On a sunny day, about a dozen skaters can be seen buzzing around Putrajaya Challenge Park. A group of boys can be seen competing with skateboard tricks (“carving”, “shredding” and “thrashing” in skate terms) while others sit back and watch.
PCP, an extreme sports facility built by the Putrajaya Corporation, opened in 2009. It contains the largest skateboard park in Malaysia and it’s known as one of the best. The smooth contoured concrete features technical obstacles like stairs, rails and ledges and deep bowls, specially designed for skateboards and roller blades.
The connection between a skateboarder and his skate park is a close one. “The park fosters your skills in skating and grows alongside you like a trusted companion, urging you to keep skating”, says Bazly, who comes to the park frequently. Bazly has been skating since 1998 when he first saw Michael J Fox cruising on his hover board in Back to the Future.
For many of the young people here, skating is not just a weekend activity but a way of life. Bazly designs T-shirts for a local skateboarding company, Hellbent Skateboarding. He also operates a local skateboard brand by the name of Nates Skateboard, organises skateboarding events and runs two skate shops in Putrajaya and Melaka.
Another regular, Reggie Chong, has been a part of the skating scene for about roughly seven years. Initially he got started through his friend who was into skating and passed his old skateboard to Reggie. Reggie has a side-line job as a filmer for skateboard companies based around Kuala Lumpur, documenting some of the best skateboarders in Malaysia.
Skateboard filming and photography is a huge part of the culture. If it wasn’t for the photographers and filmers, no one would know what a kick flip looked like. Famous skate filmers are just like famous skaters. Filmers buy and sell clips and can get sponsored. Their footage gets mailed around or posted on YouTube.
“I do it because it’s not just a sport or activity, it’s a passion and my lifestyle,” says Reggie. “It’s broader than just an activity, it’s the music I listen to, the style of clothing I wear, my friends, my perspective of the world around me is all influenced by skating. It has brought me most of my friends and best friends. Skating is my lifestyle, my religion.”
Bazly acknowledges that skateboarding is on the path towards becoming mainstream around the world. Major competitions now have huge corporate sponsors, TV deals and an almost Super Bowl-esque atmosphere. Vegas casino owners, The Maloof brothers, have managed to make skateboarders into millionaires.
According to Bazly, some love the underground factor and others do it merely for attention from the media. He says, “I live for the satisfying feeling of taking over a piece of architecture – curbs, handrails or bowls. It’s all about using them in an imaginative way.”
Jennab Marley Zulkifly has been skating in Malaysia for the past two years. “Every skater I’ve encountered is unique. If you enjoy the sport and are truly interested in the lifestyle then you’re accepted into the sub culture of skating. Look at me for example, just a normal Malay girl trying to get the hang of it.” She feels skating is definitely growing as a sport among girls.
“I live for the satisfying feeling of taking over a piece of architecture.”
Wheel Love is a popular skate shop in Subang Jaya, decked out with graffiti on the outside. As well as skateboards, apparel and accessories, they also stock a range of roller blades. The manager of Wheel Love, Fidzi, works at the skate shop during the day and skates at night. He tells me that he sees all different kinds of people coming into the shop: newbies, children and professional skaters.
Hellbent Skateboarding, a shop in Sungai Besi, is another local institution in the scene. Abdulazeez WR, founder of Hellbent Skateboarding, tells me the story of how the shop came about. “Every skater has a dream of opening up their own shop and be able to skate everyday without thinking of other responsibilities,” says Abdulazeez.
”I was into streetwear and sneakers back then and always wasted my money on buying ‘limited edition’ goods everytime I get my salary. At some point, I realised that it was all marketing and branding and what these companies offer are not so special after all. So I wanted to do what they did: make money and become a trendsetter.” He adds, “I hope that if I succeed in making some money, I would be able to contribute back to skateboarding and society.”
Hellbent has a huge inventory of products related to skateboarding, which they both produce and sell: apparel, headwear, fashion accessories, specialised footwear, skateboard gear, skateboard accessories and many more. The distinctive fact about Hellbent Skateboarding is that all their designs are created in the back of their shop.
In Abdulazeez’s opinion, the current skate scene in Malaysia is on the rise as more and more kids and adults alike are seen getting involved in the culture. He says that within these two years, the skate population in Malaysia has increased from less than 500 to more than 2000 skaters. Local skateboard companies are also growing in numbers.
Yet Abdulazeez adds that while the local skaters have improved a lot in terms of skills, “our standard is now still below par if compared to other countries.” He thinks that the culture is not supported by the government enough and we need new international standard skate parks to provide proper facilities.
“Skateboarding is a niche culture and has a small market, not like other mainstream sports like football or badminton. Every state in Malaysia only has one skateshop (except for KL) and that shows how small the community is currently.” However, the small scale of the sport does foster strong links in the scene: “instead of competing against each other, we tend to help one another in terms of trading and services. We actually pray for our competitors to succeed and expand because we want to attract more skaters into the scene.”
“We consider ourselves one race: Skater.”
In Malaysia, skateboarders are still often stereotyped as drifters or slackers. But as Abdulazeez points out, “It shapes characters, builds confidence, and most importantly create creative minds.” The sense of community is very strong: “Skateboarders are like brothers and we consider ourselves one race: Skater. We are united by the one thing that we love, that is skateboarding.”
The freedom for self-expression in the skateboarding culture can be empowering. Skateistan, a non-profit organization in Kabul, Afghanistan, uses skateboarding to promote values of inclusion, having fun, self-expression, and confidence. In that sense, it is very different from traditional sports where coaches yell out instructions and kids are “chosen” to play a specific role or position within the team.
For the people I met, skateboarding is not just another hobby. It is their identity, livelihood, family and much more. Reggie tells me, “As soon as one skater sees another they instantly become friends, its like being part of a huge extended family. There is no race, age, gender, religion or politics in skateboarding. If you skate, you’re a skater and if you’re a skater you’re accepted into the community no matter who you are.”
Mehek Saeed is Poskod.MY’s Writer in Progress and a food connoisseur.