TC Spotlight: Warren Stuart – “The Godfather” of HK Skateboarding

Warren Stuart – “The Godfather” of HK Skateboarding

Few people can say they were there in the beginning of something. The beginning of a trend or movement. Not so for Warren Stuart, who was there to witness the first days of Hong Kong skateboarding. The sport has been his passion for over 30 years, fighting cultural trends, government restrictions and fought to have over 14 skate-parks built in Hong Kong.

Presently, he is the Secretary General of the Asian Skateboarding Federation.  He has been recently appointed by the HK Roller Sports Federation (which is the recognised body by the Olympics Committee) to be the Chairman of their Skateboard Committee.  They will be putting together the programme for the 2020 skateboarding programme for HK.

From nothing, to the Olympics. Warren can say he has been there from the start, and watched it all grow.

Check out a video Warren did in collaboration with Vans and 852Shop:

 

We sit down with Warren to discuss skateboarding as a sport, as an art form, as an identity and it’s sub-culture.

 

How long have you been skateboarding?

I’ve been skateboarding for 30 over years.   

Left to Right: Daniel Kung, 2014 Asian Beach Games Hong Kong Team manager; Mr. Pang Chung, General Secretary Hong Kong Sports Federation and Olympic Committee; Warren Stuart as Head Judge and Technical Director of skateboarding 2014 Asian Beach Games, Thailand; Jimmy Mak, HKXFED V.President BMX Freestyle

 

Is skateboarding an art or a sport?

In September 2016, skateboarding has become an Olympic sport. So yes, its much more than a lifestyle now. To me, its still Art-In-Motion. But skateboarders today are taking this to a whole new level.

 

What was your first skateboard?

My first skateboard was a small fibreglass skateboard with clear yellow wheels that my father got me sometime in the 70’s.  I remember sitting on that thing and going up and down the hall on the 13th floor of my grandmother’s apartment building. That was about all I did on a skateboard then. 

So when did skateboarding get serious for you?

In the mid 80’s I moved to London, right around the time when ‘street’ skateboarding started.  I remember seeing skateboarding magazines at Tower Records in Picadilly and the photos I saw really inspired me to pick up skateboarding again.  I started skating with my good friend, Daryll, in all these skate spots and skateparks in London and this was probably one of the best times of my life.   

 

What was your first experience of skateboarding in HK?

“The skateboard community then was very small, but very close because we were all brothers-in-arms, rebels of sorts that understood each other at a time where skateboarders and skateboarding were frowned upon. ”

When I returned to Hong Kong in the late 80’s skateboarding had already picked up here.   The skateboard community then was very small, but very close because we were all brothers-in-arms, rebels of sorts that understood each other at a time where skateboarders and skateboarding were frowned upon.  Many of them are still my friends today, and we still occasionally skate together.

In the early 90’s, urban skateboarding became very popular all around the world, and with some friends, we opened Hong Kong’s first skater-owned and run skate shop.  BFD skates was a pioneering concept at the time for street-wear and skateboarding. This project did not last long and by 96 we were closed. I’d say between 1996-2000, those were the dark ages in Hong Kong as it was around the time of the Hong Kong handover.

Where did you go from there?  How was skateboarding seen at that time – how did you communicate? 

In 1999, I started a skateboarding website HKskateboarding.com, a website about everything and anything related to skateboarding in Hong Kong. The idea was to make a network of skateboarders, keep everyone informed about anything and everything related to skateboarding in Hong Kong.
2014, Asian Beach Games. My good friend Brian Siswojo as the announcer and MC, and myself as Head Judge
More and more Hong Kong people started to skateboard and there were more shops opening.   One feature of my website was to showcase video clips of skaters as well as new street spots, as there were no proper skateparks in Hong Kong at the time.  99% of skateboarding happened in the streets.  Plazas of certain buildings and parks became meccas of skateboarding, especially after hours.   Over time, these spots became un-skatable because of the sheer number of skateboarders going to these spots.  Being kicked out by security and the police became a normal thing for us.

What did HK have to offer?

Then in 1999/2000, an opportunity came from the YMCA, King’s Park.  They decided to put together a group of skateboarders to brainstorm what to build.  I headed this project and the result was a small skatepark about the size of 2 tennis courts.   One day, as I was skating at King’s Park, I met a skater and his son, he turned out to be the project engineer that was building the Lai Chi Kok KCR (MTR) project at the time, and that included the Lai Chi Kok (Mei Foo) skatepark.

“Why build it in the first place if you aren’t going to let the public use it?”

He liked how we designed the park at YMCA, and we did the same thing for Mei Foo skatepark.  A year later, Mei Foo skatepark was completed.  The problem at that time, was that the HK Government department that manages all public parks in Hong Kong, the LCSD (Leisure and Cultural Services Department) did not know how to manage a skatepark.  They kept the skatepark closed for 6 months because of this.   The LCSD could not get any answers from all the official sports associations in Hong Kong.  The Cycling Association and the Roller Federation could not tell them how to run a skatepark. The LCSD were terrified that someone would get seriously hurt in this skatepark so without any rules or guidelines from official sports bodies, they decided to keep it closed.  Why build it in the first place if you aren’t going to let the public use it?

 

The Hong Kong Federation of Extreme Sports

As a result, I got together with a group of like-minded people, skateboarders, BMX riders and Inline skaters, and we formed the Hong Kong Federation of Extreme Sports.  We all knew each other well, because we all skated the same street spots.   We were strength in numbers, and we collectively called our sports “extreme sports”.

As one of the founding members of the Hong Kong Federation of Extreme Sports, I became the spokesman for all extreme sports enthusiasts at the time. I met with the LCSD on numerous occasions.  We gave them demonstrations on how we used the skatepark. I wrote the guidelines for skatepark safety, usage, and tried to explain to bureaucrats about skatepark etiquette and the culture of ‘extreme sports’.

I used examples of best practice from around the world. We were just bringing our sport and culture off the streets into a purpose-built venue that is a purpose built environment for users.  Conservative bureaucrats did not fully trust or buy our ideas, but finally, they agreed to do a 6-month trial using our methods of managing the skatepark. Finally Mei Foo Skatepark was open!

The rest is history. Today, I’d like to think I have earned the trust of the LCSD. We now have 14 skateparks, 5 of them are state of the art skateparks built by one of the best skatepark builders in the world.

I have given seminars to LCSD managers and staff on how to manage their skateparks. At the same time, I tried to give them a better picture of what skateboarding and extreme sports are like and to try to get rid of the stereotype that extreme sports is so dangerous.

I am proud to say that as a direct result of having all these different types of skateparks, we achieved 2 gold medals and one bronze medal at the 2014 Asian Beach Games in Thailand, which is under the Olympic umbrella of events.

 

Yes, skateboarding in the Olympics?

“I was proud to wear the Hong Kong uniform in the games.  For my boys, it was their first time in an official event and it was an experience of a lifetime for them.”

Finally, in August this year, the International Olympic Committee announced that Skateboarding will be in the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.  For us, it has been a long, but exciting journey.  The road to the Olympics for us started back in 2005.  We had our first opportunity to join the Asian Indoor Games in Thailand.  It was the first time skateboarding and extreme sports were to be included in an Olympic Council Asia event.

At that time, as I was the Vice-President of the HK Federation of extreme sports, I was appointed by the Hong Kong Federation of Roller Sports to be the Head Coach for the HK team. We had the opportunity to travel and train in Malaysia as well as the USA. It was the first time I had an official role under the Sports Federation and Olympic Committee of Hong Kong.

I was proud to wear the Hong Kong uniform in the games.  For my boys, it was their first time in an official event and it was an experience of a lifetime for them.  They learned more attending this event than anyone could have taught them.  For me, I was lucky to meet and impress the people at AXF (Asian Extreme Sports Federation).  They were the governing body for all extreme sports events during the 2005 Indoor Games. In 2005, the Asian Extreme Sports Federation appointed me to be the Head Judge and Technical Director for skateboarding.  I set up the standards for judging and scoring based on my own bad experiences, in events where I felt there was too much bias or favouritism.

It was a big change in my role, as now I had the opportunity to be a part of events all over Asia. I judged events in Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan, China, Thailand, etc. In 2008, I participated in the 2nd Asian Indoor games in Macau as Head Judge, under the Asian Extreme Sports Federation. Around the same time, our Asian Federation joined the ISF, (International Skateboarding Federation) as the goal was to get skateboarding into the Olympics.

 

The Asian Beach Games 2014

“For me, this was one of the most important events for skateboarding in Hong Kong, as our boys are no longer just “skateboarders” – they are officially recognised gold medal athletes that represented Hong Kong.”

In 2014, The Asian Beach Games also included extreme sports and skateboarding. It would be the third time I attended and Olympic Council Asia event. For my boys, it was their third time as well, and this was the event where Luk Chun Yin and Johnnie Tang won gold medals. For me, this is one of the most important events for skateboarding in Hong Kong, as our boys are no longer just “skateboarders” – they are officially recognised gold medal athletes that represented Hong Kong.

 

Developing the Asian Skateboarding Federation

The way I see it, skateboarding in the Olympics brings skateboarding to thousands, if not, millions of kids out here in Asia.

During one of our Asian events in Korea, the Asian Extreme Sports Federation decided that we needed a group specifically for skateboarding.  We needed to evolve from being an extreme sports federation looking after 3 different sports to one that focused on skateboarding in Asia.   We needed more experts on skateboarding involved in this new federation.  So the Asian Skateboarding Federation was formed as a subsidiary group of the Asian Extreme Sports Federation.  ASF now represents 14 countries in Asia.  We will be helping skateboard associations in various countries get organised and get the resources they need from their respective government sports ministries.  My role in the ASF is Secretary General.  I look forward to helping develop skateboarding in Asia.  In the West and around the world, there has been a lot of opposition for skateboarding being in the Olympics. Many feel that it takes away from the ‘real’ skateboarding and puts it under the spotlight for the benefit of corporate companies and media.

 

So is the Olympics good or bad for skateboarding?

“The way I see it, skateboarding in the Olympics brings skateboarding to thousands, if not, millions of kids out here in Asia.”

The way I see it, skateboarding in the Olympics brings skateboarding to thousands, if not, millions of kids out here in Asia. Skateboarding is already mature in the West, it is just like any other activity or sport. But when you see skateboarding in countries like the Philippines, India, and other parts of Asia, even though they are years behind the west, but with their government support, skateboarding is growing at a tremendous rate.

Kids that could never ever have a chance to skateboard, now can.  There are schools in India with skateparks and skateboard programmes for kids – something that HK and other countries in the West don’t have.  There are more countries building public skateparks in their cities.  More public funds being channeled into skateboarding – a direct result of skateboarding being an Olympic sport.  When the ASF appointed me as Secretary General, they asked me to help all these countries to do what I did in HK.   It is like a huge task, but exciting at the same time.  We have just started to get to work.

How does HK see skateboarding now?

We are all excited that Skateboarding is going to be in the Olympics.  As the skaters are now official athletes of the Hong Kong Team, the selected skateboarders will have access to Hong Kong government resources like training at the Sports Institute where they have access to professional coaches for all types of sports – training as well as medical and physiotherapy support.

I am also petitioning to the HK Government to update our older skateparks.  The plan for the new Mei Foo Skatepark is amazing!

 

What are you busy with these days?

Due to its popularity, there has been a demand for skateboard lessons. I run a number of Instructor Courses and have qualified some skateboard coaches – they are all good guys and love teaching kids.

In addition to coaching the HK skateboarding squad, I enjoy teaching skateboarding.  Although my time is limited, I do still teach on weekends. I love teaching kids and anyone willing to learn.

Thanks Warren! The man’s still got skills as you can see in this video of him skating in HK:

 

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