In less than two years, skateboarding will be in the Olympics. I spent my weekend at the Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires to get a better perspective of how that will work and my potential role in the process.
The politics and bureaucracy of making skateboarding an Olympic sport are complicated at best, but there are a few people up for the challenge, and they’re working tirelessly on skateboarding’s behalf. Although I am sometimes chosen to be an “ambassador” to skating, I am not one of them in this effort. In many ways, I am on the outside looking in with a critical perspective.
I believe the summer Olympics need the “cool” factor of skateboarding more than skateboarding needs Olympic validation, in the same way snowboarding provides a youthful energy to the winter games. I also believe that skateboarding has leverage in keeping the format authentic and the culture represented properly. There are many issues to work through: governing bodies, qualifying events, judging, mandatory apparel, helmet usage, etc. It all seems overwhelmingly impossible to resolve when you’ve attended the stagnant meetings or are cc’d in email chains.
I have confidence that Olympic skateboarding will inspire a new, diverse generation to embrace skateboarding as a lifestyle, a culture, and an art form.
I am often asked how this will all work. I don’t have all the answers, I only have decades of experience that can hopefully lend a voice of reason to a web of conflicting interests.
The naysayers are loud and clear. They believe skateboarding is not a sport and we didn’t start doing it in order to win medals or to be embraced by the mainstream. While this sentiment is true in many ways, we’ve had skateboard competitions since the beginning. There is a human desire to be rated through comparison. Even those that despise skate contests or staunchly denounce skateboarding as a sport are content to pass judgement on who has the best style, which tricks are acceptable, or who has the best flick. No matter how pure our intentions are, we still tend to judge in the most informal settings.
Will skateboarding be accurately represented in Olympic programming? Will we hear Dead Kennedys blasting from the sound system, or will competitors try tricks after their time is up just to hype the crowd (or for their own glory)? Probably not, but there is an opportunity here to show the positive influence of skateboarding on youth, and to showcase the undeniable skills of some of the best skaters to our biggest audience ever. There is also a chance for boys and girls from the most challenged corners of the world to find a better life through skateboarding with this newfound exposure and acceptance.
I have confidence that Olympic skateboarding will inspire a new, diverse generation to embrace skateboarding as a lifestyle, a culture, and an art form. Some will consider it a sport from the get-go, but perhaps that’s what it takes to introduce skating into countries that don’t readily understand the intrinsic values it can teach: determination, creativity, self-confidence, perseverance, and a sense of community among uniquely creative individuals. I’m sure many of us will still be labeled as outcasts, troublemakers, vandals, and punks because of our skating backgrounds and influences. But a select few — who have devoted themselves to competitive skateboarding through discipline and hard work — will represent their countries on a global stage and be recognized by a new audience. As a skater that competed regularly for over 20 years while often being treated like a freak for following my passion, I accept both scenarios.