Skate City: How Sydney is becoming a skateboarder’s dream destination

In March this year, popular sneaker company, Vans, released a new skate shoe designed by professional Sydney skateboarder, Chima Ferguson. This shoe was the second to be designed by Ferguson for Vans – his first coming out in 2013.

In its 52 years as a skateboarding-supportive company, Vans has only ever allowed a handful of skaters to design the shape of a shoe with that skater’s name printed on the shoe’s tongue. In addition to his name, printed on the tongue of this shoe is Ferguson’s home town: Sydney.

Ferguson’s success is a demonstration of the increasing desirability of Sydney as a destination for skateboarding. Sydney has a long history as a city from which talented skateboarders have emerged. This city has drawn skateboarders from around the world.

However, its appeal has diminished in recent decades, due to exorbitant living costs and competition from a successfully established skateboarding industry in Melbourne. But with skateboarding being now an official Olympic sport, the activity’s mainstream popularity is clear, and Sydney is again becoming a skateboarder’s dream destination. Here’s why.

Over the gap at Sydenham Skatepark, Chima Ferguson tests the durability of his second signature Vans skate shoe by landing this “front shuvit” – a 180° spin of the board backwards under his feet. Photograph by Cameron Markin

The landscape

A range of features in Sydney’s natural geography make it a good skate city: pleasant weather, abundant sunshine all year round, and varied terrain with plenty of rolling hills and plains. Sydney’s warm sandy beaches also act as recovery spots from a day’s skate encouraging the transition of surfing to skating. The Bowl-A-Rama skate contest, which has been held every year at Bondi Beach, is always a media favourite. It has attracted skating celebrities like Tony Hawk to come along to “spin a 540” (a mid-air, full body rotation of one-and-a-half turns) above the sand and surf.

The iconography of Sydney’s built environment is of undeniable benefit to the skate community. For example, the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge are regularly featured in Sydney-based skate films, and Martin Place, a long outdoor plaza in Sydney’s CBD, is hugely popular for skateboarding. It contains numerous stair sets and hand rails that are challenging to skate.

The city and the outer suburbs also offer an abundance of urban features, such as hand rails, ledges and “banks”, highly sought after by skaters. Ferguson, in a recent Thrasher interview, states that the value of such spots and Sydney’s overall appeal lies in its “downtown” feel, where everything seems to fall within a short skate’s distance.

Sydney is also lucky to have a number of purpose-built skate parks, and the situation is set to improve. A group of skaters who describe themselves as “dedicated to everything skateboarding in Sydney” are known as Sydney Skateboard Association. This group has been working closely with Sydney local councils to develop new skate parks close to the CBD. Earlier this year, their hard work started to bear fruit; the inner west suburb of Sydenham opened a new skate venue. New parks are also expected soon in the areas of St Peters, Glebe and Meadowbank.

An iconic “tre flip” (a 360° rotating kickflip) by local Sydney skater Anthony Gotsis. Photograph by Cameron Markin

The people

In addition to an iconic environment, Sydney also has world-class skaters. Chima Ferguson is just one of the many highly influential professionals who are raising the profile of the city. Dustin Dollin, Corbin Harris, Dane Burman and, more recently, Jake Hayes are street skaters who, like Ferguson, have attained professional status from globally renowned skateboarding companies. In the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, 17-year-old female skater from Bondi, Poppy Starr Olsen, will likely represent Australia in women’s skateboarding.

There is wide recognition of this growing pool of Sydney talent. In 2017, Nike’s skateboarding division, Nike SB, hosted an open-to-all video premiere in Martin Place. This premiere exclusively showcased its team of Sydney skaters. The video was truly unique to Sydney and was given a title emblematic of the city’s character and town planning history: ‘Cumberland County’.

The industry

Since the early 1990s, the skateboarding industry in Sydney has seen enormous change and fluctuation. The last decade alone has seen the opening or closing (or both) of numerous skate shops and businesses. There has also been significant relocation of skate company head offices and key industry figures to Melbourne. This has been detrimental to the Sydney scene. Being in a city with a strong skate industry is an important factor for aspiring skateboarders in choosing which city to visit or live in. Fortunately, recent years have seen large, positive developments within the Sydney skateboarding industry, through the emergence of new local companies.

Once such company is Pass~Port, a Sydney-based skateboard equipment and apparel brand, who has strengthened the local skate scene by creating an image that reflects Sydney’s skate culture in a way appealing to both local and international audiences. Sunday Hardware Co. is another skate brand that has elevated Sydney’s skateboarding reputation, primarily through the brand’s videos of numerous talented local skaters doing “gnarly” tricks at various Sydney spots. Totem Skateboarding, a Sydney skate coaching and events team, has also been successful in linking local government councils with the skate community through a grassroots approach.

These recent successes in Sydney’s skate industry have been significant in advancing Sydney’s recognition as a skating destination, and are key to the resurgence and revival of this important subculture.  

Chima Ferguson has recently bought himself a home in Sydney’s inner city suburb Surry Hills. He has also bought his Mum a home in western Sydney, near where she works. Ferguson’s enormous success as a skater is a clear indication of the growing success of Sydney as a skateboarding home. It holds a vibrant, dynamic and growing community of skateboarders in an urban landscape offering an increasing wealth of opportunities for creative skateboarding development.

However, the city still has a long way to go in fully recognising the value that skateboarding has in engaging people of a wide range of ages in social, political and physical activity. An effective strategic response would involve not just building more skateparks around Sydney, but greater overall support for the creative pursuits of skateboarders, integrated within the city’s core.    

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