Longboarder Mu Qing skates through the mega-city of Chengdu in southwest China, deftly dancing on and off her ride as a friend tails her from behind, filming on a smartphone.
With over half a million followers on social media, Mu, 21, is one of longboarding’s biggest stars in China.
AFP / FRED DUFOUR With skateboarding set to make its debut at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, what was once a niche subculture is entering the mainstream
She is among a growing group of young women in China posting videos of their boarding adventures — tens of thousands of views on individual clips is the norm — giving the sport an unprecedented level of exposure.
It mirrors a similar trend in the West where the #girlscanride hashtag has gained popularity on social media, with many posting pictures of traditionally male-dominated sports like dirt biking, skateboarding and BMX.
AFP / Fred DUFOUR A growing group of young women in China post videos of their boarding adventures on social media
Bigger and easier to manoeuver than a skateboard, longboarders say it allows for a smoother and more comfortable ride, many using it in their daily commutes.
On Douyin, which allows users to post 15-second video clips, Mu puts up footage of herself riding around Chengdu performing stunts — twirling on and off her board — and even outtakes where she falls off.
Her most popular videos attract millions of views.
AFP / Fred DUFOUR Most of Mu’s skating videos are in a style known as “longboard dancing”
“In the beginning, I thought (longboarding) was something that only delinquents would be involved in but after I met another female skater, I realised that the sport is not limited to gender,” Mu said.
Street culture elsewhere — which includes rap and graffiti art — is often used to expose social ills or dissatisfaction with the status quo.
AFP / FRED DUFOURFemale boarders posting online in China mirrors a similar trend in the West where the #girlscanride hashtag has gained popularity
But in China, where tattoos and even makeup can be considered politically sensitive or inappropriate, there seems little chance of that happening.
Most of Mu’s skating videos are in a style known as “longboard dancing”. Many of her fans from across the country are young and female.
AFP / Fred DUFOURMu says skateboarding and longboarding is not limited to gender, and many of her fans across the country are female
“I am following her style (of skating) now, because I have seen her video, it feels that her style is relatively smooth, unlike someone who also falls off the board,” said Ten, a 17-year-old longboarder based in Beijing.
With skateboarding set to make its debut at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and breakdancing to be added to the programme in 2024, what was once seen as a niche subculture is gradually entering the mainstream.
“Skateboarding and longboarding is not limited to either gender,” Mu said.
“Whether you’re male or female… 30 or 40 years old, you can take part in this sport. There is no limit to it, and even females can perform very well.”
— This story accompanies a photo essay and video by Fred Dufour.