Skateboarding and Urban Landscapes in Asia: Endless Spots

Christina Kefala

Originating in California, skateboarding has been characterized as an action sport involving riding, complex techniques, and tricks. Big cities – such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, and other places along the coastline of the Pacific Ocean – became the soul of skaters where streets transformed into undulating concrete rides ready for skating. Throughout the years, skateboarding has travelled worldwide. Duncan McDuie-Ra, Professor of Urban Sociology at the University of Newcastle in Australia, though his brilliant and eloquent monograph, opens up a new horizon in the academic literature on urban landscapes and skateboarding, showing alternative urban landscapes and skateboarding spots in Asia.

Throughout the book, the author presents a mosaic of urban landscapes in Asia. Chapter 1 dubs these “shredscapes,” the substitute for landscapes when viewed by skateboarders. Drawing on skate videos as an ethnographic vignette and attempting to assemble his ethnographic data through rolling ethnography, he extensively analyzes how various landscapes in Asia produce, host, or even threaten skateboarding spots. McDuie-Ra makes four inter-linked arguments, which in my opinion highlight the richness of the text and render it of one of the most illuminating and significant studies on urban Asia: (1) “spots produce an alternative cartography of urban Asia;” (p. 32), (2) “the search for new spots is constant;” (p. 35), (3) “the search for spots, their production and their enrolment in regional and global cartographies index urban development;” (p. 36)  and (4) “spots create encounters between skaters and authority, skaters and the public, and skaters with each other” (p. 37). Through five substantive chapters and a conclusion that delineates the book’s main arguments, the author creatively explores and opens up a new horizon for the discourse of urban landscapes and skateboarding culture.

McDuie-Ra begins his book (Chapter 1) by inviting the readers to watch a skate video, to observe the magnificent skate culture, and to see the creative reinterpretation of the urban landscapes through the lenses of skateboarding. He encourages the readers to explore spots in urban Asia "as they are captured and consumed in film/video, image, online and 'on the ground' in Asia" (p. 32). Chapter 2 declares the necessity of rolling ethnography to analyze what makes a spot desirable. Under the “skater gaze” and “below the knees,” urban landscapes and infrastructures produce knowledge for new spots, generating a flow of skateboarders and filmers. In Chapter 3, the author starts to map the main case studies. Starting from China – Asia's concrete dragon, as he calls it – he focuses on the country's constant production of spots. China's rapid infrastructure, urban development and endless landscape make the country a unique place for skaters who desire to consume its spots. Cities like Shanghai, Shenzhen, and Guangzhou became familiar places through skate videos, while China, through his research, emerges as a significant market for skate consumption, including spots and goods.

In contrast with the above chapters, Chapter 4 offers readers a glimpse of Asia's emptiness in hyper-modern landscapes and spectacle cities such as Astana, Baku, and Dubai. Metaphorically, emptiness refers to the accessibility to ride into these cities' spots. Skateboarding is erratic in post-Soviet Asian towns like Astana, Baku, and Ashgabat. Their futuristic architecture and their spectacular urbanization produce, according to the author, "beautiful urban landscapes nestled with potential spots to skate, though they can be very difficult to access" (p.92).  He explains the desire of skaters to search for the city's backstage skate scene away from the authorities. And while Dubai is heavily under surveillance, it challenges the skaters to ride the inaccessible wealth that the city offers, experience the "privileged" access, and consume the narrative of spectacle.

Continuing his research on post-Soviet Asian towns and cities such as Tashkent, Bishkek, and Abkhazia, Chapter 5 analyzes spots where future and past, ideology and memory, clash. Rolling through memoryscapes such as public squares and monuments, skate videos shift their focus from performativity to the location itself, a narrating journey into the recent past. It seems that skate videos analyzed within this chapter capture the voice of these places, while skateboarding questions the limits of the spots. Alternatively, the author in Chapter 6 shows new frontiers in skate videos, analyzing three case studies: Iran, India, and Palestine. These places are lands for discovering new spots. They are challenging for skaters and filmers in search of untouched landscapes. Finally, an important merit of the monograph is how it concludes.The author wonders where the next China is, the next destination for skate cartography. However, it seems that he already knows the answer: in the final chapter, he writes about how Taiwan turned into an aesthetic destination for skate videos, an attractive destination for "virgin spots" (p. 166), and a landscape for skate consumption.     

The book is an excellent resource presenting remarkable research. It offers a deep and interesting understanding of urban spaces. I find the author's methodology and how he builds his main arguments fascinating. It would be interesting if, in the future, the author continues his research and creates new theoretical discussions. Possible topics for analysis could be gender issues among skaters and exploring landscapes where skate culture proliferates, such as South Korea. On the whole, the book Skateboarding and Urban Landscapes in Asia is a precious and much-needed enrichment of international scholarship on urbanization, mobility, Asia, and skateboarding.