For decades, skateboarders have donned a broken pair of sneakers and searched for the best skate spots in their city. This month, however, eighty of the world’s best skaters will don stylish Olympic uniforms and seek the judges’ point totals as skateboarding makes its debut as an Olympic sport in Tokyo.
Some members of the skate community, including members of the United States National Team, have mixed feelings about the continued “sportification” of skating, and have shared their fears of additional scrutiny and rigidity in one. culture that values independence and self-expression.
This dissonance resonates throughout skateboarding. Since becoming popular in Southern California in the 1960s, skateboarders have shaped film, fashion, music, video games, art, photography, and writing. Tens of millions of skateboarders around the world now constitute a diverse and sought-after community – and a multi-billion dollar industry – while remaining a counterculture powerhouse known for its rebellious leanings.
“I think as a community people were drawn to skateboarding because it wasn’t part of something like the Olympics; it wasn’t mainstream, ”said Ian Michna, editor-in-chief of Jenkem Magazine, a skateboarding and culture magazine. “It was more of an artistic activity that you could do on your own and shape your own path, be your own person and express yourself.”
This month, skateboarding enters a new chapter when 80 skateboarders represent 26 countries in street and park competitions in Tokyo. Meanwhile, some still wonder if skateboarding is even a sport or should be governed by a body like the International Olympic Committee.
“Now that skateboarding is becoming a commodity through the Olympics and making it a sport with numbers and statistics and putting values on ‘tips’ and things that were once just movements of expression, some people will say, “It’s not in the spirit of skating,” said Mishnah.
Typically, this sentiment is expressed among the old guard of the skateboarding world, but aspects of this perspective can be found among the 12 skateboarders the United States sends to Tokyo.
Alexis Sablone, member of the American women’s street team, has openly expressed his views on the development of skateboarding.
MIT-graduated queer artist and architect, Sablone, 34, gained a lot of attention while still in high school in the skating world after briefly appearing in the 2002 video “PJ Ladd’s Wonderful Horrible Life,” a influential work in which she fearlessly overturned gaps and stairwells and slid her board on the rails of the pop song “Mambo Italiano”.
Despite a successful career as a competitive skater, Sablone expressed her aversion to competitive skating and even her discomfort that skateboarding could qualify as a sport.
“There is, for example, a sportification of skateboarding, but skateboarding itself is not a sport,” Sablone said on HBO’s “Real Sports” last month.
“The best part of skateboarding is about style and counterculture and we don’t play by the rules,” added Sablone, who noted that skateboarding is more often seen by practitioners as a way of life, an art. or a method of self-expression. “It’s like, ‘I’m going to make this up and do it my way.’ That’s what I love about skateboarding.
Other team members also expressed similar sentiments, though all noted the immense honor they feel to represent the United States at the Olympics.
“It’s a fine line and really tough,” said Paul Zitzer, a former skateboarder and NBC Olympics analyst. “When you talk about skateboarding and you try to explain what it means to people who don’t know anything about it, you want to do it right. There is that sense of obligation and responsibility to represent skating the right way.
Even the most successful stars in skating, like Tony Hawk – who has often spoken about the concept of ‘selling yourself’ in skate culture and has been sometimes ridiculed for it – have a complicated view of skateboarding becoming a sport. Olympic.
“I have a little mixed feeling, obviously, about the Olympics because I feel like we never looked for their validation,” Hawk told Yahoo! Finances in March, although he added that he saw “the benefits, and I’m delighted that these places where people have been discouraged from skating are now being adopted for it.”
Hawk, who declined to comment for this story, joined NBC earlier this month as a correspondent for the Tokyo Summer Games and appeared in an Olympic Games commercial alongside member Nyjah Huston. men’s American team.
Supporters of the inclusion of skateboarding in the Olympics emphasized the message of acceptance. They said they hope more children will feel inspired to skate and not be judged for it, as they might have been in the past.
“Every type of skateboarding is good skating,” said Felipe Gustavo, a street skater from Brazil who said he was thrilled to represent his home country at the Olympics this year. “If you do tricks, cruise, go downhill, or compete, everyone who skates has the same feeling, you know? We just took it a little more seriously as a sport.
Neftalie Williams, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Southern California and a visiting scholar at the Yale Schwarzman Center who studies skateboarding, said the Olympics would be positive for skateboarding and connect skateboarding communities across the world.
“I’m most excited for these riders to become themselves at the same time they compete in the Olympics,” said Williams. “What the Olympics do, hopefully, is provide a translation so people understand that skateboarders don’t cause problems or take away resources, but are actually resources that add to their community. “
While skepticism persists in some corners of the community, Chris Roberts, a former professional skater who runs the skateboard interview podcast “The Nine Club”, said he expects most skateboarders to watch. anyway.
Roberts said he had mixed feelings about skateboarding as a sport at the Olympics, but he hopes it ultimately benefits the whole community – not just those at the top.
“For the individual skateboarder, that probably won’t change anything. People will always go out and skate, they will always go to the parks, always go to hang out with their friends, ”said Roberts. “All I hope and a lot of people hope I think is that it makes more money for the skateboard companies who can then support the skateboarders because a lot of them are living on paychecks and without Health Insurance.”