Could the sport’s anti-establishment spirit ever be compatible with the traditionalism of the Olympics? We headed to London’s biggest skate parks to find out
Earlier this month, the Olympics announced five new additions to its upcoming 2020 games in Japan. These included climbing, baseball, karate, surfing, and – most controversially of all – skateboarding. Despite the International Skateboarding Federation calling the move a triumph for the sport, many have been feeling more mixed emotions about the decision. The magazine Thrasher published an article lampooning the idea last week, and there’s now an online petition working towards having it removed from the next Olympics.
Skateboarding, like surfing in its early days, has an anti-establishment ethos. As revealed by the 2001 documentary film Dogtown And The Z Boys, vertical transition skating was created in the mid-1970’s by pioneers like Tony Alva, Stacey Peralta and Jay Adams. Alva and his crew broke into the back gardens of houses in Southern California and skated the drained swimming pools wherever they found them. They played a game of cat and mouse with the police and would regularly be chased out of private properties by irate owners or the agents of law enforcement.
Flash forward to the mid-1980s and you have the emergence of street skating; a far more do it yourself version of skating where the cityscapes became personal skate parks. Many skate videos, like Transworld’s 1999 film Feedback, document the antagonism skaters faced from the general public and the police as they were berated, or even arrested, for just trying to document their tricks.
So could skateboarding ever really be compatible with the competitive traditionalism that’s associated with the Olympics? We visited two of London’s key skate parks – The Undercroft on the South Bank and Meanwhile Gardens in Westbourne Park – to hear more about what skateboarders had to say about the Olympic news.
“It wasn’t a surprise, I was expecting it for a while and I’m quite interested to see which skaters will participate in the next Olympic Games. It’s been commercial for a long time now and it’s quite bad for the image of skateboarding I think. It can’t be a really serious sport because skateboarding is about being free and having fun with your friends on the street. For me, that’s what skateboarding is all about. You take a breath and decompress. There are a lot of very athletic skateboarders like the ones you would see at the X Games or The Berrics and I think you’ll see the kind of skaters that represent the commercial side of the sport. They’re going to be at the Olympic games for sure.”
“Yeah, it was bound to happen eventually. I think it was just a matter of time before it got recognised. I’m not really sure what I think about the whole thing, to be honest. There’s more and more competitions like Street League for example which has been going on for a long time and has been very successful and popular as well. I think in the Olympics it would be the same format as Street League really. I think it will bring a lot of publicity to skateboarding. When you watch the pros actually do their thing in competition it inspires you to pick up a skateboard and think ‘oh I want to be like that’ so they’re definitely going to be some inspiration there and people who skate aren’t going to stop because it’s in the Olympics. They do it for the love of it and will keep doing it until they’re battered and bruised and can’t do it anymore.”
“What is skateboarding? It’s a life choice that gets you away from the mainstream, it’s something that you can do independently. We all know the basic facts of having fun on a skateboard but, when it comes to the Olympics, I don’t think there’s a finishing line in skateboarding. If you grow up kind of skating the streets within your own environment to get away from all of that kind of jock bollocks it’s a bit of an insult really. Unfortunately, we live in an era where capitalism has taken over society more than ever and big sports brands entering skateboarding has created this opportunity for us to be in the Olympic games in 2020. It’s a shame to see the influence of what the sports brands have brought into our scene. They’ve made their decision, it’s going to be in, so we’re just going to have to watch it and I suppose if funding is going to hit skateparks that will be good for the next generation of skaters. But they’ve got to understand that they have to support local independent skateboard brands for them to survive so the scene survives because it’s skateboarders that run it.”
“It’s just another way to merchandise skateboarding and make money off of it, that’s the best way to describe it. If you skate you skate for yourself, you don’t skate for anyone else in the world and whoever goes to the Olympics is just a showman. That’s what it is. It’s a business. The best thing about skateboarding is no one can judge you no one can score that. It’s not a sport like that it’s a feeling. No words can actually explain skateboarding, it’s something that when you start it you can’t finish it and you’ll never stop for the rest of your life.”