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The International Writers Magazine: Sport

Skateboarding Should Not be an Olympic Sport
Matthew Allison

Transworld Skateboarding had an opinion forum called ‘whyspace’ on their website. One of their questions awhile back was this, ‘why should skateboarding not be in the Olympics?’ The question was not ‘if it should be,’ but simply reasons it should not. Recently the New York Times had a brief article by Carol Lim and Humberto Leon quoting a few pro skaters for their opinion about the Olympics. The online version of this article received over twenty comments. Skateboarding is big enough that the Olympic question is on the table and the sport may be considered for the 2012 London games.

For a variety of reasons skateboarding should not take this step, and I’ll start with the basic technicality of standardization and preferences. One could argue that vert ramps could be standardized, but no one could claim this for street courses. Street skateboarding has gotten this sport to where it is today. Parks are being built all over the place but many skaters still prefer to wax ledges, find stairs, rails, and other obstacles on private or public property. Skate parks on the other hand are a confined space of obstacle ramps or what skaters call ‘transition’ skating. Transition skating is different skill set from street skating, instead of continual jumping and balance it takes momentum and a flow of body movements. Generally skaters prefer street or transition, but generally not both. Most pro videos highlight street skating and avoid clips from skate parks.

Rob Dyrdek, made famous by MTV, realized skate parks should be more representative of obstacles one would find in the street in an urban setting. This is a push away from the traditional parks. Dyrdek built one near his hometown in Dayton and the upgrade was well received. Last month ‘The Maloof Money Cup’ took place in California, and the street course was designed by Dyrdek among others with the same ideal of putting obstacles in a confined space that mimicked street skating. This contest was funded by the rich Maloof brothers and a taping did run for an hour on CBS. The television production was a disappointment in that they only showed best tricks and not continual skating of multiple tricks in a row by the same skater, which is usually what contests are. But this course did show the future of street skateboard contests. It also engaged the interests of the pro skaters that took part in it. Marc Johnson stated it was his first contest in ten years. In Astoria New York they are building a new park on the same premise, and I’m sure many more parks will follow.

With this changing trend in street courses, how can skateboarding be transferred to an Olympic sport? Basketball is an Olympic sport; the court, the height of the hoop, and the size of the ball all have been standardized for a long time. The 100 meter dash is a standard measurement. Athletes in the Olympics are challenging their competition, as well as their perspective historical competition. Standardizing a skateboard street course does not make sense because of the nature and depth of the sport. This may not make sense to a non-skateboarder but the tricks are innumerable. Sure there are standards like the 360 flip, but there is also an almost artistic range for creativity in the sport, and various styles. Standardization would ruin that, to give riders a list of rules and tricks to abide to. Olympics does that to sports, look at the sport of diving which is judged down to the size of the water splash.

Another reason that skateboarding should not be in the Olympics is what drives the industry and makes it what it is today. Skateboard contests have been around a long time, even in the 1970’s during the Dogtown days. Many pro skateboarders have gotten sponsored and recognized through these contest avenues. But contests are a dent in the pan compared to the influence videos have had on the progression of the sport. Growing up skating in the late 1980s to mid 1990’s it seemed almost every video bought a new trick or new style. The magazines would have contest results from months prior obscured in small print toward the back of the issue. Pro skateboarders skate for private companies that market themselves through videos and advertisements, not necessarily contest results. These videos can be deceiving. I remember at Woodward Skate Camp in 1992 a pro skater was trying a very technical trick in the indoor facility. I watched these attempts amazed at first, but after awhile I walked away to another part of the camp, not seeing him land the trick. When that company video came out months later, it showed the skater front and center in slow motion during the opening montage landing the trick. A viewer of the video would have no idea how many, and there were many, attempts he tried before he landed. However videos fit the mold of skateboarding better than contests, and in general can sum up a skater’s talent.

Today skateboard videos have high production. I read that ‘Fully Flaired’ by the Lakai shoe company took over three years of filming. Guy Mariano, a pro skater with a part in that video, stated in an interview with Transworld Skateboarding that they went to China to skate a double set of stairs and other spots for the sole reason that these locations were not seen in other videos. A lot of pro skateboarders put their all into these videos, with the result that shows athleticism and an artistic statement by the editors and producers. Spike Jonze, the movie director, started in the skateboard industry and still contributes to it. So now, there are plenty of pro skaters that concentrate on these videos and not contests. Supposedly this is hard work too, they have to deal with location conditions, injuries, fatigue, getting busted, and I am sure more hassles. If this formula of filming, editing, and selling videos has worked to progress the sport why should they place emphasis on contests. In videos and documentaries the flavor of skateboarding can be captured more than mega contests. Unfortunately the skateboard film industry has been impacted negatively by the You Tube craze.

Skateboard contests have been televised nationwide by the X-games since 1995. Purists don’t like this fact, but they have raised awareness of the sport and perhaps its popularity. I think most skaters were very exited and proud to be skaters when Tony Hawk landed the 900 after many attempts in front of the world. It did not matter if you considered yourself a street or vert skater, everyone was very optimistic of things to come. However, my major problem with the X-games is that skateboarding has to share the limelight with so many other emerging sports. I once saw synchronized sky diving on the X-games, that’s fine and good for Mission Impossible type movies, but hugely inaccessible to the average person. For the Olympics it would be the same, sharing the event with so many other sports. I would like to see coverage of just skateboarding, during primetime, and on major networks.

My last reason that skateboarding should not be in the Olympics is probably the most abstract one, and has to do with the essence of the sport. In the recent documentary ‘The Man Who Souled the World’ about Steve Rocco and his impact on the sport a commentator, named Fletcher Dragge, near the end stated something worth thinking about. Basically that skateboarding got big and to a degree ruined because people have gotten involved in it to make money not because they love it. I think every skateboarder remembers the day he or she discovered it or when he or she became passionate about it. It was a very independent decision. Parents do not show up one day with a skateboard and planned lessons. A skater becomes a skateboarder by him or herself, and not by an outside influence. With the Olympics talent is spotted at a young age and then pushed on the athlete by parents and coaches. I hope I never live to hear about a five year old in China or Russia being taken away from his or her home to train to be an Olympic skateboard champion. This happens to gymnasts and with other Olympic sports. Skateboarding is such an individualistic sport, and part of personal discovery no one should be forced to do it. Let’s say ten nine year-olds start skating at the same time. By the time they reach thirteen, at least four of them will quit because lack of interest or ability. By age sixteen three or more will quit because of lack of interest or teenage pressures. For those three or less left that skate as adults do so because of a passion or love, not because of an obligation or an expectation. They skate regardless of sponsorship, money, or status. That may not be the case if skateboarding became on Olympic sport or have a value put on it.

Pro-skateboarders are somewhat accessible these days. If one goes to a demo, you can watch them skate up close. Also local skateboarders that are decent are usually allowed to take part in the demos. Sometimes at New York City skate parks, pros have shown up on the fly, just to check it out, and skated amongst the masses. I don’t know of any baseball fans that can boast they have played catch with anyone in the major league.
In closing, skateboarding does not need the Olympics, and is rolling along fine.
© Mathew Allison September 2008

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