A few years ago I was lucky enough to visit China. My parents were living in Ningbo, a city of around 2 million or so souls, about an hour from Shanghai. At the time, I was still involved in the skateboarding scene filming and managing a local group of skaters. Ok, I was basically the team mom, but they were a good group of guys and while they gave me grey hairs, I learned a lot from them as well.
While I was there, I kept an eye out for skaters. I was especially curious to see what the local scene was like. Let's be honest. To skate (unless you're in one of those soccer mom leagues in Cali) means you're a rebel, and in the US that's ok because we celebrate rebels. We encourage the passionate and dedicated rule breaker, because those people, we've been taught, change the world.
In China rule breaking just isn't viewed the same way. There isn't the same level of tolerance, and I don't mean from the government or authorities, I mean culturally, rule breaking is just different. I was curious to see the balance between that rebel skateboarding attitude and the acceptance of the sport at the societal level. So I went to the Asian X Games, held in Shanghai.
The Asian X Games gave me a glimpse into how China wants to engage with the multi-billion dollar industry. They put on a world class event and invited everyone to come. Most people there had never followed the sport (or any of the sports), but were quick to cheer for and engage with the household names they had never heard of. I was lucky enough to snap a few photos with Andy Mac before I left (being the only recognizably American person in the crowd probably helped get his attention). I left thinking that if China put resources into building some good parks, we're gonna see some amazing athletes come out of there.
Eventually I ran into some street skaters skating a small gap in front of a church that had been build many years ago (I remember thinking, isn't church illegal here?). They weren't great, but they were just as passionate as their American comrades. One of them slipped out and I handed him his board. The best way to describe their crew was respectfully rebellious. They might not have been firebrands, but their politeness made friends with the other people in front of the church, and many gathered around to watch and cheer the occasional kick flip or groan and the near misses. The local authorities watched with curiosity rather than the typical resentment and/or distrust I had experienced in the past. I watched for a while and continued back to my hotel.
Later, after thinking back on the experience, I remember feeling content. The typical Chinese work ethic had begun to be replaced by a generation of spoiled only children. Entitled children. Lazy children. Sound like anywhere else you know? I remember feeling contentment because the adults cheering on those teens skating their hearts out were cheering on their vivaciousness and willingness to take a chance and get up again. They were cheering them on to BE ACTIVE.