Should skateboarding be an Olympic sport? You have until August to decide.
On March 28th of this year, skateboarders left Zargoza, Spain to embark on a relay-like journey to the East, skating through major cities Montpellier, Venice, Ljubljana, Budapest, Moscow and Beijing. Passing a baton—or skateboard deck—between countries, team members rode to their final destination of Tokyo, where in 2020, the Summer Olympic Games will be held.
With the Rio Games just around the corner, these skateboarders appear uncharacteristically early, but ahead of the Games in Brazil, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) will vote on whether the former underground activity should be added as a sport in the subsequent summer competition in the Japanese capital. NOMAD SKATEBOARDS, the crew behind the trek to Tokyo, are a group that want it to be.
“The debate regarding the possibility of skateboarding becoming an Olympic sport has been in the streets for a long time,” says Ivan Moreno, who started NOMAD SKATEBOARDS, Spain’s first skateboarding brand, in 2001. “But there was no ‘forum’ to discuss it. We consider getting skateboarding in the Olympics a positive thing and invite the community to share ideas and express themselves.”
Over the month-long skate to Japan, NOMAD SKATEBOARDS has met with skateboarding communities from around the globe, collecting testimonies to create a documentary to #MakeSkateOlympic—or not. Filmed by Brazilian Nixon Freire, Road to Tokyo also depicts the rich skateboarding culture and why many are concerned what Olympic membership could do to the alternative lifestyle, where individuality and freedom is paramount.
“I knew that it was risky,” explains Moreno. “With the possibility of skateboarding going to the Olympics, everybody in the skate scene either loves it or hates it. There’s no middle ground.”
A recreational activity, an art form, or a cautiously labeled sport, defining skateboarding is a tricky one. Having arisen from California around the 1950s, skateboarding became a rebellious response to the mainstream, developing a street culture community so often blackballed by society. Its popularity and acceptance began to grow with the recognition of talented skateboarders including Tony Hawk, alongside the development of international competitions like the X Games and Street League.
For those working in the industry, whether a brand or professional skater, the Olympics is seen as a way to facilitate further growth in the multi-billion dollar skateboarding sector, similarly to how the inaugural 1995 X Games popularized the activity, seeing the creation of more skateparks worldwide. But at those skateparks, the opinion on the Olympics is one of strong opposition.
“A lot of people skateboard for the wrong reasons and competition is one of them,” a young man, who asked to be referred to as the "Bruce Lee of Mile End," tells The Creators Project at a skatepark in London. “Everyone skates differently so I don’t think you can score or judge it. But it is about challenging yourself.”
Sports typically have rules determining a winner and a loser, but some Olympic Games—like synchronized swimming—are more artistic and judged subjectively with few requirements. This is comparable to how skateboarding events are judged, like competitions at the NASS Festival near Bristol.
“When you start to conform to the rules, it can affect your individuality, style and independence,” says Richie Inskip of NASS. “So there are no rules. It’s for this reason that we ask skateboarders to judge the contests because you have to know how difficult it is to land specific tricks and appreciate the technicalities of what’s being done.”
To qualify for the Olympics, a sport must be practiced around the world and have an international governance body, which for skateboarding, would mean deciding between three different organizations—The World Skateboarding Federation, The Federation Internationale Roller Sports and the International Skateboarding Federation. Another issue is corporate sponsorship, something that goes against the very essence of the anti-establishment subculture.
“Skateboarders don’t need approval from anyone, or for anyone to think that skateboarding is cool,” says Inskip, referring to the potential drawback to legitimizing skateboarding on a commercial level through the Olympics. “Nobody skateboards because you will be accepted as cool, in fact, it’s probably the opposite.”
A petition written to the International Olympic Committee is asking for skateboarding to not be included in the 2020 Games. With well over 6,500 signatures already, the petition states, “Athletes train endlessly, have trainers, coaches, hard schedules to keep, many competitions and a true dedication to their goal of winning a gold metal. Skateboarding does not fit this scenario. Skateboarding is an individual creative activity and skaters enjoy lesser known, non-televised, informal competitions among their peers with no corporate sponsors for the mere purpose of having fun.”
While the petition will likely reach it’s 10,000 names goal, Ty Mager, a 22-year-old skateboarder in Idaho, tells The Creators Project, “I would love to see more parks across the world because skating has so much to offer people. I think the Olympics would bring more recognition and acceptance to skateboarding as a sport but I feel the culture would get lost in all the competitiveness.”
Mager currently has a $100 fine for skateboarding and, along with others The Creators Project spoke to, receives both verbal and physical attacks for identifying as a skater. Diagnosed with autism, Mager also says, “I couldn’t tell you all that skateboarding has done for my life. It’s like therapy for me and I do it every single day.”
Moreno, once a “young skater rebel,” remembers having to fight to get a skatepark built in Spain in 2009. He still feels an all-encompassing freedom when getting on his skateboard and wishes everyone could experience that.
“We want people to understand that it’s not just black or white,” he says. “There could be a middle point where both views can coexist and even get mutual benefits. I want to see real skateparks worldwide and I believe the Olympics can help with this but we need skaters to manage the situation.”
Road to Tokyo is set to be released mid-month, before the IOC makes their decision on skateboarding in August 2016. Find out more here.