Dan Leung with a backside smith grind on one of the Center’s tall ledges. Photo – Tommy Zhao
By Emmanuel Lemire
Edited by Erik Thorbeck
Photos by Tommy Zhao & Qiu Zhixiang
What is the Center?
The Center is a skate spot located in the Jing’an district of Shanghai. It was built in 2004. The spot encompasses a 40 story building and a plaza between Changle Lu, Changshu Lu, and Anfu Lu. Within the plaza there is a large smooth flatground area and towards the Anfu Lu side of the plaza there are several tall planter ledges. On the Changle Lu side of the plaza, there is a manual pad. Sidewalks surround the entire plaza, but the one on Anfu Lu is smooth and has ledges that run from one end to the other. Leading from the plaza into the sidewalk on Anfu Lu are small hubba ledges.
The Center today is thought of as a classic Shanghai skate spot, but that has not always been the case. For years after it was built, it was thought of by many locals as a good place to skate flatground, but not so much a place to go hang out for an all day session. Starting in the mid 2010s, the spot got more popular. The ledges within the plaza were waxed as were the ones on the sidewalk. Building security took notice of the increase in skateboarders and started to ban skating in certain parts of the plaza around 2017. Their approach was more piecemeal than all or nothing; they banned skating in certain parts of the plaza but allowed it in others. Today, The Center still looks the same as when it was built in 2004, but the way in which it is skated is much different. Here is a short history of The Center as a skate spot.
The Early Years: 2004-2014
While The Center has a lot of potential as a skate spot (open space, variety of obstacles), it was not an overnight sensation. For years after it was built, skaters mostly utilized it as a flatground spot. Relative to other spots of the time – LP and Weining Lu – it did not stand out. LP was closer to downtown, had more space, and had better ledges. Weining Lu was a bit further from the city center, but it also had amazing ledges and a lot of open space. Charlie Lanceplain documented many Shanghai skate spots in his 2010 skate documentary Shanghai 5, but the Center was not one of them.
In 2012 and 2013 The Center started to gain traction as a legit spot when Shanghai skateboarder Jay Meador opened Homies Restaurant on 936 Changle Lu. Located just down the street from The Center, skaters started to frequent The Center before or after going to Homies. Boss Xie, Shanghai skateboarder and owner of Avenue & Son, says that when he started skating at The Center he called it ‘Homies Plaza’. “Before we called here the ‘Homies Plaza’ [because] Jay’s restaurant was on Changle Lu, and so we would eat there everyday and then go skate. Homies Plaza is very close, so everybody will go over there [to] chilling, skate, eat. But most of the time we still would go to LP because LP was still there,” said Boss.
The JSLV / Sk8Mafia crew stop by Homies Restaurant before hitting the center (2014)
Homies Restaurant was around from 2012 to 2014. The restaurant might have caused an increase in the number of skaters going to The Center, but it did not lead to it becoming a popular spot on an equal level to LP or Weining Lu. According to Jay, “Homies being there did not blow up that plaza. That was something that came later after they banned you from skating LP. Those two were totally different time periods – the plaza taking off and my restaurant being there. But when people were at the restaurant and we wanted to skate some nice flatground, we would go over there and cruise. Or when we closed at night, we would go over there and skate a couple ledges.”
By 2014, The Center had yet to blow up as a spot, but it was getting more popular as a place to skate and film at. Brain Peacock filmed a line there for Tommy Zhao’s 2014 video Something Sinister in which he does a frontside noseslide 270 on one of the tall planter ledges. According to Tommy, he and Brian filmed that line around 2013 and at that time the spot was not a popular skate spot. “At that time, it wasn’t even a ‘hang out spot’ yet. We would just barge through every now and then to go to Avo lady to buy cheap bottles of wine,” said Tommy. In 2014, The Center was also documented in a Sk8Mafia/JSLV Shanghai tour video. The Sk8Mafia/JSLV squad took a different approach to skating The Center. Instead of skating the ledges, they skated the water gaps. Wes Kremer did a switch impossible (amongst a grip of other tricks) over one of them.
The Golden Years: 2015 – 2017
Stephen Kou floats a fakie flip over the barrier. Photo – Tommy Zhao
Brian Peacock with a switch backside flip over the barrier. Photo – Tommy Zhao
2015 was a hard year for Shanghai skateboarding. Around that time, Weining Lu was destroyed and a large part of LP was also destroyed. With two great spots gone, skaters looked to other spots. The Center was not LP or Weining Lu, but it was somewhat central and had plenty of things to skate, and with LP gone a lot of skaters started going to the Center more often. Johnny Tang, a longtime Shanghai skateboarder, witnessed the shift from LP to The Center. “I lived right down the street [from The Center] for like 10 years. I literally could see it from my apartment, but we never skated there even when there was no bust. Our go to spot was Shanghai LP. it had more space, the ledges were lower, and [it had] the 3 stair. Once LP was taken away from us we needed a spot that we could all go to in the city center. People started going to the Centre little by little and then it became the spot we would all go to and hang out on the weekends. It was dope. It had everything around and mad hunnies would be walkin by. Then everyone really started to open that spot up and it had so much potential,” said Tang.
The Center has never really been a completely bust free spot, but there have been times when skating the entirety of it was possible. According to Tommy Zhao, even during the time period that Homies Restaurant was across the street, there were times when building security would object to skaters skating the flatground area in front of the building. He says that The Center has always been an on/off bust but that “there was a brief, brief moment when security didn’t care about us skating in the “wind tunnel” which is the alleyway between the building and the tall ledges.”
There was a period between 2015 and 2016 when security seems to have taken a more hands off approach to skating though, and, as a result, people were able to skate the entirety of the plaza without being kicked out. Skaters took notice of this change in attitude and started to hit the plaza in larger numbers. Another local skateboarder Erik Thorbeck recalls times during 2015 and 2016 when there would be over 30+ people skating the main flat area and the manny pad. As often happens with spots, building security took notice of the increase in skateboarders and started to crack down. Starting in 2017, certain parts of the plaza became a bust. The first part to go was the manny pad on the Changle Lu side of the plaza which became a bust in mid-2017. Thereafter, security started pushing skaters away from the main flatground area back to the wind alley (the area between the building and the planter ledges). In the summer of 2018 things took a turn for the worse when building security made it clear that all of the flatground area as well as the wind alley were off limits.
The Sidewalk: 2018 – Present
Andrea Colzani with fakie backside tailslide on the last skate-able ledge at the Center. Photo – Qiu Zhixiang
By late 2018, skating in the plaza area was off limits, but the sidewalk was still a go. It seems that building security and skaters came to an unwritten agreement whereby in return for relinquishing the rights to the plaza area they could still have the sidewalk. In 2018 and 2019 clips of people skating the sidewalk ledges popped up in several videos. Jeremy Hu did a line there as the opening clip for his 2018 Vans China part. Charlie Lanceplaine’s 2019 Shanghai 6 (a follow up to Shanghai 5) has several clips filmed at The Center, two of which are tricks on the sidewalk ledge. In Amerigo Brini’s 2020 Diplomatic Immunity, Andrea Colzani did a frontside tailslide bigspin heelflip on the sidewalk ledge. A year later, in Menace 2 Society, he one-upped that trick by nollie heelflipping into the tailslide.
The sidewalk, as a spot, has pros and cons. It is located in a central location, easy to get to, and close to many bars and restaurants. The sidewalk is covered by trees which block out harsh sunlight or light rain. It is a sidewalk though – a somewhat narrow space – and therefore not great for accommodating large groups of people whether they be pedestrians or other skaters. The ledges go from one end of the street to the other but only a few sections actually grind. Mike Lawrence is one of few who has successfully gotten a virgin Center ledge grinding. His experience waxing the ledge, one of the smaller ones on the part of Anfu Lu closer to Changshu Lu, is as follows:
“Waxing The Center sloppy [small ledge] was a given, and, frankly, I couldn’t understand why I was the one doing it when there was a clear example of its potential 10 meters away, just a shorter version with only one end. That already waxed sloppy had been worked so much it didn’t even need wax to go so at least when starting on the longer one I knew the time I was investing would be worth it for myself and for the spot. And indeed it took time: waxing it, grinding it, sticking, waxing it again, waxing my trucks, grinding it, sticking a little less, repeating ad infinitum. I probably did this for at least 2 sessions, which was fine since I didn’t have the legs/knees/desire to hit the actual ledge, and being a pretty stubborn person, I was fine with the fact I was the only one working it and even received discouragement from others – they shall not be named here – who refused to lean back a little and grind through the roughness. Needless to say, it was a proud/smug moment when I put a grind from end to end, silencing the haters and declared the sloppy open for shredness. It has a long way to go before it equals its older yet lesser sibling, but time and attention is all it takes.”
What does the future hold for The Center? Unless building management changes, it is doubtful that security will start allowing people to skate the plaza area again. So for now The Center is the sidewalk. From 2018 to now, building security has been ok with people skating there but earlier this year they started to flex hard on people skating the sidewalk leading to rumours that The Center was ‘no more’ or ‘R.I.P’. Recently, they have backed off a bit, letting people again skate the sidewalk ledges without hassle. Who knows when their attitude will change again but while the spot is still a go, skaters should try to wax more of the ledges. Mike Lawrence has these words of encouragement for anybody willing to lay down some wax:
“Much like skateboarding itself, you need vision and persistence. Don’t waste your time trying to make a spot work that you’ll never come back to, but don’t be afraid to put some time into a spot that you frequent regularly or can see the potential of. If you can unlock something at a local spot then you have contributed in a real way to the scene and the environment.”
Local skateboarder Malik takes a break from skating to throw a frisbee around the flatground part of the Center, now un-skate-able. Photo – Qiu Zhixiang
Some notable tricks that have gone down at the Center:
Brian Peacock with a switch tre flip at the end of a line at the Center in Tommy Zhao’s Something Sinister – 2014.
Charlie Lanceplain with a switch crooked grind. Photo – Tommy Zhao
Chris Bradley with a smith grind. Photo – Tommy Zhao
Many thanks to the photographers Tommy & Zhixiang for use of their photos in this article. You can follow them here:
Tommy Zhao – zhaopower
Qiu Zhixiang – Log13