Skateboarding, from street culture to Asian and Olympic Games

China formed its first skateboarding national team after a nationwide selection last month in Nanjing. It will represent China in the Asian Games in Jakarta next month.

Skateboarding will appear at the Asian Games for the first time when Indonesia hosts the 18th Games in Jakarta next month.

China formed its first skateboarding national team after a nationwide selection last month in Nanjing, capital of Jiangsu Province.

Shanghai-based Xiang Xiaojun is the youngest of the seven-member team. The 15-year-old will be the only skater to take part in both street and park competitions.

“I don’t actually have a goal. I’ll just do my best and enjoy the competition,” Xiang says when asked about his expectations for the Asian Games.

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Chinese skateboarding national team member Xiang Xiaojun

Xiang says he found skateboarding fun and cool when watching a competition organized in a park near his home about four years ago. He picked up the sport quickly and was soon noticed by talent scouts, who brought him to Shanghai from Sichuan Province for competitions and commercial activities.

Xiang became a member of the Shanghai Roller Skating Association team last year and finished runner-up in men’s street competition at the first leg of 2018 China Skateboarding League in Shanghai last month.

When he’s not training with the association team, Xiang goes back to Sichuan or takes part in competitions and sponsored activities around the country.

“I don’t actually calculate how much I earn a year, but I can make ends meet and sometimes send money to my parents,” says Xiang, whose humble and shy demeanor is different from when he is on a skateboard.

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Xiang Xiaojun (right) enjoys competing and practicing with skaters from around the country.

During the competition in Shanghai, he made use of every interval to practice or try out new moves and lay on the floor and giggled to himself when an attempt failed.

“You just want to skate and have fun when being with other skaters,” says Xiang, who may not have a clear picture of his future yet, but is enjoying the moment.

Xiang’s parents, who are sanitation workers in Sichuan, weren’t happy at first when he decided to give up his studies for skateboarding when he was a third grader.

“But when I started to take part in competitions around the country, they changed attitude, and accepted my choice,” says Xiang.

Skateboarding, along with baseball/softball, surfing, climbing and karate will feature at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. According to the Olympic Council of Asia, the sport’s inclusion into the 2018 Asian Games will serve as a “test and trial” for its Olympics debut two years later.

“Skateboarding has long been a street sport. Its conclusion into the Olympics has won the sport more attention than ever,” says Zeng Bingfeng, skateboarding sport director of the Chinese Roller Skating Association.

Skateboarding has a strong street culture background. Skaters usually learn moves and tricks from videos and then exchange skills with each other. Most skaters are used to it being a leisure activity. As a result, forming a “national system” for the sport is not easy, including the recruiting and selection of athletes.

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Xiang Xiaojun taking part in the national team selection competition in Nanjing last month.

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The Chinese association has formed six national-level training teams in six cities and provinces since last year — Shanghai, Nanjing, Shenzhen, Harbin, Shandong and Guizhou. The teams are supported by local sports bureaus, associations and sports management companies from the society.

Apart from recruiting skaters from the street, the teams also visit sports schools to select young athletes from other disciplines. The training teams would recommend skaters to form a national team for centralized training when there are big competitions like the Asian Games or Olympic Games.

Zeng says the lack of financial support, professional coaches and facilities were major problems in this early stage of the sport’s development. The Nanjing team is the best in that regard at present, with staff that include a stamina coach, physical therapist and psychologist. Three of the seven national team members are from the Nanjing team.

Winner of the women’s street competition in Shanghai, Guangzhou-based Hui Zixuan has also been selected for the national team. She is a member of the Guangzhou Hero Skateboarding Club and took part in last year’s National Games.

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Hui Zixuan (second from left) is the winner of the women's street competition in Shanghai.

“I had to get up early to take part in competitions in the morning at the National Games,” Hui says when asked what she thought was the biggest difference between commercial competitions and the National Games. “Other events would rarely arrange competitions before noon.”

Zeng says a one-month training camp will be organized in Nanjing for the new national team before it heads to the Asian Games. Apart from skills, the skaters will be mainly taught competition strategies. Coaches from Japan, Russia, the US and Brazil will be invited to give instructions.

“It’s always better to start early,” says Zeng. “In our talent selection among those without a skateboarding background, stamina is an important criteria. The sport is about understanding and constant practice which is time-consuming. Once your body remembers a move, it would hardly be forgotten.”

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