Centre for English Language Communication
National University of Singapore
Duncan McDuie-Ra’s Skateboarding and urban landscapes in Asia: Endless spots provides an insider account of data drawn from observational fieldwork and a rich archive of almost 40 years of skateboarding in cities all over the world. Skate videos, media files, a variety of published sources such as posters, maps and photographs as well as accounts from a “rolling ethnography”, a qualitative skateboarder perspective of urban landscapes, are used to provide fascinating accounts of “spots”, urban landscape compositions. McDuie-Ra is both a skateboarder and a scholar, and shares his knowledge and opinions from these informed positions.
The book starts by exploring urban skateboarding roots and in particular references Alain Borden’s landmark work Skateboarding, space and the city (2001). This book was one of the first to discuss the urban environment in terms of skateboarding and the “micro-spaces” (Borden, p. 1) or “spots” (McDuie-Ra) that can be shredded. McDuie-Ra points out that when Borden was writing, the sport was very much related to western contexts and was male dominated. Since then, the culture has mobilised to Asian contexts where gender hierarchies appear to be less obvious. In fact, “mobility” is a key term for McDuie-Ra – it relates to several movements, including the wheeled sport unbounded by rules or laws, the growth of skateboarding geographically and commercially, as well as its development in the digital world as videos, short clips and images are captured on social media and watched around the globe.
In the following chapters, skateboarding is presented in different urban landscapes in Asians countries such as Singapore, Thailand, China, Dubai, Abkhazia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Iran, India, Palestine, and Taiwan. Overall, Asian cities are viewed as skate utopias with accessible shredable architecture and lacking in security guards and people at certain times of the day or night. Smooth surfaces, handrails, stairs, ledges, marble, concrete, memorials, plazas, squares, thoroughfares, and inclines are but a few of the shredscapes mentioned. Throughout the book too, there is a sense that these built environments disappear as urban spaces are in constant flux. Thus, McDuie-Ra refers to China, with a project of constant urban development as the land of “endless spots”.
Two chapters that were particularly moving were on skateboarders in former Soviet states as well as in Palestine. Practitioners in Sukhumi, Abkhazia are commonly faced with difficult choices about sacred spots where tragic events have occurred. Skaters are asked to leave “haunted spots”. These emotional memoryscapes are symbolic of the “tragic pages of […] history” (p. 133), where “a lot of people died” and decisions about whether to “desecrate” these monuments are clearly complex. Similarly, in the Palestinian “architecture of occupation”, French pro-skater Sylvain Tognelli skates along the “separation wall” in Qalqilya, and a photo published is entitled “Showing the wall no respect” (p. 162). Skating becomes a political statement.
The book is an important contribution as an “alternative cartography”, giving insights into different skateboarding locations across Asia. McDuie-Ra states that there are several more “spots” that need to be targeted such as Japan, Malaysia and Vietnam. Perhaps these are subjects for future “rolling ethnography” studies. Readers from different backgrounds such as anthropology, geography, history, sport marketing, and sport and urban sociology should thoroughly enjoy reading about the way that “spots” become creative spaces. I have just started exploring the list of skate videos and media files suggested by McDuie-Ra in the book’s bibliography, and I expect to become a better scholar and bigger fan of skateboarding thanks to this book.
Copyright © Mark Brooke 2022