Raw Shellfish and Skateboarding in Taipei
Words by Johnny Purcell and Ryan Lebel
Photos by Ryan Lebel
Winter was hitting full force in Montreal. It was becoming more and more difficult to live normally and ignore the snow and cold. The desire to hibernate inevitably sets in and you accept that the next few months are a write-off. This year had to be different. I needed something to break up that seasonal cycle; I needed to leave the continent. —RL
Above: Johnny, Backside Smith Grind.
Half of our crew went through a gruesome episode of Noro Virus on this trip. Much like Canadian winters, Noro Virus starts out mildly inhibiting, but bearable. Quickly escalating into a violent torment, destined to continue perpetually. Inflicting depression and lethargy on those forced to endure. As a result, our crew, consisting of Adam Riviglia, Erick Valentic, Jamie Duncanson, Ryan Lebel and myself, swallowed the figurative Gravol, and embarked on a journey across the world that spanned 30 hours and cost thousands of dollars, all to skate some curbs or something. —JP
When searching for trip destinations, there is a perfect equilibrium between the blown out and the untouched. Taiwan is a perfect example of such a place. There has been significant amount of content to come from this noisy city; notably GX1000 Taiwan, and Josh Clark China Full Part. These timeless gifts to the world of skateboarding highlighted what Taiwan had to offer and gave us the necessary confirmation that the spots were in fact “buttery.”—JP
After a few abrasive conference calls between our hesitant group, a consensus was reached—it’s fucking cold. While some of the group were merely acquaintances at this point, we were aligned on our collective mission to obtain “hammies.” Erick and I immediately booked our flights; Adam and Jamie shortly followed. With no photographer set to come, I added Fredericton-native Ryan Lebel to the group chat to inquire into his interest. Ecstatic, he agreed. It's safe to say this trip wouldn't have come together if it weren't for the collaborative nature of the almighty group chat. Memes, hangovers, and organizational efficiency; god bless the group chat. —JP
Erick, Backside Tailslide.
Taiwan, officially the Republic of China (ROC), is a tropical island situated between the Philippines and China, or formally, the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Taiwan’s history is long and complex, and its current political status reflects that. After the Chinese civil war in 1949, the government of the ROC was forced to flee mainland China to Taiwan. Today, both the ROC and PRC adhere to the “One-China policy.” Under which both countries agree there is only one true China, and each government claims themselves the rightful and the other illegitimate. —JP
Johnny, Switch Ollie.
Unbeknownst to any of us, we had booked our travels during the infamous Chinese New Year festivities. This meant that for our first four days the city was nearly vacant. Besides our sacred 7-Elevens, almost all the stores were closed, as many of the employees were making the pilgrimage back to their rural homelands. Our guides YoungLu and Charlie were able to help us take advantage of such a situation. Bringing us to a multitude of spots that would be otherwise un-skateable. —JP
Taipei felt alive! Perfect weather and spots everywhere. Within a day our winter blues were gone. It was our first experience in an Asian city, and it lived up to our expectations: overwhelming visuals, abundant street food, and surgical mask anonymity. Getting around the city was incredibly fun; the metro was seamless and the roads were full of skitching opportunities. We met up with some locals and they took us to some amazing spots in places we would have never found on our own. Thank you Lu and Charlie! —RL
The hostel we decided to stay at was called Surfin’ Taipei, located in the Zhongzheng District of Taipei City. Ran by a group of twenty-something-year-old girls who also lived there, the hostel atmosphere resembled that of a college freshmen dorm. Filled with travelers and “finding-myselfers” alike, our relationship with the hostel was bittersweet. It’s friendly and booze-fueled atmosphere was welcoming, and simultaneously, a catalyst for becoming “vortexed.” The girls would cook us classic Taiwanese dishes, and provided insights into their language and culture. Possibly attracted to the innocence that came with being an ignorant tourist, it was quickly evident the girls had intentions for our group other than we anticipated. The phrase they frequently used towards us was Jiǔ zuì bìng kě'ài de, translating roughly into “drunk and cute.” Upon our departure, some feelings may have been hurt, hearts may have been broken, but we all made friends that will last forever. Or at least until the reciprocal unfollow on Instagram. —JP
Adam had been eyeing a spot near the hostel and wanted to get a quick Front Board pop-out. A few tries in he catches his leg and falls straight to his tailbone. One of the most brutal slams I’ve witnessed but luckily he avoided the hospital. He was barely able to walk the next day so him and Jamie went for some soothing cupping therapy. This left them with hilarious bruises that did not promote any healing whatsoever. —RL
Besides our youthful accommodators; there was another notable character throughout our stay. Robert, a practicing Buddhist monk, was a long-term resident at the hostel. By an act of fate; or as Robert would insist, karma; we were roommates with him throughout our stay. Not unlike our own; the majority of Robert’s days were spent roving the streets. Whereas we would set off to conquer some physical feat; most likely the result of a Taiwanese classic-influenced claim; Robert would leave each day and perform his “alms round.” The “alms round” is a practice in which the monk navigates the city, accepting (not asking for) food or patronage from those who offer. In return, the monk will offer their blessing and wish them a fruitful life. I asked Adam if he took home any wisdom from Robert: “Bobby introduced me to his ancient bamboo massage brush. It’s a stick that looks like a straw broom head. You pretty much just hit yourself in the back with it. You look insane when you’re doing it. Supposedly it reduces uric acid, promotes circulation, and gets rid of any bad energy inside you. As skeptical as I am on its validity, he’s 60 years old and looks about 45. It’s doing something for him.”—JP
Johnny, Switch Feeble grind.
We knew that Taiwan had suffered a major earthquake earlier that month, toppling some buildings on the eastern side of the island. One night at the hostel we experienced a small sample of what that was like. For a few seconds the entire tectonic plate we were on shifted and the city shook. The epicenter was far away enough to be harmless but it was surreal feeling the ground beneath our feet move. —RL
The city is surrounded by mountains, and after a day of skating, we decided to go climb the closest one. At the bottom we stocked up on water bottles being sold by elderly locals on the side of the road. They started trying to tell us something in Mandarin. We figured out they were saying we can leave our skateboards with them. Realizing that hiking with boards is a terrible idea, we took them up on the offer and handed them our boards, half expecting them be gone when we returned. Luckily none of them skated, and our boards were safe upon arrival. We learned that Taipei is the kind of city where you can drop your wallet and it will be there the next day. People there rarely lock their bikes; there is a certain trust that exists between strangers. Maybe it was this mindset that made skateboarding in this city feel natural, or maybe it’s because skateboarding in Taiwan is still relatively uncommon. Ledges were never capped, kickouts were rare, and people in general seemed interested in what we were doing. —RL
Adam, Kickflip to fakie.
A rainy day had given us the perfect opportunity to visit the famous Shaylin night market. A bustling place with the ascetic similar to that of a carnival. Outlandish T-shirts and overpriced games with horrible prizes alike. The type of environment to make you reminiscent of an awkward date as a pre-pubescent teen. While the group wandered curiously, our eyes were set on the one thing that would ultimately be our demise—food. If you can find it in the ocean, you can find it here, deep fried, covered in salt. After poking and prodding at some strange dishes, we found ourselves at an oyster booth. Adam ordered six raw oysters to share amongst the group. Adam, Ryan, and I indulged. A genius-in-retrospect, Erick opted out. Mid-bite, Jamie aborted and spit his oyster out. Twenty hours later, the damage to the three of us was evident. We had consumed shelled cyanide, and suffered the consequences. After a sleepless night of expelling fluids, we were left feeble and incapacitated. Although I am not malevolent towards the ignorant vendor of poison, the Yelp review will wholeheartedly reflect our experience of the war that was eating his food. —JP
Johnny, Ride-on 50-50.
It was a welcoming environment, and although we got rained out a bit more than we had hoped, we enjoyed exploring the city and experiencing their culture. Our only regret (other than the oysters) was not staying longer and venturing out to other cities on the island. Two weeks was not enough time, we felt like we had barely scratched the surface of what Taiwan had to offer. This feeling, however is the telltale sign of a successful trip. We escaped from our routine, and returned home inspired. —RL