Not All Skateboarders Are Happy About Their Sport Being Included in the Olympics

Skateboarding olympics

Riche Jackson is one of the most innovative and, frankly, bizzare skateboarders out there. With flowing brown hair, psychedelic print shirts, and a moustache that would make Salvador Dali say ‘come on, bro’, Jackson is one of the top skaters on the planet.

He’s also not happy about skateboarding making its Olympic debut.

Posting on Instagram, the Sydney legend shared an image with ‘RIP skateboarding’ above the dates 1955- 2021 and the Olympic rings below.

Skateboarding olympics

Jackson is an infamous joker, often pulling stunts just to get a rise out of people, and it’s safe to say that this post is more tongue in cheek than an actual declaration that the Olympics have killed skateboarding.

The post did, however, have its desired effect of stirring up some controversy. The comments underneath lit up with angry skateboarders mad at the fact that their sport has been Olympianised.

Skateboarding olympics

Skateboarding has always been an outsider sport. If anything, it’s an anti-sport. Borderline criminal — or at least, certainly frowned upon — riding a board has long been the trademark of punks, rebels, misfits, and people your parents’ told you not to associate with.

Those who skate have an affinity for the sport precisely because of these reasons. It’s a bit like smoking; you know it’s terrible for you but damn it looks cool.

Now though, the Olympics has made skateboarding respectable. They’ve put rules in place, a scoring system, and a regimented turn structure. While the athletes competing might be covered in tattoos and topped with unnaturally coloured hair, the sport now has an air of legitimacy that a lot of skateboarders resent.

A similar thing happened when ESPN created the X-Games in 1995. Skaters were frustrated that money and corporatism flooded the sport and, in their eyes, took away from the purity of riding a board for the simple pleasure of it.

In all fairness, they weren’t wrong. After the X-Games came the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater series which was one of the most popular games of its generation, selling more than 350,000 copies. While it popularised the sport, it also made legends of the real-life characters, netting them millions in the process. The game made skateboarding look easy and fuelled a huge rise in cheaper, poorer quality equipment sold by massive commercial retailers to young people who quickly abandoned the sport.

Nowadays, world number one Nyjah Huston hangs out with Justin Bieber at his private skatepark and stars opposite Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson in the show Ballers. With nearly five million followers on Instagram, he was a natural choice for the Olympics debut but the prominence of his Nike SB sponsorship gear — a company that was famously late to support the sport, though quickly made up for it with their economic might — turned off a lot of fans.

Skateboarding olympics

Skateboarders are extremely dedicated to their craft and can spot a poser a mile away. Much like surfing, it has a learning curve like a San Francisco street and those who do it can be highly territorial. They don’t always take kindly to learners who don’t understand the etiquette. The influx of amateurs after the Games is likely to be another source of frustration.

The complexity of the sport — paradoxically — makes its very nature one of low-key elitism. With a high skill barrier for entry, those who would seek to join need to put in years of practice to learn not only the art of skating but the slang and culture that goes with it.

Anyone who has played Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater will know that learning skateboarding tricks is like learning another language. The tricks are complex and the pace of riding makes it hard to differentiate between the various micro-moves that turn one trick into another.

This has been another point of contention for skaters who see the commentators during the Games as amateurs without a hardened appreciation for the sport. While the various network commentators have mainly done a good job, their inability to rapidly distinguish between a tre flip and a big flip has been the subject of ridicule online.

Skateboarding olympics

Only those who practice all day, every day, can truly reach the heights of the greats and claim the title of a true skater. Humility, politics, and an overt commitment to repeatedly throwing yourself at the pavement are requisite rights of passage.

Because of this, skateboarding is more than just a pastime. It’s a culture and a way of life. Sure, you can do it by yourself for fun, you can even put it on TV for the whole world to see, and hand out medals for first, second, and third prize, but it’s commodification and parsing out of the true nature of the sport.

Not everyone is upset about it though and many are grateful for the attention that the sport is getting from its Olympics debut. From here on, unless the sport is cut from the Games, every city that hosts the Olympics will have to build two huge skateparks for contestants which will be left as a legacy for the cities skaters. That’s a huge win as local councils are often very reluctant to build them.

Tony Hawk praised the games and is currently in Tokyo as a special commentator for American channel NBC. He recently posted a video on Instagram riding the ramps of the park course and said that “As a kid that was mostly lambasted for my interest in skateboarding, I never imagined it would be part of the Olympic Games”.

“I know in the end it will help to grow skateboarding’s profile internationally, exposing our passion to an audience that has never seen it before or simply refused to embrace it”.

Unfortunately, Hawk is a bit like the Banksy of the skating world. While outsiders know him, many of those within the scene feel he’s sold the culture out. His support might validate the Olympics to those for whom he is their only frame of reference, but for others, it feels like yet another rift in the scene.

This is all not to detract from the incredible athleticism and skill that has been on display for the past two days during the women’s and men’s street skateboarding events. The winners of Monday’s women’s street event were all teenagers, with the gold and silver going to 13-year-olds.

Brazillian Rayssa Leal — who took home the silver medal — even had a video of herself performing a heel flip over a set of stairs in a fairy dress go viral six years ago and it was shared on Twitter by Tony Hawk. She was just seven at the time.

For a sport that has traditionally been dominated by men, the importance of seeing these debut Olympians earn medals is something that cannot be understated.

Skating will always be a pastime and a practice largely unaffected by the machinations of multi-billion dollar sporting industries. However, the compartmentalisation of the sport into neat, consumable packages will always run contrary to the beliefs and the philosophy of many of its most dedicated allegiants.

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