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Photograph: Decathlon

"Skateboarding is unity": meet the skaters changing mindsets about the sport in Singapore

These youth on wheels just want to chill and have a good time

Cheryl Sekkappan
Written by
Cheryl Sekkappan

Skateboarding is enjoying a resurgence here in Singapore, thanks in part to Covid-19 restrictions pushing people to search for more activities in the great outdoors. Look on social media and you might come across viral TikTok videos and new skate shops – even local celebrities Zoe Tay and Vivian Lai have picked it up.

Now that skateboarding has made it to the Olympics, we expect that the sport will only go more mainstream. But long-time skateboarders Khairul Azree (Ree) and Nurul Asyiqin (Qin) can attest that it wasn't always so easy. Seen as noisy trespassers and often having cops on their tail, skateboarders have always been cool – but not exactly welcome.

As sports ambassadors and resident skateboarders at Decathlon, Ree and Qin are trying to shift mindsets towards the sport. Through his connections through long years in the scene for example, Ree has set up skateboarding classes to get kids acquainted with the sport – and also to introduce them to what skateboarding is really about. We catch up with them to find out what they love about skateboarding, how they're slowly changing perceptions, and also tease out some of the best skateboarding hangouts in Singapore. 

RECOMMENDED: The best skate parks in Singapore for skateboarding and The best longboard shops in Singapore

Photograph: Decathlon

Hi Qin and Ree! Tell us, how did you get started with skateboarding in Singapore?

Qin: I started when I was 15, maybe 14. I got my first board from my uncle, who's also a skateboarder. His name is Erick, and he used to have a skate shop in Peninsula. I always used to go to his shop and just chill with the skaters there, and I've been skateboarding ever since.

Ree: I started skateboarding when I was 11. Actually, for sports in general, I started with inline hockey. Then one day, my brother bought a board back home and it was full of graphics, so I found it very interesting and asked more about skateboarding. It was the early 90s then, and the skateboarding scene was rising up in Singapore. 

We hear that you were influenced by Bart Simpson too. Is that true?

Ree: Oh yeah! When I was young, my brother and I loved to watch The Simpsons. The character Bart likes to skate, and it was my mom who bought us a Bart Simpson skateboard – one of those cheap, toy ones. I wasn't into the skateboarding scene yet, but was influenced by my brother.

What do you like so much about skateboarding that you've continued till this day?

Ree: I first got hooked by the graphics of the skateboard, the wheels, the parts of it. I had zero knowledge about skateboarding in terms of tricks, but my brother brought back magazines with a section called 'tips and tricks'. So I started practicing some of the basic tricks like ollies and 180s. When I first landed the do we feel, Qin?

Qin: You'll want to do it more.

Ree: Yeah, it gives us the motivation to learn more tricks.

Qin: For me, it was the friends that I made. They're a very different group of friends – they're very chill, and I just wanted to keep going to the skate park to hang out with them. They will motivate you in ways you can't even imagine. Let's say you can't land a trick, they'll say, "If you can't land it, you can't go home!"

People's idea of skate culture may be more influenced by what they see in the West. What's unique about skate culture in Singapore? 

Ree: Skateboarding is more than skateboarding. You're right – maybe we started off skateboarding due to Western influence, but in this era, people are more influenced by social media. If you can remember this Tik Tok video of a guy cruising around drinking cranberry juice, that made skateboarding go viral. I have customers who say they watched lots of social media videos and that's what made them want to start skateboarding. But if you want to talk about what's unique... there's a lot. If you skate more, then you're sure to get what I'm trying to say.

Qin: I would say that we make do with what we have, because Singapore is not big. So whatever skate park we have, we make do with it. There aren't many spots in Singapore, and every time we skate we get kicked out. In Western countries, it's really huge and there are lots of places where you can just skate. So, us Singaporeans make do with what we have. 

How has this sport influenced you as a person?

Ree: As a whole, it's the unity in skateboarding – this is what I always adore. When we skate, we don't care about the colour of your skin, your race or your religion. We always focus on supporting each other – this is what keeps me skateboarding. 

That's a nice transition to the next question. My impression is that skateboarding is quite male dominated. Is that true?

Ree: Back in my time, you can count on your hands the number of female skateboarders. But right now, I feel that females are more likely to start the sport instead of males. If I took my board now and skated at Esplanade, MBS or even at the skate park, I would see many more female skaters compared to the early 90s.

Photograph: Decathlon

And Qin, was it intimidating for you when you first started out?

Qin: For me, definitely. Guys tend to progress faster than girls, somehow. I think us ladies are more afraid to break our bones or whatever, but guys are unstoppable. Putting that aside, having guy skate friends has influenced me to be more tough. Even if I fall, I get back up. I try my best to keep up with them, and it makes you a stronger skater and person.

I'm glad there are more girls around now though. Everytime I see them around, I acknowledge them and tell them, "you can do this". It feels nice to see a female skater, because there weren't many back then. And we didn't even get to meet all the time, because I'm in the West and the others in the East or North. Now there are skater girls everywhere, and I'm glad – it's a good sport. 

What do you do at Decathlon and what do you like about it?

Qin: I'm a sports advisor currently in charge of inline skating, but I do help customers out with skateboarding. We have a test zone, so if customers want to try out skating, we bring them in to give it a go. 

I like the fact that I get to pull new kids into skateboarding. They're always curious about it but never get to try, so I get to be the one to share a new sport. 

Ree: I'm one of the Decathlon skating ambassadors, that's why I get a lot of opportunities to travel. I got to go to China and France to meet up with the brand itself [Yamba Cruisers], and test out products. 

I also want people and especially younger kids to try out skateboarding. Parents say that it should be banned, and that it's a menace to society, but [Decathlon] thinks that we should spread skateboarding and do what it takes to get people to try out the sport. My aim when I joined Decathlon was also to change perceptions [through skateboarding classes for kids] – there are a lot of things people don't know about skateboarding. 

So, what is the one thing you wish people knew about skateboarding?

Ree: One thing is the unity of the sport. Like I said, we don't care what your race or religion is – this is something that people don't know and I feel that most people are lacking. I love skateboarding because of this unity.

If you travel, skateboarders will say hi to you. They may invite you over to their house for dinner or whatever, and that's how you become friends. When you're skating, people will clap, and other skateboarders will cheer you on. That's what's beautiful about the sport.

Qin: It's not about competition, just enjoy the moment when you're skating with friends. You'll cherish those moments when you look back. 

And skateboarding just made it to the Olympics for the first time! How do you feel about that?

Ree: I'm quite neutral. I don't really watch it, just curious about the results. It's a controversial thing in the scene, with some saying that skateboarding should be on the streets, rather than in events like the Olympics. But I'm a pretty neutral guy – as long as it's good for skateboarding, it's good for skateboarding.

Do you think it will help the scene in Singapore at all?

Ree: I think it helps the younger generation. They may feel that they want to achieve something for the country. But I think for the older generation it’s just 'okay'.

Let us in on a secret – where are the best skateboarding spots in Singapore?

Ree: Oh! I still skate at the CBD, near Raffles Place MRT. If I remember correctly, its been featured in a US magazine as one of the best skate spots in the world back in 2002. A famous skateboarder came to Singapore and took note of the place, saying that there are many skate spots in Singapore and the one in CBD is among the best because of a whole stretch of marble curves.

But back then, it was one of the worst places for us to skate. When I was younger, the cops will come in cars or vans to chase us out. On a Friday night, you'll see nearly 30 to 40 skateboarders there, but now it's not as bad. I think most of the younger generation don't know about this.

Qin: I have to agree with Ree. CBD is a really chill spot, and that's where I actually met him! But to me, a chill spot isn't one spot in particular. If you cruise around MBS, maybe with a beer, just chill and at night – especially at night, with the lights and everything – then that's very nice. Anyone who skates should just bring your board out and cruise around. 

Photograph: Decathlon

And now, time to flex a little bit. What's your best skateboarding trick or move?

Qin: Not much, but my biggest trick would be a backside kick flip. An ollie took me about eight months, but a kickflip took me 3 months because I was so eager to land it. But a backside kickflip took me 2 years. It’s a combination of a normal kickflip and a backside 180.

Ree: My best is a normal, basic trick. Back then they called it a 360 flip, and now they call it a Tre flip. That’s one of my best – I practised it quite a lot and it took me one day to learn that trick because I kept on doing it from morning till night.

Cruise around town

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