The board reborn: Bangkok rides peak surfskate mania

 

Top: Eknarin “Ake” Yotipai

Surfskating, a form of skateboarding that replicates surfing on the streets, is what it’s all about for Bangkok right now. Over the past year, everyone from kindergarteners to office workers have started turning up at skate parks and public parks and parking lots with a deck in hand. Surfskaters are all over our TikTok and Instagram feeds. They’ve taken over a corner of Rod Fai park, the parking lot of Big C Rama IV, and even a ghostly empty Asiatique.

Surfskating may seem pretty novel now, but it’s nothing new. Modern surfing can be traced back to the 1700s in Polynesia, and skateboarding has been popular since the 1970s. Surfskating, a sport also known as carveboarding, began in the 1990s as a way for surfers to hone their skills when there were no waves, using boards that are much more nimble than skateboards. Think skateboarding but with surfing maneuvers.

“In surfskating, you have to use your shoulders and hips to control the movement of the board [instead of your feet],” explains Eknarin “Ake” Yotipai, a board designer for Sunova, the surfboard and lifestyle brand headquartered in Khao Lak.

“What sets it apart from other board sports is there is so much beauty and grace in the way you move. Skateboards don’t require as much movement, whereas surfskateboards are made for you to turn easier.”

Even though it isn’t a new activity, there’s a reason why surfskate boards are flying off the shelves—to the point that members of the Facebook group Surfskate Thailand Marketplace are selling secondhand boards for as much as THB40,000.

Karin 'Nick' Manunapichu
Karin “Nick” Manunapichu

 

“People haven’t been able to travel abroad or even leave their neighborhoods at times this year, so we all had to find something new to do to pass the time. When celebrities [like Ploi Horwang] began surfskating and posting it on their feeds, people just started to go crazy over it,” says Supapitch “June” Pithayanukul, a Bangkok-based distributor of Sunova.

Surfskating isn’t just for the young, though.

“We’ve seen parents bringing their kids to surfskate, and some of the [adults] end up buying a board of their own. It’s become a family activity,” says Karin “Nick” Manunapichu, owner of Pumptrack SlideAway in Pathum Thani.

The sport is also accessible for beginners, and you don’t need much to get into it, which is something that attracted Napol “Koe” Pornsomboon, a lifelong, die-hard sports enthusiast.

“I’ve tried everything from triathlon, rock climbing, free diving, horse riding, open water swimming, and stand-up paddle boarding to tennis, basketball, and football… surfskating isn’t as hard to

get into as you think it is. All you need is a board, and you can do it anywhere, anytime,” he says.

Napol "Koe" Pornsomboon
Napol “Koe” Pornsomboon

That low barrier of entry also makes the sport extremely adaptable. Nick notes that once you’ve got the basics down, you can easily branch out into skating, downhill longboarding, and, of course, surfing—the epicenter being Memories Beach in Khao Lak, where Ake, who’s also a surfskate instructor and the originator of the “Sunova Style,” plies his trade.

Even for thrill seekers like Koe, however, surfskating is more than what it seems on the surface. “It’s not just a sport. You see people expressing themselves with the way they dress, the style they skate, the boards they use,” he notes.

But like all lifestyle fads in Thailand, surfskating might be a passing trend. Casual surfskaters like Koe wouldn’t mind this prospect. He thinks it will cool off and fall behind mainstream sports like cycling, golf, or running. He even declares he’ll only surfskate another two or three years before moving on to something else.

Those in the industry think otherwise.

“It’s so similar to surfing, which is already popular here. I think we can create a culture for it in Thailand,” Ake says.

 Skate’r Thai! Learn to roll, pump, carve to survive the surfskate invasion

“Surfskating, or any board sport, is a lifestyle. But it’s still new. We’ll have to see if it can stand the test of time,” adds Nick. “When the world is back to normal, I hope more foreign skaters will come to Thailand to exchange knowledge and help the community grow.”

While its popularity might be more about trend-seeking than thrill-seeking, there’s a lot working in surfskating’s favor. It’s been red hot for more than a year, and its momentum doesn’t seem to be slowing down.

Like jiggly pancakes, beer yoga, and camping, no one can say if the masses will be into it this time next year, but probably everyone can agree: If it is just as popular in 2022 as it is now, we at least hope it won’t cost THB40,000 to buy a board anymore.

Want to try it? Get a beginner intro this weekend at a free workshop held at a two-day surfksating event held at Tha Maharaj by the Chao Phraya River. Space is limited.

This story originally appeared in BK.

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