Will the Olympic inclusion of surfing, skateboarding change perceptions?
Heimana Reynolds knows that a lot of people still have preconceptions about skateboarding – that it’s a haven for troublemakers, a way for delinquent teens to spend their time “when they want to trespass and vandalize stuff.”
He knows that many parents would probably prefer to see their children play other sports. And he knows some people probably don’t even consider skateboarding a sport in the first place.
But Reynolds hopes this summer Tokyo Olympics will help change these perceptions.
âIt’s really exciting that skateboarding is somehow recognized as a real sport,â the 22-year-old said in April.
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Skateboarding is one of the four sports that will be played at the Olympic Games for the first time this summer, step onto the biggest stage in world sport. Surfing, rock climbing and karate are the others, while baseball and softball – which was once part of the Olympics but was later dropped – is also returning to the Olympic program.
Long seen as the sport of choice for rebels and free spirits, skateboarding, rock climbing and surfing have long since become mainstream. They have international federations, world championships and fans all over the world.
Their inclusion in the Olympics, however, serves as a key sign of legitimacy – and an opportunity for expansive growth.
“It will be shown to a wider audience, so more people will see it,” surfer Carissa Moore said at Team USA’s media summit in April, when asked about the sport’s inclusion in the Olympics. “I hope more people fall in love with it and log on more regularly. And maybe it will even get them to go out and try it.”
Yet in the tight-knit communities of each sport, there are lingering concerns as well, especially among veteran participants.
Some fear that the Olympics will cooperate or change the unique cultures of sports like surfing, skateboarding or rock climbing. Others fear that their sport will become too much popular – leading to overcrowding in skate parks or popular outdoor climbing routes.
“It’s a bit controversial, I think for sure,” Kyra Condie, one of four American climbers who will be competing in Tokyo, told USA TODAY Sports. âWe kind of like to have this tight-knit, smaller community – especially when you go outside to those areas outside, which can get really crowded, stuff like that.
“But I think overall it will be a very good thing for the sport. It’s a sport that a lot of people love and enjoyâ¦ And to get it more exposed, it will be really cool.”
Go where the young people are
The overwhelming majority of climbers, skaters, surfers and karatekas heading to Tokyo this summer did not start competing with Olympic dreams in mind. They simply fell in love with their sport, and the Olympic opportunity fell to them later.
The International Olympic Committee voted to add the four sports to its Olympic program for Tokyo in 2016, while also adding a number of new events in existing sports, such as 3-on-3 basketball or mixed relays in track and field. . Another new sport – the break, more commonly known as breakdance, will make its debut at the Paris Olympics in 2024.
IOC President Thomas Bach framed the inclusion of new sports as part of the organization’s larger agenda and an attempt to connect with young audiences.
âYoung people today have so many options for their leisure time that you can’t just wait for these young people to come to sport,â Bach said in 2016. âYou have to go, and sport has to go, where it is. they are. And with that organization, we go where the people are and where the young people are. “
Many athletes see the Olympic inclusion of their sports as part of a natural evolution. Although skateboarding and rock climbing may have started out as rebel hobbies – and, for some, still are – the competitive areas of sports have grown exponentially, with global competitions becoming more and more frequent. .
“I mean, I think it’s about time,” US skateboarder Ryan Sheckler said at a press conference hosted by Red Bull in May. âSkateboarding is cool, and it’s fun, and everywhere I travel the world you can find a thriving skate scene learning tricks. It’s a huge community.â
Many athletes see the Olympics as a huge opportunity to have more eyes on their sports and all the benefits that come with it – from sponsorship dollars and training resources to new facilities or perhaps scholarship opportunities. studies at some point.
âComing from Hawaii, we don’t have the best skate parks,â said Reynolds, who grew up in Honolulu and is considered a gold medal contender in the discipline of park skateboarding. “And I really hope that after the Olympics maybe the city will see that this is something that is a respectable sport, and we will build more skateparks, we will build better parks and places for people who want to skate. “
Sport peaks during pandemic
The beginnings of skateboarding and surfing follow a boom in participation during the pandemic, as team sports gave way to individual sports and remote working gave many more time to pursue. new hobbies.
According to ActionWatch, which compiles market data in the skateboarding and surfing industries, there were an estimated 8.87 million skateboarders in the United States in 2020 – a whopping 34% jump from the previous year. Surfing participation also increased 28% in a single year, to 3.8 million.
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ActionWatch chairman Patrik Schmidle said the demographics of the two sports precluded the idea that the Olympics could cause them to become âmainstreamâ. Both sports have seen their participants age and grow richer in the past, he said.
“If you go to any surf spot today, the number of Tesla’s, Land Cruisers and expensive SUVs you see will tell you it’s not those kind of rebellious high school kids who are the stereotypical surfers anymore.” , said Schmidle.
“(The Olympics) might just continue this trend, but that won’t start a new trend. The worry that it won’t be some kind of ‘outdoor sport’ or ‘rebel sport’ anymore, I don’t think. that this has been the case for a while. “
Schmidle also said the pandemic had a greater influence on participation figures in these two sports than the Olympics will have. Historically speaking, he said, Olympic sports typically experience a slight increase in participation following the Games, but the increase is rarely significant.
Nonetheless, there are still members of the surfing, skateboarding and rock climbing communities who are concerned about an influx of novice participants – especially when it comes to outdoor rock climbing, where overcrowding can have. an impact on the environment.
“It’s exciting. I think it’s also scary,” said US Olympic climber Nathaniel Coleman at the Team USA media summit. “I think as the sport grows, and if it grows quickly – faster than its community can teach newcomers – then it faces a lot of challenges.”
Others, like American skater Mariah Duran, do not share these concerns. She compared her sport to a tree. Skateboarding culture will always be its roots, she explained, and competitions like the Olympics are its branches.
âIf you want to do contests, anything you can do,â she said at the media summit. “If you just want to wander the streets or (a) bowl it doesn’t matter. There really is room for everyone. You can take it anywhere you want, and I feel like the heart skateboarding will always be there. “