu
长乐路704号, 近富民路
tel +86 21 5467 0061

Struggle Skate Shop
Shop A3-07, New Xiangyang Market, 2000 Century Avenue, near Jinxiu Lu
世纪大道2000号B1楼A3-07室, 近锦绣路

Hunter Braithwaite is Shanghai-based writer. He has tended bar, worked as a librarian for the blind and written travel books for National Geographic.

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