If I was to be honest, I can admit that I have never been a massive fan of skateboarding contests. Something just never sat right with me for skateboarding to be packaged up into this entity of which you can judge who is the best via a points based system and make a decision on an overall winner like in other sports. Skateboarding is an art and a very individual based art at that. There are so many different styles, shaped by your surroundings growing up, the tricks you prefer, your idols and influences as well the facilities available to you when you first picked up a board. Skateboarding has always been a way to express yourself and not conform to the usual sports you were made to participate in school. As a big fan of street skateboarding I also don’t think there is anything better than a nice trick orchestrated by being inventive on a skateable structure found in your urban surroundings rather than a purposely built obstacle for performing in competition.
Of course you could argue that times have changed, and more and more skateparks are popping up over the world, all ready made with everything you would ever need for anyone wanting to start skateboarding. You even have skateparks implementing and replicating famous skate spots such as the Brooklyn Banks or anything that contains ‘Hubba’ style stair ledges named after 'Hubba Hideout' in San Francisco. The fact that I am not particular fussed by contests doesn’t mean I haven’t watched them over the years. I thoroughly enjoyed 411 Video Magazine's annual European contest videos and highlights of the Tampa Am or Pro contests. The last skateboard contest I attended myself was the 'Slam City Jam' in Vancouver back in 2005.
Skateboarding contests have existed since its inception with the American National Championships even televised in the late 60’s and 70’s. By the 80's and 90's a lot of those who were considered to be the best skateboarders didn't actually skate contests. For some it was simply all about creating video content for the companies and sponsors they rode for. There was little or no money involved in competitions back then however it was not necessarily even anything to do with financial gain. They simply skateboarded because they were passionate about it regardless of the potential restrictions to make any considerable money in the long term. Perhaps the only pressure to perform came from company demos or trying to get enough tricks for an upcoming video part. Take Gino Iannucci as an example, considered to be one of the best of his generation with possibly the smoothest style to ever grace a board. He never skated contests yet is considered by many to be one of the best of all time because of his individual style.
Of course there is now a better chance than ever to make some money and a living off skateboarding as a profession. That said, I think the majority of skateboarders are not bothered about the competitive side of the art. The lifestyle around skateboarding culture makes you simply appreciate hanging out with your friends and the learning of new tricks together are the small victories in the process. It is never about proving you are better than the next man. Each persons learning cycle and speed of progression will also be different. No matter what level your skateboarding talents are, it does not matter. You are doing it because you enjoy it no matter where it takes you.
With regards to contests, if you were to compare Tom Penny's winning run from Radlands in 1995 (R.I.P to Radlands having closed in 2004) with any of Nyjah Huston’s winning lines from any of the Street League or X Games titles he has accumulated, you would see a stark contrast and know skateboarding has changed a lot since. I am not sure if the two should be compared with both from different skateboarding eras however both are considered to be two of the best in the history of skateboarding. Nowadays I believe a certain style of skateboarder can be carved out to be more suited for contests. They are the complete package, with the ability to attack handrails, stairs, ledges, walls and are usually solid on flat ground as well. Yes, they can all do the same tricks with great consistency however it can sometimes be perceived as ‘robotic’ like, lacking in any unique style which makes them stand out from the others. I believe that someone could do perfect tricks all day however someone else could look more natural on a skateboard. After all, there is a difference between perfection and mastery and good styles stand out.
Perhaps some skateboarders are too good to not display their talents to the world in a televised contest. I know I wouldn’t tire of watching Shane O’Neill roll about a skatepark to himself however he is quite simply on another level and one of (if not) the most creative skateboarder in the world right now. Skateboarders now also have management companies and large teams behind them with sponsors often having written contractual requirements to attend certain events. Despite this, with all the prize money now on offer as well, can you really blame them for wanting to get involved? This is a luxury skateboarders unfortunately did not have in the 80’s and 90’s.
With some of the current long standing skateboarding contests you have Tampa Pro and the X-Games, both going since 1995. Prize money from the X-Games (provided by ESPN) is $100,000 for each discipline involved. You also have the Dew Tour (Mountain Dew sponsored of course) started in 2005 by the Adventure Sports Group, a subsidiary of American Media, LLC. More recently you have Street League Skateboarding, founded in 2010 by Rob Dyrdek and Brian Atlas of which prize money for first place is now $200,000 and the largest prize purse of any of the competitions active today. In an interview with Muckmouth legendary skateboarder Shiloh Greathouse slammed these contests, "I like watching the contests but it's bullshit that they're invite only. I hate that Monster, Red Bull and Mountain Dew are telling the world who the best skateboarders are."
The reality is that Skateboarding is so much bigger now with considerable investment from large corporate companies such as Red Bull and Nike, and contests in the 21st century are not what they were back in the 80's or 90's. The contests now usually have multiple lucrative sponsorship deals meaning there is always a substantial amount of prize money available which is enough to put dollar signs in the eyes of any young street skating rippers. Just ask the aforementioned Nyjah Huston. His combined Street League Skateboarding and X Games earnings alone have surpassed an astonishing $2 million.
In the past decade, America has also seen a large rise in the production of skateboards with companies becoming increasingly innovative in their attempts to appeal to the current generation. Perhaps skateboarding is now being rewarded for its evolvement over the years and its shift into the mainstream as a result of the awareness made through the likes of the X-Games. Skateboarding is also making forward steps to compete with the prize money involved in more traditional sports. The power of social media, mixed with intelligent and effective marketing tactics from the larger corporate companies now involved has only helped enhance skateboarding’s reputation. The level of ability and fearlessness of some of the younger skateboarders these days is something which has also dramatically improved. Skateboarding in the last decade alone has progressed at a frightening pace, with it being pushed to greater heights accompanied with crazy tricks being done you would previously have thought were impossible. As the great Nelson Mandela said, “it always seems impossible until it’s done.” Just this month, 11 year old Brazilian Gui Khury made history, becoming the first skateboarder to land a 1080 on a vert ramp. Tony Hawk had initially set the previous record, landing the first ever 900 back in 1999, nine years before Khury was even born.
BREAKING: Gui Khury just became the first skateboarder in history to land a 1080 on a vert ramp! The Brazilian #XGames athlete is only 11 years old.— X Games (@XGames) May 9, 2020
Khury was born almost 9 1/2 years after @tonyhawk first landed the 900 at X Games. pic.twitter.com/YaamMv7ULj
And now we have skateboarding in the Olympics. Due to the rising popularity of Skateboarding worldwide, it was one of five new 'sports' approved for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. Unfortunately the games have been suspended this year amid the current coronavirus pandemic and will now take place in 2021 instead. It is actually the first time the Olympic Games have been postponed despite those which faced cancellations during wartimes. Some skateboarders have expressed their appreciation and excitement at the idea that more exposure can only have a positive impact on skateboarding, however others have made known their concerns that the Olympics may damage the culture and lifestyle. Skateboarder Eli Reed has been very vocal that skateboarding simply is not a sport and is an art and must be kept that way.
On the Official Olympics website, IOC (International Olympic Committee) President Thomas Bach said, “We want to take sport to the youth. With the many options that young people have, we cannot expect any more that they will come automatically to us. We have to go to them." With this admission, the IOC are not trying to hide their intention of wanting to attract more millennial viewers and help the Olympics ratings and viewer numbers. They clearly feel they need to keep up with the times so are they doing this for the right reasons? The IOC have been known to be slightly impulsive in the past. In February 2013 the IOC voted to drop wrestling (which is made up of Greco-Roman and freestyle wrestling) from the 2020 games and this was a sport that had been included since the inaugural modern Olympics in Athens in 1896. However in the last quarter of the same year it was dropped, wrestling was reinstated when the IOC overturned the decision after feeling it was a mistake.
The chance to earn a gold medal at the Olympics is something only a select few achieve in their lifetime so you can understand how it will be very attractive to many skateboarders. A large number of the younger generation will feel they are talented enough and have a chance to compete. In terms of qualification to compete, Street League Skateboarding's soar in popularity meant that the SLS World Tour became the main qualifying path for skateboarding due to happen at the 2020 Summer Olympics.
When the Olympics take place next year, skateboarding will be broken down into two disciples, Street and Park. These 2 skateboarding disciplines will be for both male and female so 4 events in total. There will be 20 places for each event, 80 in total. Of the 20 places for each event: 16 athletes will qualify through the Olympic World Skateboarding Rankings, by gaining points from competing at various Olympic qualifying events throughout the year. These qualifying events will end on 1st June 2021. Those skateboarders with the most points will qualify. 3 athletes will directly qualify as the highest-ranked skaters in the World Skateboarding Championship events which are likely to take place in May 2021. One place will be reserved for the host nation of Japan. This person will be the highest-ranked skater of the host nation. Each country then taking part is allowed six women and six men, however no more than three of one gender. The skateboarders will wear colourful uniforms with Nike already began production in creating those for USA, Brazil and France. During the Olympic contest itself, each skateboarder will have three timed runs to post the best score.
The skateparks to be used in Tokyo are located at Aomi Urban Sports Venue and the parks will also be made open to the public which is a bonus for local riders or any skateboarders in attendance. The idea will be that the skateparks hold the competitions and then once they are completed, anyone who wants to have a go at skating the park will be allowed access. This is a nice touch and will help unite the skateboard community there to enjoy the games.
The Olympics will also highlight the welcoming of equality in skateboarding. In a 'sport' which is usually male dominated, amazingly an increasing number of female skateboarders are appearing on the streets and in the skateparks. Female skateboarders such as Alexis Sablone, Leticia Buffoni, Sky Brown as well as skateboarder and actor Rachelle Vinberg from the movie 'Skate Kitchen' have been inspirational for women in skateboarding.We shouldn't forget that skateboarding is still illegal in certain parts of the United States with the laws surrounding the regulations differing from city to city. This is also the case in different parts of the world and skateboarding has unfortunately always been very slow to be accepted in many countries. Let's not forget that skateboarding was even banned throughout all of Norway for 11 years from 1978 to 1989. It can be said that skateboarders have also unfortunately still not lost the stigma of being a public nuisance. Whilst we don't condone elements of trespassing or damage to public or private property which are usually associated with the art, the Olympics however might help change opinions of skateboarding. In terms of the organisation and structure, it is clear the right steps have been taken to portray skateboarding in a positive light and make progress as a ‘sport’ with its inclusion in the games. The large corporate companies and sponsors involved will most certainly care who wins in the Skateboarding Olympics but the most part of the skate community won’t. The highest accolade in Skateboarding I believe will forever be ‘Skater of the Year’ as announced by Thrasher magazine. Whatever happens with Skateboarding at the Olympics in Tokyo, it is a sign of how far Skateboarding has come and is a chance to put right common misconceptions of the art. That said, with or without the Olympics, skateboarding will still continue to thrive in its own independent sub culture and provide opportunities for youth wanting to express themselves in the art. The industry is also now more than ever closely linked to the music and fashion industries so the money will keep on coming too. As for The Olympic Games, they are an event which only comes around every four years, and whilst it may be at an Olympic level, at the end of the day, it is just another contest.