If you didn't already know, in a few days time Skateboarding will be making it's debut in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, and since this was announced by the International Olympic Committee back in 2016 it's been a topic of much debate throughout the skateboarding world. For some it means that skateboarding has finally made it to the big leagues and can take it's rightful place in competitive sport, whilst others feel that it's not a sport and it's inclusion in the Olympics will only commercialise skateboarding further and dilute their much beloved subculture.
So with the day of reckoning now finally upon us we thought we would ask the opinions of some of our friends and collegues from the UK skateboard industry for their unique views and perspectives on this hottest of topics. We asked the former Sidewalk Magazine editor Ben Powell, co-owner of Skateboard Cafe and General Manager for Keen Distribution, Andrew Makepeace. We owe a huge thanks to both of the guys that took the time to share their opinions with us, and whether you agree with them or not it's great to see how much we all care about skateboarding and it's future.
What do I think about skateboarding being in the Olympics?
Simultaneously, a lot of things and absolutely nothing if I’m perfectly honest. As a man of an indeterminate age, I’m genuinely surprised that it’s taken this long for it to happen. Participation numbers and viewing interest in a lot of traditional Olympic events have been dwindling for a long time. When you cut through the hyperbole and the guff about celebrating the "human spirit", the Olympics is fundamentally a tool to monetise sport and thus I’d have expected the IOC to have embraced things like skating a long time ago, once mainstream events like the X Games had proved that there was an audience for it.
Thinking myself back in time to my thinner, less arthritic and more militantly ‘street’ self of the late 80s/early 90s, I’d have hated the idea of Olympic inclusion with a passion. The IOC isn’t exactly known for its robust anti-corruption stance for starters. On top of that, there’s the widely repeated maxim from Tony Hawk himself that "the Olympics needed skateboarding more than skateboarding needed the Olympics". That quote started doing the rounds around the late 90s I believe, alongside the development of the X Games, and it definitely still rings true today. Even more so give the exponential surge in numbers of new skaters due to the whole Covid nightmare.
Put more simply, will the Olympics bring more people to skateboarding in 2021? Yes of course but given the current boom, do we really need it as a magnet?
The other totally justifiable objections - that skateboarding is not a sport; that it cannot be objectively judged because style cannot be tabulated on an Excel sheet; and that, to quote the late, great Jeff Grosso, we’re collectively giving the reigns of our culture to a bunch of suits and marketing idiots who don’t skate and see skateboarders as little more than moving billboards with additional (gulp) ‘street level core’ pulling power - all of those are as true now as they were 4 decades ago when this idea was first floated.
The less cynical, more fat, parental version of me, whilst agreeing with all of the above, feels duty bound to point out that pro skaters have been hawking their skills from the very earliest days. All your favourite Dogtown pioneers - yep they all took cash to kick turn on massive Pepsi Cola touring ramps long before half the people getting their knickers in a twist could even pronounce "corporate cultural appropriation.’
And yeah, flogging sugar laden soft drinks or reconstituted chicken products via skateboard tricks isn’t the same as participating as an athlete in the Olympics but it’s not far off.
As a parent with a young daughter who loves skateboarding of her own accord, I’m looking forward to seeing 14 year old girls spin McTwists whilst Claire Balding tries to sound down but don’t try to argue that watching Sky Brown on vert or watching a Brazilian 12 year old girl (who initially achieved stardom for heelflipping stairs dressed as a fairy) impeccably backsmith down handrails isn’t paradigm-shifting. You can argue that the paradigm shift might be in a direction you don’t like, but don’t argue that it’s not mental.
I’ll be watching (if Covid doesn’t fuck things up again) and I’m expecting aspects of it to be beyond the cringe on an Alan Patridge level. I’ll watch it whilst it’s on with my wife and kid and when it’s finished I’ll switch the TV off and go back to not really giving much of a fuck about it really.
All these ‘core brands’ crying about it - cool, whatevs, your shout. All those clueless newbies who start turning up at the skateparks with Christmas set ups the following week, equally cool, whatevs, your shout. As much as shouting at the tide can make you feel important, it’s not going to turn the waves back.
Once it’s done, it’s done. Extra points if the Japanese kill off all competitors, which is very likely to happen. Always nice to see a bit of US hubris get popped isn’t it?
Watch or don’t - if you need me, I’ll be waxing up kerbs down the local car park.
I have, to be honest, I'm fairly uninterested in watching it, but that said I think it's really good to see it in the Olympics. Initially, I thought fuck the Olympics and it'd ruin skateboarding, over time that's changed quite a bit. I'm sure it's had an impact with a few vultures getting their claws into it and trying to make a few quid off of it which nobody likes. But that's just how the world works, we just need to get over that and try to steer skateboarding to the people who love it.
The truth is skateboarding is whatever you make it, nobody trying to turn Skateboarding into a "Sport" is going to make me compete at that "Sport". I can carry on street skating (or skating my block) safe in the knowledge my fun little lifestyle cannot be affected by a Federation or Organising Body. It's mine and what I make it. I love playing football too, and it's so frustrating wanting to play but it's not 2 pm on a Saturday, there's no referee, you can't find 21 other people to play a game, you (not me) might be on the bench or it's not "football season". We're so lucky to have skateboarding as free as it is and that will never change regardless of the Olympics.
I like it in the Olympics is because I love seeing people do things that make themselves happy and inspire others. The easy example is that young girls (or anyone) seeing a 13 year old Sky Brown happy, killing it, and having that confidence, will be inspired to get off the sofa and go skateboarding, or exercise or to follow their own dreams whatever they are. I'm sure people, will read that and think some bullshit about me saying that for equality points but the truth is people in Sweden will see Oski killing it and relate to him and take inspiration too. Putting skateboarding or ANY hobby/sport on the world stage free to view is always positive, especially when people have been locked away for 18 months and in the UK people are needing hobbies and exercise before that.
The last point I'd say also is that Skateboarding gets broken down into such small sub sections already with certain riders/brands/styles falling into each sub-category not being "Legit" that people forget how small skateboarding is on a local level in the UK, I personally think the more skate shops can embrace a little bit more of the mainstream side of the industry the better because it'll stop people going to online store X/Y/Z and help keep the community hub that is a skate shop in their town or city. There's a fine balance, though, and it's tricky out there, but hopefully the little bump we may get from the Olympics brings in some good people to the community and businesses like Bored do well from it.