THE WIDER IMAGE

Amid COVID shutdowns, Chinese women flock to skateboarding

THE WIDER IMAGE

Amid COVID shutdowns, Chinese women flock to skateboarding

Amid COVID shutdowns, Chinese women flock to skateboarding

Filed

Filed: July 18, 2022, 23 p.m. GMT

Feeling cooped up by the Chinese capital's partial COVID-19 lockdown earlier this year, which shut gyms, parks and other venues, Beijing resident Mina Zhao came across surfskating on social media and decided to give it a try.

Zhao, 40, who loves to ski, was an instant devotee, getting her husband and son involved in surfskating and even introducing it to dozens of fellow mothers who have gone on to buy their own boards.

 Zhao interacts with her son Leng Buding, 7, and husband Leng Ning, 39 as she practises surfskating, China July 8, 2022. REUTERS/Tingshu Wang
 Leng Ning, 39, places his hand on their son, Leng Buding, 7, who got a new skateboarder shaped haircut, in Beijing, China July 8, 2022. REUTERS/Tingshu Wang

“I think for my work, even for my life, skateboarding is having a positive effect,” Zhao said, adding that it has helped her lose weight and reduce anxiety over her child's education.

Surfskating, a novice-friendly version of skateboarding that uses a more flexible front-end wheel assembly, known as a truck, to enable deeply carved turns akin to surfing, has taken off in Chinese cities since the spring, especially among women.

Zhao said surfskating gives her a sense of accomplishment, and the positive energy she gets from it emboldened her to spend time away from home, wear more colourful clothing and even dye her hair to a lighter shade for the first time.

Zhao teaches a member of her women's club how to use a skateboard, during a practise session July 6, 2022. REUTERS/Tingshu Wang

“Through this sport, what we want to explore more is ourselves. Being ourselves is more important than the world's stereotypical view of us,” she said.

She said it also has a calming effect. “The more anxious you are, the worse it is for your child. Sometimes I just skate around the basement, I feel like a man who has a couple of cigarettes outside when something happens,” Zhao said.

Considered easier to learn and less prone to wipeouts than other forms of skateboarding, surfskating also got a boost from the buzz over snow sports in China this year as Beijing hosted the 2022 Winter Olympics.

 Zhao (C), Zheng Yue (L), 27, and Pang Jing, 33, chat after a skateboarding practise session for Zhao's women's club, July 6, 2022. REUTERS/Tingshu Wang

A surfskater can carve snowboard-style turns without the need for snow or even a slope.

Clubs, networks and group classes have proliferated.

One free weekly session for women near Beijing's landmark National Aquatics Centre, or Water Cube, has grown from around a dozen regulars in late April to nearly a hundred, according to its organiser, a professional dancer named Duo Lan.

Zhao, who organises children's activities and first tried surfskating in May, when she was unable to host events due to the lockdown, is one of her older students.

Members of Beijing Girls Surfskating Community stand on skateboards as they attend a training session for beginners, June 19, 2022. REUTERS/Tingshu Wang

BEACH FEELING

Chen Yanni, 29, also tried surfskating to escape lockdown after seeing the sport on her social media feeds.

She was quickly hooked.

“You feel so free,” said Chen, who works in IT.

“And then there's this sense that I am approaching 30 but I feel very young all of a sudden. I love this feeling. It's like being a teenager again,” she said.

Chen  rides on a skateboard during a free weekly training session, June 18, 2022. REUTERS/Tingshu Wang

Chinese online searches for skateboarding, and surfskating in particular, have soared. Xiaohongshu, a shopping and lifestyle recommendations app, says searches for “lu chong”, which translates to “land surfboard”, rose by 50 times in June from a year earlier.

E-commerce giant JD.com reported 80% growth in surfskateboard sales in June, compared with the same period last year.

At one of “Burning Ice” skateboard shop's five Beijing branches, revenues were up around 300% this year, according to a store manager who declined to be named.

A customer tries on a surfskateboard at the Burning Ice Skateboard shop, June 15, 2022. REUTERS/Tingshu Wang

Surfskateboards at the store, which range in price from around 400 yuan ($60) to more than 4,000 yuan, make up around 50% of the increase, he said. Women account for around 70% of the stores sales.

Some said they took up the sport as a hobby when COVID made summer travel difficult.

“I have the feeling that I have returned to the beach,” said Yoyo, 34, a finance professional, part-time diving coach and surfer, who had been glum over the lockdown.

“It's hot in the summer, but I have the wind in my hair and I feel free.”

($1=6.7633 Chinese yuan renminbi)


















Zheng Yue, 27, a member of Mina Zhao's women club, applies medicine on fellow member Zhang Meixi, 33, after she fell from her skateboard during a practise session, July 6, 2022.

 Zhao waves goodbye to her mother, Zhang Wenmin, 69, before leaving home for a practise session with her women's club, July 6, 2022. REUTERS/Tingshu Wang

 Zhao puts on a pair of newly bought sneakers before a practise session, June 30, 2022. REUTERS/Tingshu Wang

Zhao and her son, Leng Buding, eat dinner after a free weekly training session, at a restaurant in Beijing, China July 2, 2022. REUTERS/Tingshu Wang

Zhao plays with her son at a farm, on the outskirts of Beijing, China, July 2, 2022. REUTERS/Tingshu Wang

 Zhao plays with children amid bubbles, during an activity she organised at a camping site, July 9, 2022. REUTERS/Tingshu Wang

Sui Zhuoyan, 32, a member of Beijing Girls Surfskating Community,  rides a skateboard barefoot during a free weekly training session, June 19, 2022. REUTERS/Tingshu Wang

 Zhao and Zheng Yue ride their skateboards on the streets of Beijing, China July 6, 2022.  REUTERS/Tingshu Wang

Zhao Sijia, 10, a junior member of Beijing Girls Surfskating Community, sits on a skateboard as she listens to a training session, June 19, 2022. REUTERS/Tingshu Wang

A skateboarder gives a free weekly training session to members of Beijing Girls Surfskating Community, July 2, 2022.  REUTERS/Tingshu Wang

Duo Lan distributes stickers with the community's logo to the members, during a free weekly training session, June 18, 2022. REUTERS/Tingshu Wang

 Mina teaches a member of her women's club how to use a skateboard during a practise session, July 6, 2022. REUTERS/Tingshu Wang

Duo Lan distributes stickers with the community's logo to the members, during a free weekly training session, June 18, 2022. REUTERS/Tingshu Wang

 Zhao rides a skateboard during a practise session, as her son, Leng Buding,  plays with slalom cones, June 30, 2022. REUTERS/Tingshu Wang

 Zhao rides a skateboard during a practise session, July 8, 2022. REUTERS/Tingshu Wang

 Zhao and Zija ride their skateboards during a practise session, June 30, 2022. REUTERS/Tingshu Wang

A member of Beijing Girls Surf Skating Community falls from her skateboard at a pump track, June 10, 2022. REUTERS/Tingshu Wang

Zhang Qianqian, 9, a junior member of Beijing Girls Surfskating Community, rides a skateboard at a pump track, June 10, 2022. REUTERS/Tingshu Wang

Members of Beijing Girls Surfskating Community carry their skateboards as they walk across a street at the Beijing’s Central Business District, June 20, 2022. REUTERS/Tingshu Wang

 Zhao sits in a car as her son, Leng Buding, falls asleep on her lap on their way home, July 3, 2022. REUTERS/Tingshu Wang

 Zhao waves goodbye to Zhang Meixi after a practise lesson, July 6, 2022. REUTERS/Tingshu Wang


The Wider Image

Photography: Tingshu Wang

Reporting: Sophie Yu, Tingshu Wang, Xiaoyu Yin and Reuters Beijing Newsroom

Writing: Martin Quin Pollard

Picture editing: Gabrielle Fonseca Johnson

Text editing: Tony Munroe and Alex Richardson

Design: Marta Montana Gomez