Skateboarding and the city (after the earthquake)

(The beginnings of this discussion were taken from an old post over at Kurungabaa)

I spend the bulk of my time on the coast surrounded by (or at least, with easy access to) the ocean, sand, sun, clouds, storms, tides, experiences and rhythms that make me feel at home. That make me feel like I belong. I can move with and through them in ways that make sense. As a child, in fact up until I was 19, I rarely left the coast, and when I did it was to go to other spaces that were defined by mountains, meadows, forests and wilderness. Eventually, I made my way to The City, a world that took me some time to find my feet in.

But now I love it.

When I visit cities I feel at home. I know how to walk in ways that get me around and move me along and allow me to negotiate the buildings, cars, people and general busyness. I know how to duck and weave and wend and wheel, avoid, obstruct and slip in-between. I have found ways to discover and understand cities by getting about on foot and by using my senses and intuition to make the place fit me. I know how to do this. And I like it. But I can only do it on foot.

Not like this dude, Soy Panday.

I love how he can flow and move with the city, not just negotiate his way around it. His movements become a part of the landscape and architecture and fabric of the place – not just another person on foot, like me!

The way he moves… it’s something to do with self-assurance and a lack of hesitation. It’s something to do with knowledge, experience, experiment and an inherent sense of confidence. It’s something to do with his perspective, the ways he knows, understands and sees the city and its possibilities.

Because cities aren’t one thing. Dense and complex and beyond definition, they’re individual, potential, interpretive, dynamic and changing. As I explore and discover cities I get to know them as my own. I map them out in my head and with my feet. I know them by train lines, bus routes, buildings, museums, bars, cafes, houses, streets, parks, beaches… the place where I lie with my eyes closed in the sun, the places where I walk with my keys stucking out from between the knuckles of my clenched fists.

But I can’t draw these maps the ways that Soy Panday can. I can’t draw such beautiful lines across the asphalt surface. I really wish I could. But if you know me then you will know how hurt I can get simply by leaving the house, so skating is a no-go zone for me.

Of course, unlike the sandy shores I grew up on, these imaginary metropolitan maps seem pretty stable - tides and shifting sands are engineered out of the day-to-day equation. But that's not necessarily true. Cities are temporal and fragile places too, as has been evidenced by recent earthquakes in both New Zealand and Japan. Cities can change, and so must the ways we understand, know and have relationships to them.

My friend, Holly Thorpe, recently showed me this clip of crew skating in Christchurch after the quake there, which is what got me thinking about all of this.

More Skateboarding Videos

Their movements in and through the city re-imagine it, learning it anew, and creating new ways of knowing the streets, parks, footpaths and steps. Their explorations and innovations are inspiring, shared and physical performances, which also seem like a lot of fun. Looking at the city as they make it into a space of play feels a bit odd at first, but the new undulations, cracks, fissures and collapses are highlighted by their movements through and across the city, illustrating the geographical changes in a way that makes more sense than looking at it all from behind televised police-tape. Through their skating, these guys already have a practised confidence about such geographies, which makes the changes in landscape seem somehow familiar - not in a way that trivialises the human impacts of the earthquake, but which makes the destruction of the city seem more like change, and less like something completely insurmountable. Their skating, perhaps, gives the shattered city-scape new life.


  1. A really interseting blog. I´ll follow you.

  2. There is an impulse to make sense out of life actively, using the modes our muscle memory naturally employ. The beautiful bits, the tragic bits, the environment within which we exist, all these things translated by movement of body, perception and process.
    It's that ability to add a new understanding to whatever context arises through personal involvement that shifts activities just enough to hint at art.

  3. Sheesh. I wish I could skate like that. I ride the skatey 'round SHanghai but am a danger to myself and others lol Not flowing like water but crashing through like a bull in a china shop.

  4. Anonymous3:58 PM

    Huh, that should be me .. Clif!

  5. Yeah... Bull in a china shop about pretty much nails it.


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