While sports fans the world over are collectively gushing over the Olympics in Rio, the announcement that skateboarding will be included as an event in the 2020 Tokyo games has left skateboarders with mixed emotions.
There was a collective cringe, with skateboarding's "vast youth appeal" cited as one reason for its inclusion in the games—along with surfing, karate, and sport climbing. But most skateboarders weren't particularly surprised by the news: it's been on the agenda for a long time.
As a skateboarder myself, I was keen to find out how other skaters think the Olympics will affect skating's image: who will profit, who will lose, and whether skaters will manage to pass the compulsory drug tests. To find out, I called up some of the skateboarders I respect most to talk Olympic skating.
Professional skateboarder and executive board member for the International Skateboarding Federation (ISF)
VICE: Hey Renton, you were involved with getting skateboarding into the 2020 Olympics. Can you tell me a little bit about how it happened?
Renton Millar: About nine years ago, when I was at the Dew tour in Boston, there was an ISF meeting. At that time, the Roller Skate Federation was gunning for Olympic skateboarding. I believed in the cause of skateboarders having control if skating went to the Olympics. To me, it was inevitable that eventually skateboarding would be in the Olympics and I wanted to make sure it had some form of protection. The ISF is there to make sure that the Olympic skateboarding event is a skate competition as skateboarders expect to see it.
What's the upside of having skateboarding in the Olympics?
I think there will be countries, which don't have a history in skateboarding, supporting it. I also think a massive benefit will be for the girls. They've really struggled to get a lot out of skating, career-wise. When I went to the Nanjing Youth Olympics two years ago, I saw that it was a 50 percent split between girls and boys. I thought that was rad.
There's obviously a lot of skaters who think skateboarding in the Olympics will be lame. What would you say to them?
I respect everyone's opinion. I hope that skateboarding in the Olympics inspires those who aren't into Olympic skating to do their thing even harder. It will certainly never lose any relevance or validity because of an event that happens every four years.
There's a concern that the people who profit from this won't be skaters—is that the case?
I think skaters will benefit for sure. Skaters will profit. I know a lot of guys that do the hard lifting behind the scenes in lobbying for skate parks and skate park maintenance. These people's jobs become easier with the Olympic stamp of approval, and their work to make skateboarding better will yield more fruit—better conditions for skaters.
Sydney skateboarder ("happily unsponsored")
Hey Javier, so lots of skaters think skateboarding in the Olympics is going to be pretty lame. Do you agree?
There's two sides to the coin. It's cool for the exposure of skateboarding and obviously more skateparks are going to be built as a result. But, on the other hand, skateboarders are meant to be dirty party animals who don't give a fuck about anything. I think it's good for the sport but for the actual reputation of skaters I think it's kind of lame.
So do you think being an Olympic sport will change skateboarding?
I think it already is. Like, that Street League shit that's run by Nike and they pay millions of dollars to the skaters who get into it. I'm pretty sure it will be the same dudes who go to the Olympics anyway.
This is probably going to be the first time skaters will be drug tested, how's that going to go?
Most of these dudes are crazy, like weed smokers or alcoholics and taking party drugs. And if there's a drug test 95 percent of them won't be able to compete. I think it's going to be quite hard [for skaters] to get clean for the Olympics.
Susana Valbuena Sanchez
Skateboarder, roller skater, roller derby player
Hi Susana, what do you think about skateboarding in the Olympics?
For me, skateboarding and the Olympics definitely don't mix. Skateboarding can't be scored in the same way as most sports. My favourite skaters aren't those who can pull the cleanest, fastest or highest trick—for me it's about style. Anyway, skateboarding is about having a good time with your friends, not about competing.
Does this mean skateboarding has officially "grown up"?
I hope not. Honestly, I think this whole idea is just going to be a big failure. It just means there's this committee trying to put their hands somewhere they shouldn't.
Some people argue the Olympics will mean more funding for skateparks, especially in developing countries. What do you think about that?
I think it's bullshit. Do you really think skateparks are going to start popping up in Africa just because skateboarding is an Olympic event now? Will the Olympics be good for female skateboarding?
I don't think the Olympics will have anything to do with it. But, if this was a thing, I would be tempted to change my mind about this issue. Skateparks are still going to be filled with hordes of "bad boys." It takes a good pair of ovaries to ignore all the eyes staring at you—especially at the beginning when you don't know what you are doing—and just hit the park and try to skate. This is going to be the case until the female-male ratio in skateparks gets, not even-balanced, but smoothed out.
Head coach and co-founder of Totem Skateboarding
Hi Nigel, you work with young kids in the skate scene every day. What do they think about skateboarding becoming an Olympic sport?
I don't think they care. When you're just starting out skateboarding you just want to get sponsored and get free shit. For the diehard people the Olympics will be an extension of that attitude. But for the kids I'm working with in disadvantaged communities, they don't give a shit. They just want to have fun.
What do you personally think about skateboarding in the Olympics?
Every other brand seems to want something from skateboarding. Companies like Nike have seen the benefits that it can bring to their brand, and that brings more exposure and money and more opportunities [for skateboarders]. But in the skateboarding world it gets shunned.
So if the Olympics want to get something out of skateboarding, are they also going to give something back?
It will give something back, just not first hand. I'm on the Sydney Skateboarding Association and I can see how it will just be another angle for us to use to apply for better facilities and better skateparks and getting these things to be built properly. So, in a really round about way, it will give back—but not directly.
Member of Sydney Skateboarding Association
Hi Cameron, a lot of skaters think skateboarding in the Olympics is going to be pretty lame, what do you think?
I see the argument from both sides but, if I had to pick a side, I'm on the negative side. I can see it's going to help with a lot of things that we're trying to do in Sydney—like getting more skate facilities—but I think it's going to attract a totally different group of people to the culture. When I hear people talking about the Olympics, skateboarding is referred to as a "sport." For me, it's the polar opposite of that. Being included in the Olympics and that competitive nature will erode the cultural values [skateboarders] cherish more than anything.
Who stands to profit from skateboarding in the Olympics?
The majority of people who profit from it won't be skateboarders. Are they going to exploit skateboarding to get what they want? Yeah, I definitely think they are. But there are definitely going to be skateboarders who will profit from it as well.
Would drug testing be an issue?
No. I mean, for some people it might be, but I'm sure it would be the same for any other sport that's been in the Olympics. It's a bit sad actually that everyone keeps bringing that up, it just helps perpetuate a stereotype.
What will the Olympics do to skateboarding?
It's just going to create a more definitive line in the sand between the Street League crowd and that anti-establishment crowd. All it's going to do is make that line in the sand way deeper and a lot thicker. It's not the end of skateboarding, there's just going to be two different types – the more serious guys and the people who are just in it for the good times and the fun.
So I guess you wouldn't represent team Australia?
God no. Absolutely not.
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