THE CITY A BAROMETER OF CHANGe
MICHAŁ SOBCZYK
The arrival of spring is visible not only in the awakening nature around us. An equally clear sign is when the city’s parks, squares and sidewalks become an arena for sports and recreation.
THE CITY A BAROMETER OF CHANGe
THE CITY A BAROMETER OF CHANGe
Sports played in public space, both those with a long tradition in Poland and those that have only recently begun to appear, have become extremely popular in recent years. Badminton belongs to the first of these groups, and amateur players of this sport can be seen with growing frequency in squares and grassy areas, and even in front of cafes or in the courtyards of buildings. – I tried tennis a while ago, but it was too expensive for me: special equipment, renting a court, going there, explains Daria, who has been studying in Kraków since the autumn. – To play badminton recreationally, all you need are cheap rackets and a birdie, and even a net isn’t really necessary. Also, this sport doesn’t require a lot of strength, which means that even playing with guys is fun and well-balanced. Equally democratic is hacky sack, which has gained favour again after having been forgotten for many years. – Hacky Sack is a sport played by professional athletes, but also an excellent way to start to exercise. At any moment you can take a small ball out of your pocket which costs 15 zł and start to hit it with your feet, gradually learning various tricks. It’s an excellent way to improve your balance and physical control as well as a fantastic game for 2-6 people which doesn’t require a playing field, says Michał Róg, an organiser of urban sports in Kraków, and also the founder and owner of BC24, a sport shop. If someone gets bored of this unique activity, he can always take up the more hipster game of kendama, which involves a wooden mallet with a spike used to hit a ball with a hole. This modest Japanese game allows you to do an unlimited number of tricks and even some acrobatics. The City is Rolling The number of scooter fans is growing, even though not long ago riding one was considered to be something only for children. It’s still far from being as popular as cycling, but people using scooters to get around is becoming a more common sight on the streets of Polish cities. Users of solid urban scooters with pumped wheels, for example those produced by small Polish manufacturers Hulam and Hoolay, assert that they’re an ideal way of covering short and medium distances, while also being a daily dose of physical activity that is beneficial for health and well-being.
THE CITY A BAROMETER OF CHANGe
However, the urban sport which is swiftly conquering hearts is skateboarding. The version known as longboard, which has a longer and more stable board which, when combined with larger, softer wheels, makes gliding much easier, especially across uneven terrains, has become very popular here. As a result, skateboards, associated primarily with manoeuvres demanding great dexterity and endangering the rider with injuries, has joined the ranks of urban means of transport. Michał Róg adds that the fashion for longboard has recently been overshadowed by a craze for small, colourful, plastic boards known as fishboards, which are ideal for quickly getting around in the concrete jungle. – Sometimes entire classes from elementary schools or junior high schools begin to skate on fishboards. The attractiveness of this sport has additionally led to a growing number of contests, courses, etc., he says. Proof of the skateboarding renaissance is also the establishment in Polish cities of more firms producing this equipment. On the growing skateboard market, space has even been found for BoardThing – a Krakow-based initiative that collects used skateboards and converts them into recycled jewellery and other things. Michał Róg, who has been observing the development of urban sports in Krakow for many years, states that they’ll soon gain fans not only among young people. – Seeing a thirty-year-old who’s not ashamed of coming into a shop and asking for a skateboard for himself is becoming more common. There are fewer things now that are limited to twenty-year-olds. When asked to mention urban activities which have become particularly popular recently among residents of Kraków, apart from skateboarding, he indicates Frisbee and slackline. The first of these is no longer associated solely with boring weekend leisure for families with small children and dogs. Cracovians arrange to meet in parks for regular training sessions, compete with each other, and treat their hobby very professionally. A similar enthusiasm is felt by fans of slackline, which is a sport involving walking along a rope. Fans get together outside to learn how to control their balance and, over time, to do impressive tricks.
The First Step Many people are held back from attempting urban sports by doubts that can be summed up with the following question: is this really for me? Few people are ready to spend several hundred złoty on a skateboard without being certain that they’ll be able to ride it or that it’ll be enjoyable. There’s a simple solution to this: in most cities, fans of particular disciplines mostly meet in regular places, information about which can be found in social media. And if not, if you go to Błonia field or to Jordan Park on a sunny day – or to a local equivalent of these popular recreational places in Kraków – you can be certain to meet a fanatic of the activity that you’re interested in trying. It’s enough to gather courage and talk to them, and a request for them to teach you the basics of a given sport won’t be ignored. Shops such as BC24 offer similar help, and can also provide information about popular meeting spots for the sport or classes. Michał Róg hints that a comfortable way to test out if longboard or slackline are right for you is to make use of the rental service that he runs. In line with contemporary trends – particularly visible among the youngest generation – owning one doesn’t necessarily ensure a high social status or respect from your friends. Opportunities to gain experience and ecological approaches are increasingly valued in the world of urban sports. Urban planners of contemporary cities are increasingly often creating spaces or infrastructure from public funds to make it easier for people to do urban sports.