Third-generation daredevil seeks to rejuvenate ‘Wall of Death’ show

Surin Pinsuwan
Samut Prakan, Thailand

Wuthipan Kalayanapan, 23, a third-generation member of the Kalayanapan family, sticks his hands up in the air as he performs on his motorcycle at the Phra Samut Chedi temple in Samut Prakan province, Thailand, Nov. 4, 2023. [Surin Pinsuwan/BenarNews]


Wuthipan Kalayanapan’s Yamaha motorcycle, which he has used in stunts since he was 7 years old, is displayed in front of the performance venue at the Phra Samut Chedi temple fair, Nov. 4, 2023. [Surin Pinsuwan/BenarNews]


A crowd gathers outside the large wooden cylinder which took over three days to assemble at the fairgrounds, Nov. 4, 2023. [Surin Pinsuwan/BenarNews]


Wuthipan Kalayanapan grabs a tip from a woman while riding his motorcycle around the giant cylinder, Nov. 4, 2023. [Surin Pinsuwan/BenarNews]


An operator hands over tickets for the performance at the Phra Samut Chedi temple fair, Nov. 4, 2023. [Surin Pinsuwan/BenarNews]


Wuthipan Kalayanapan drives a motorcycle around the upper edge of the cylinder, Nov. 4, 2023. [Surin Pinsuwan/BenarNews]


Wuthipan Kalayanapan pays respect before beginning his performances at the Phra Samut Chedi temple fair, Nov. 4, 2023. [Surin Pinsuwan/BenarNews]


An audience member tosses a tip to a stunt rider driving his motorcycle at speeds between 50 and 70 kph (31 and 43 mph) at the Phra Samut Chedi temple fair, Nov. 4, 2023. [Surin Pinsuwan/BenarNews]


Wuthipan Kalayanapan’s younger brother, Wuthipong, 21, shows off a banknote that he received from the audience while riding around the cylinder, Nov. 4, 2023. [Surin Pinsuwan/BenarNews]


Wuthipan Kalayanapan rides his motorcycle next to his father, Wuthichai Kalayanapan, who is driving a sedan inside the cylinder, Nov. 4, 2023. [Surin Pinsuwan/ BenarNews]

Wuthipan Kalayanapan could be the last of a special group of daredevils in Thailand.

For three generations, his family has been defying gravity as riders in the “Wall of Death,” a carnival stunt where motorcycles and cars race around the vertical walls of a wooden cylinder. 

Wuthipan and his family represent one of only two troupes left performing the stunts in the country, pointing to the possible end of a spectacle that has mesmerized audiences at small fairs across the nation for more than a century.

The 23-year-old will not go away quietly – he’s attempting to rejuvenate his family’s legacy and sell tickets through social media platforms such as Facebook, YouTube and TikTok.

“In the past, spectators would see the show just once,” he told BenarNews after performing at the Phra Samut Chedi Temple fair south of Bangkok. “But now, I am trying to expand my base by showcasing my personality on social media.”

Wuthipan said his father, Wuthichai Kalayanapan, introduced him to motorcycles when he was 5 years old – he spent two years mastering riding one.

“I love it. It’s been part of me ever since,” he said. 

As his father ages, Wuthipan sees himself as the one to uphold the family tradition. 

Otherwise,” he fears, “this type of show might disappear.”

At a recent show, Wuthichai, alongside two of his sons, showcased their skills by driving a small sedan and a motorcycle up and across the wooden cylinder’s vertical wall.

“I’m proud of him,” said Wuthichai, 53. “I never pushed him into it. I’m just glad that he carries on with this legacy and brings joy to younger people before it fades away.”


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