Travel: Skateboarding in Beijing 

Another kind of openness in the Middle Kingdom

click to enlarge Great Wall Pumps
  • Great Wall Pumps

Skaters, eh? Such a showboating bunch. But showmanship is just incidental presentation when you’re a superhero, and skaters, except for those who push mongo, are nothing less than the most super of urban heroes. A creative set, we take the drab and make it rad, gifting value to stair sets, ledges, curbs, handrails, and whatever else we find in the urban landscape.

That’s right, sucka. We’re awesome.

But not everyone thinks so. Some people are so jealous of our super prowess, they’ve begun installing blockers on our favourite urban features. (We don’t like you people, and we know how to use a claw hammer. Remember that.) Other people find it necessary to yell and scream at us, to accost us in total ignorance of our superdome. One day, sirs and madams, we will hit you back. Still others assume we’re all drug dealers, that we come to turn their kids into twitching crack fiends. Know you, dire accusers, that we haven’t the time or care to pump dope into your kids. And we’re too sweaty to handle paper money.

A good thing about China? Those attitudes don’t exist there. The Chinese are in awe of our glorious powers, and, whether elderly citizen, cute and loud girl or grinning security guard, they proffer naught but respect for skateboarders, submitting their architecture as if a sacrifice to strange, wood-riding gods. Which we are.

Hard to say how long that’ll last for, though. Skateboarding, as Whistler’s Paul Morgan will tell you, is anarchic by nature. The scene in Beijing is tiny, almost non-existent, and so the novelty of it still promises a vicarious thrill to the city’s vast audience. But, as with anything anarchic, if it gets too big, someone will want to control it. And, sadly, the few skaters you can find in Beijing face a slightly more authoritarian treatment than white foreigners — although security and animosity still seemed much less an issue than in North America.

Along with trickstick veteran Jim Barnum, Morgan and I explored new Beijing, with its splendorous, often ridiculous, architecture and huge bike lanes, which are ideal veins when it comes to pumping from spot to spot. Except for often-sticky ledges, we found endless gaps, manual pads, stair sets, drops, curbs and banks, with spots seldom more than 10 minutes apart. Along the way, we drew crowds, met locals and avoided serious injury.

Even on the Great Wall, a monumental piece of Chinese heritage, no one stopped us from riding. Try skating the Parliament Buildings and expecting the same treatment. It is to laugh.

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