Huge China skate park is wheel deal

It's bigger than four football fields in a city with 10 universities and 160,000 students. Alexandra Cain reports.

It's bigger than four football fields in a city with 10 universities and 160,000 students. Alexandra Cain reports.

An Australian entrepreneur is building what he claims is the world's biggest skateboard park in Guangzhou, China, which is about two hours' drive from Hong Kong and situated in the area of China that is developing fastest.

The 17,000-square-metre park - about as big as four football fields - is being built on the grounds of a conglomerate of universities, the Guangzhou Higher Education Mega Centre, in the extreme sports area.

Demand for the park's facilities - which are free to use - will be high. The mega centre is home to 10 universities, more than 160,000 students and 20,000 staff.

Australian Brad Shaw, who runs a business called Sk8scapes, is managing the development in conjunction with his Chinese partner, Eddie Liao, through their joint venture B&E Actionsports. The business will take over day-to-day management of the park once construction is complete.

"There are 20-storey dormitory apartment buildings as far as the eye can see around the construction site," says Shaw, who has been building skate parks for 35 years.

When the skate park is finished - it's slated to finish later this year - it will be the main action sports hub in southern China.

It's not the first time Shaw has been responsible for developing a major action sports venue in China. He and Liao have been working together for more than 10 years and previously developed SMP Skatepark Shanghai, which holds the mantle for the world's biggest skate park, at 13,000 square metres.

"I can see a hundred of these parks being built around China," Shaw says.

While Shaw has built a business in the skateboard industry outside Australia, others in Australia have not been so lucky with their ventures. The Australian skateboard industry has struggled to compete against the flood of imported boards.

There used to several Australian brands competing in the domestic market. But it has become uneconomic to produce skateboard blanks in Australia.

"It's all about volume," says Shaw. "You have to get them from the US or China and you need to buy 500 or 1000 units, which is quite a big number for many local skate businesses."

Omni Boards is run by Cary Pogson, who has been manufacturing skateboards in Ulladulla, NSW, since the 1980s. His business is doing it tough.

"Now you get $20 less for a board than you did in the '80s," he says. "We'd get $54 a board then; now it's $25 to $27 a board.

"Business slowed after 2000 when imports started coming in from China and it became harder to compete with boards made in the US.

"I employed eight people in the mid to late '80s; by 2000 I only employed one."

Pogson now runs the business by himself and largely supplies boards to other brands.

"I'm the last person in Australia to actually make boards," he says. "Omni is the second oldest [local] skateboard brand; Hardcore is the oldest."

Skateboarding has had a resurgence in recent years as longer boards have become popular.

There has also been a fad for Penny Skateboards - tiny, brightly coloured plastic boards ridden by young kids and hipsters. Sales of Penny boards have kept skateboard retailers chugging along.

But Pogson says there's not as much turnover of long skateboards, which hurts the bottom line.

"A good street skater [riding a short board] might go through a board a week, or they would need a new set wheels, but a longboard might last for years," he says, adding that there are up to 20 versions of longboard in various widths and shapes, which makes stocking them an expensive investment.

David Robertson runs Sydney's Basement Skate - which bills itself as the largest longboard shop in the southern hemisphere. He says the depreciation of the currency has been a positive for the industry. It has meant it's no longer as attractive for customers to buy online from US retailers.

"The dollar was killing us. Now it's eased off, US stores have become less competitive, which has taken the heat off," Robertson says.

Despite these straitened times, Pogson still wants to support Aussie skateboard businesses. He says over the years he's probably seen 200 different labels come and go.

"Kids still want to start their own company and do their own thing and that's what I'm trying to support."

Robertson is bullish about the local market. He says more people skate now than ever before.

Although there was a dip in demand from the early '90s until five years ago, longboarding has helped revitalise the industry.

"There have been tough times over the past few years, as there has been in any industry. But kids are starting to realise skate shops are disappearing and customers are starting to come back."

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