By Emmanuel Lemire, Touie Li, and Erik Thorbeck
Spots come and go. That phenomenon feels especially familiar in Shanghai – a city with more than 25 million where things are constantly getting built and destroyed. New construction sometimes means new skate spots. Binjiang was a blessing. It can also mean saying goodbye to a great spot. Weining Lu, LP, and Hongqiao Plaza (Minhang) all fell victim to ‘green space’ development.
It’s easy to reminisce. What about the ones that still stand? The ones that link the past to the present? The ones people were skating in the late 90s/early 2000s? We set out to make a list of 5 time-tested OG Shanghai spots. Our criteria was simple. The spot had to have been around for 15 years (or more) and still be around today. Here’s what we came up with. Check them out if you get the chance. Who knows how much longer they’ll be around before some guy starts thinking the space would look better with grass.
This article is the first in a series, showcasing some spots that have earned their place in the short but ever changing history of Chinese skateboarding.
PART 1 | WUSA PLAZA 五卅广场
Wusa Square is a small park that lies on the edge of the larger Shanghai People’s Park (In the past, it was inside People’s Park, not on the edge). It was built in 1990 as a tribute to the May 30th Movement, and it was a popular skate spot in the 90s. It’s a simple spot – a statue of a flame surrounded by flatground – an ideal spot for learning the basics. In the 90s the flatground in front of the statue was tiered – each tier one-step lower than the other – and there were curved paths around the sides of the statue that were bordered by yellow knee-height rails. The spot looks different today than it did in the 90s, but some parts (like the area around the statue) are the same, and it’s still skate-able.
Wusa’s story starts in the early 90s. In the late 80s, skateboarding was still a novel sport in Shanghai and China, but the release of the film Gleaming The Cube in the early 90s raised awareness. “After that film was released, young people started to skate, and the trend became just as popular as breakdancing in 1988,” says Mai Ge (麦哥), who also goes by the name “Wheat” in English, a guy who grew up skating Shanghai in the 90s. After Mai Ge saw Gleaming The Cube, he himself bought a skateboard. Buying a skateboard a skateboarding in Shanghai in the early 90s was not easy, but fortunately for Mai Ge and others who lived around People’s Park, there was a shop – Lian Chang Ji Sports Store (连长记体育用品商店) – on Jinling Road that sold Powell boards.
五卅广场的故事也得从90年代早期讲起。早在80年代末，无论在上海还是国内其他城市，滑板都算是一项新奇的运动，直到90年代早期，一部以滑板为主题的美国电影成为了这股热浪的起始点。很幸运我们联系到了麦哥 —— 一位成长于90年代，见证过上海早期滑板进程的本土滑手。麦哥曾提到过，“国内的滑板热源于91年上映的美国电影《危险之至》，讲一个南加州滑手的复仇故事，有当时Powell滑板队参演，上映后全国各地都有年轻人效仿，热潮就像88年的霹雳舞一样。”
“The skateboards [at Lian Chang Ji] were just displayed in glass cases with rollerblade shoes, weightlifting belts and other super random stuff. It was like any of these skate shops that we have now where all boards are properly showcased,” says Mai Ge. “When I saw those boards I was psyched. Unfortunately, they weren’t cheap – 300RMB for an imported Powell board with domestically-made trucks. I begged my parents for so long and finally got one. It was a treasure to me.”
In 1992, Mai Ge bought a board and started skating at Wusa. “The young people who bought the Powell boards from the sports shop would often like to hang out and skate at Wusa,” he says. In the 90s, entry to Wusa was restricted and people needed to buy a ticket to enter, so, in order to avoid buying tickets, Mai Ge and his friends would buy one ticket and then relay it back and forth through the barrier.
Mai Ge and his friends had a crew, which they called Street Storm. “During that time we were just a bunch of kids who truly didn’t know anything about skateboarding. We helped each other learn skate history, figure tricks out, and have fun…Cao Zhen (曹祯) was one of the organizers and he was most kind-hearted…we all rooted for him to be the lead of our crew,” recounts Mai Ge.
In 1997, Wusa was reconstructed. Mai Ge says that the reconstruction caused a feeling of loss. “That was the first community base we lost,” he says. Part of the east side of the plaza was destroyed and turned into flat ground, but most of the plaza was kept intact.
People continued to skate Wusa in the early 2000s, but it was more of a night spot at that time. “You could never skate Wusa during the day,” says Ansen Wang, a skateboarder who lived in Shanghai in the early 2000s. “Wusa was the meet up spot at night. From there we would cruise to East Nanjing Road.”
Boss Xie, another Shanghai skateboarder, grew up in Xuhui and started skating in Shanghai in the early 2000s. Wusa was one of the first spots he went to. He says that he first saw skating at the Bawanren Training Ground (八万人体育场) in Xuhui . “The first time I saw skateboarding was at the stadium. Then, in the afternoon, after [skating the] stadium, people would go skate Wusa at 4 or 5pm,” he says. “The audience [at Wusa] was huge. At the time, skateboarding was a very novel sport, basically nobody had seen it. There were more girls in the audience. You had a lot of motivation to skate.”
In the early 2000s, another part of People’s Park – the part that came to be known as LP – became the go to spot. For Boss, Wusa was a good spot, but LP was better. “My best times [skating] were not in the May 30th Square. The fastest time [of progression] for me was when I started skating at LP,” he says. “When I skated a lot, I went to LP everyday.”
与此同时，同一时间线上，人民广场的另一块区域，也是今后上海最负盛名的滑板地形 —— LP (Love Park)诞生了，大部分的滑手开始从五卅往LP迁移，对于Boss来说，五卅广场挺不错的，但LP的地形确实要比五卅更好一些。“如果说关于五卅广场的记忆是我刚开始滑板的时期，那么LP就是我技术进步最快的阶段，我滑得最多的时候就是每天去LP的时候”，Boss回忆道。
Today, Wusa still stands. It looks different than it once did – the circle paths, the yellow rails, the tiered steps, and the skateboarding stickers on the statue are gone – and it’s not getting sessioned like it was in the 90s, but it’s there. Unfortunately, skating at Wusa and neighboring LP is more restricted today than at probably any point in time. Maybe the government will once allow skating there again. Maybe the best we can hope for is that they don’t turn it into a green space. Long live the birthplace of Shanghai street skating.
Still from a video Mai Ge shot at Wusa in 1993. At the time there were yellow planter rails. The skater in the video is Atsushi Haraguchi （原口 淳史） – a Japanese skater who lived in Shanghai and studied at Shanghai Normal University in the 90s and was one of the first skaters to be sponsored by Fly Skateshop.
(Video courtesy of Mai Ge 视频由麦哥提供)
Wusa Square as it looks today. 五卅现在的照片
Mai Ge (top-row, second from left) with his old skate crew. 麦哥(第一排，左起第二位)和他的老朋友们。
A group of skaters in the early 90s. Everybody was skating Powell boards at the time. Cao Zhen (曹桢) (top row, furthest right) organized skate sessions at Wusa. He also organized a watching of Gleaming the Cube at Daguangming Cinema (大光明电影院), which was across the street from Wusa. “When we finished watching it, we went straight to skate at Wusa，and I have watched the film 9 times already haha ,” says Mai Ge.
90年代早期在五卅的滑手们，照片中大家当时滑的都是Powell板，曹桢（上面一行,最右边的滑手）是五卅滑板群体的组织者，“曹桢还组织我们团体观摩了《危险之至》（英文名 Gleaming the Cube），就在五卅马路对面的大光明电影院，我们看完接着滑，这片子我去电影院看了9遍”，麦哥提及了当时的故事。
(Photo courtesy of Mai Ge 图片由麦哥提供)
A photo of Mai Ge skating a train track rail at Wusa in the 90s.
(Photo courtesy of Mai Ge 图片由麦哥提供)