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  • Izzuddin Ramli

Making Extreme Sports Common

The young and the brave embrace new ways of overcoming fear.

Parkour is a training discipline using movements developed from military obstacle course training.
Parkour is a training discipline using movements developed from military obstacle course training. Photo by Izzuddin Ramli.

Speed, height, maximum physical exertion and specialised equipment: check. A high level of inherent danger: check.

Extreme sports like skateboarding, skim boarding, downhill mountain biking and parkour are increasingly taking hold in the hearts of local adrenaline-loving folks. It’s the challenge of attempting to control physics, pushing the limits and pitting man against nature that is so thrilling, it would seem. “I got into skateboarding because it is a sport where you can explore new extreme tricks every day,” says Azreen Azman, a Penang skateboarder who is well-known in the circuit. Unlike road cycling, downhill mountain biking is a sport practiced on steep and rough terrain which involves jumping and cruising through obstacles. Compared to road cycling, an entirely different bike is needed. For instance, a mountain bike is heavier; and equipment like helmets and kneepads are must-haves.

Adam Feroze Ahmed, a Penang-born downhill mountain biker, has been riding since 2001. “In Malaysia, apart from football and badminton, you cannot make a living from sports,” he laments. “I represented Malaysia for five years in tournaments and I paid for it myself. Mountain biking is a growing sport, but unfortunately the government puts more money on road cycling. Last year I received sponsorships from Penang Water Supply Corporation (PBA), but the amount was insufficient to bear the overall costs.” Low support and sponsorship leads to local extreme sportspeople resorting to self-funding. Parkour, a training discipline using movements developed from military obstacle course training, has even fewer selling points. Edwards Hum Jie Shen, a Penang-born traceur – a skilled runner and jumper in parkour – who has been doing the sport for eight years, says, “We don't have sponsors; we are self-funded. Back then, there was no one to teach us.”

There is a new trend where skaters skate on the streets for the wide variety of obstacles.
There is a new trend where skaters skate on the streets for the wide variety of obstacles. Photo by Izzuddin Ramli

Things are slightly peachier for skateboarding: the rapid growth of local skateboarding shops gives a glimmer of hope for the skateboarders – particularly in terms of getting equipment and sponsors. For Azreen, being exposed to international skate scenes and taking part in competitions such as Singapore’s King of Rail and Gap, Volcom Wild in the Parks in Jakarta and Medan, and South Korea’s KXF World Games in Chuncheon have given him confidence that skateboarding could be more than just a pastime – it could be his career.

“When I started going for skating competitions and won, my family began to see that what I was doing was not just a hobby,” he says. Azreen who has been skating for almost 13 years, can breathe a sigh of relief as he is now an ambassador for a number of local and international skateboarding brands, such as Vans, Nates Skateboard, Embassy Pro Shop, Weakend and Papan Skateboard.

For some, looking for sponsors is a tiring thing to do; time is better spent setting up their own stores, at the same time promoting and educating rookies. For skimboarder Kee Jet Shun, his store, Skim Shack in Fettes Park, helps him introduce the sport to the public, in particular young Penangites. “I never actually thought of running a shop. It just happened because there was no way for a person like me to promote skimboarding and to supply equipment,” he explains.

A Place to Practice

There is a trait that links the extreme sportspeople of the state: their versatility when it comes to training grounds. “In Penang, we don’t have any specific place to train; what we do is adapt ourselves to the environment,” says Kee. The island is the right place for skimboarding: from June to September, the west coast monsoon season creates ripe conditions for the sport. Skimboarding can be played in two ways: the first is flatland, where the skimboarder skims on shallow water and performs tricks similar to skateboarding; this method can be played throughout the year. The second way is to catch shore break waves, like surfing.

Penang Island is the right place for skimboarding.
Penang Island is the right place for skimboarding.

Azreen deems the safety level of the Batu Uban and Youth Park skate parks as unsatisfactory, a condition that limits the potential of skaters. “The ramps, hand reels and stairs in Youth Park are bigger in size and not suitable for beginners, whereas the skate park in Batu Uban is too small and unmaintained,” Azreen says. Even so, many skaters in the state have turned professional; there is a new trend where skaters skate on the streets for the wide variety of obstacles and only use the skate parks for practice.

Penang Hill and Mount Erskine are the two hotspots for local and international downhill mountain bikers – with one drawback: the bikers have to share the same track with other users, such as hikers. “It is a bit of a shame – in more developed countries, people are starting to take mountain biking seriously. New Zealand is a very good example: the trails are built by the city council – a specific trail that no horses or walkers are allowed to use. Infrastructure in Penang is not bad, but there isn’t a vision to develop it as a mountain bike destination,” says Adam.

The Penang Youth Park is where local traceurs practice while they look for new places in residential areas, shop lots and even playgrounds with obstacles that are suitable and safe.

Bright Future Ahead?

In countries like the US, skateboarding has been incorporated as a governmentsupported sport – just like basketball, tennis and football. It is not yet the case in Malaysia, but things might change, with skateboarding and surfing recommended for inclusion at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. “If the government takes this seriously, it has to begin training and supporting us in terms of training facilities,” says Azreen.

Many extreme sports-goers express the same hope: “All we need is a strong core body of people to keep promoting the sport and, hopefully, it can be accepted and be popular. All we have to do is put it out there,” says Kee.

For a traceur like Hum, who sees parkour as a game of self-discipline and a medium to challenge the potential of the human body, he has no doubt that it could be the sport for everybody. “It will grow in the future; we are getting a lot of people. This sport is not about competition; it is about self-discipline,” he says.

While it is doubtless that extreme sports is gaining traction, it should be recognised for its distinctiveness – the athletes go faster and push the limits. Physical training is a must, and so is mental preparation. Extreme sports means conquering one’s fear of danger.

*This article was first published in Penang Monthly, April 2016.


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