Man at His Best

Opinion: Today, Skateboarding In Singapore Is Not Only Legal, Itís Encouraged

Jonathan Fong looks at how skateboarding in Singapore has evolved from evading the police to getting high-fived by Constable Acai.

BY Jonathan Fong | Jun 6, 2016 | Culture

Flickr / Chong Wah

I once squatted outside a police station for almost three hours, along with a dozen other teenage miscreants, holding my skateboard above my head. As tears welled in our eyes and our limbs started to ache, we waited for the officers to call our parents to inform them of our “act of vandalism”: skating in Esplanade Park. Many of us broke down, begging to be given a second chance. 

It didn’t matter to the police that half the group being punished had not actually destroyed any public property that afternoon; this was 1995—a time when pushing on a board through park areas meant failing to comply with “No Skateboarding” regulations. It was either the police or plainclothes NPark rangers who would ambush us. If you were a first-time offender, you would be slapped with a SGD150 fine. While technically not illegal, skateboarding in the ‘90s was about as socially acceptable as playing a King Diamond record during Sunday mass.

As a 16-year-old who felt misunderstood by the world, I found escape popping ollies and acid dropping off ledges, and bobbing and weaving through traffic and pedestrians in the urban sprawl. Yes, I was guilty of the occasional “act of vandalism” (doing grind tricks on curbs and ledges in public places), but to be fair, it’s not like we had a choice—there simply weren’t any skateparks or legal spaces back then. 

Things are very different now. The authorities no longer harass skateboarders, as the sport is actually encouraged. Let’s start with the professional skatepark that’s been built at the Singapore Sports Hub. Where we once improvised on sketchy granite ledges and self-assembled obstacles beside the Kallang River, now stands a professional skatepark that has a shelter complete with sponsored corporate branding. Holy punk rock, Batman! Who’d have imagined that skateboarding in 2016 would be recognised as a legitimate sport by the state?

Skateparks can now be found in most neighbourhoods and districts, with the largest being XTREME SkatePark in the East Coast. So “extreme” is the park that it took over four years and a whopping SGD7.6 million of taxpayers’ money to construct. (I’d like to think that my NParks fines paid as a 16-year-old helped.)

Skateboarding is also a recognised co-curricular activity (CCA) across primary, secondary and tertiary educational institutions. Whereas once jocks would mock skateboarders as burnout slackers, now skateboarding classes are being conducted as part of PE classes in schools with professional equipment and obstacles.

Perhaps the moment that best illiterates the change in skateboarding’s repute is the music video for Kit Chan’s 2007 National Day Song, “There’s No Place I’d Rather Be”. In it, there’s a shot of a young man with long hair popping an ollie off some stairs. He falls, but is helped up, as happy families seat in the background applaud. From squats punishments to thumbs-up with a smile, what a strange turn events have taken. If anything, it gives us hope that an impression of anything can truly change. 

From: Esquire Singapore June 2016 issue.