In skateboarding’s short but seasoned lifespan, it’s become integrally connected to countless cultural facets and artistic mediums. It’s been co-opted for outside marketing purposes and minimized as nothing more than children’s toys more times than we can count or care to. It’s fallen and gotten back up and tried again, over and over. To say the least, skateboarding has seen some shit.
Let’s be honest with ourselves – whether or not skateboarding is a sport hasn’t ever been worth exploring. It’s inherently worth about as much contemplation as anything on the cover of a tabloid. Who really gives a fuck? There’s so many more interesting aspects of skateboarding, not to mention actually doing it, that deserve more attention than the “sport” argument. But with the Olympics quickly approaching, and skateboarding’s involvement in the 2020 games looking potentially stronger by the day, we decided to ask ourselves: Is skateboarding really a sport?
Skateboarding isn’t a “sport”, by definition. Anything involving movement could be viewed as a sport if so approached and desired. Sex could be turned into a “sport” as much as anything else. (Has it been? We didn’t research.)
There’ve been some interesting responses to this query, ranging from “insider” insights to outside journalistic endeavors to Ian Mackaye to a certain skateboard company known for their direct approach to such matters. Despite some very convincing commentary and editorial that fit our narrative quite well, most arguments we came across are somewhat intangible. “Art”, “culture” and “lifestyle” are words we saw thrown around a lot, but we needed legitimate reasoning, so we came up with it ourselves.
We decided to look at what separates skateboarding specifically from the traits of traditional sports and decide if correlation equals causation after. Here are a few key differences we noticed.
1. Skateboarding has no scoring system and lacks/has no use for structure. There is no defining quantitative formula to determine “points”, although some have tried. Despite valiant attempts by the X-Games, Street League, Tampa Am/Pro, BATB, etc., it’s abundantly clear that any single or even multiple “performance(s)” isn’t in any way indicative of an overall skill level. Statistics have no relevance. There’s no formula to determine who’s the “best”. If there were, Andy MacDonald or Daewon would probably win by sheer numbers alone.
2. There are no “minutes played”.
3. What matters most differs every few years. Traditional sports have no cyclical nature, only records to beat or compare to. Hard and soft skate goods are constantly being improved upon and changed to accommodate certain eras and push boundaries, while tricks and terrain constantly shift with attention spans. Tell us how much rugby has progressed or changed in the last 10 years…
4. The changes made in most sports result in more rules. Skateboarding’s changes involve only more options.
5. There is no “we”. No, “we won!” attitude when someone takes first in a contest or “we did it!” when someone lands an NBD. No “we got so and so in a trade”. The only time “we” did anything is if you yourself did exactly that thing.
6. Style is as or more important than the trick being done. Certain skateboarders have built lasting careers not on the difficulty of the tricks they do, but how they do them. Kareem’s skyhook steez was something else, but could he build a career on just that? Gino’s still getting accolades from The Chocolate Tour. Dennis Busenitz’ push is more entrancing than half his tricks. Nate Jones literally stuck with a handful of tricks in his arsenal (not to say that he wasn’t capable of more), and if you talk to any skateboarder with enough knowledge, Nate goes down as one of skateboarding’s greats.
7. Stats are stats in traditional sports, and those who are beyond good usually rise to the top. That’s not necessarily the case with skateboarding. Some skateboarders’ skill level doesn’t translate accurately or even matter over a period of time. There’s no formula for greatness in skateboarding. We’ve all encountered the folks who’re a thousand times better than their video parts or photos can capture, probably even defended them to naysayers; Matt Beach is our usual house example.
8. Skateboarding is destructive by nature. Every second on a board chips away at something. We’re vandals and masochists. We break our boards when we’re mad. Traditional sports are “great exercise” – skateboarding is fully expecting to cause yourself and whatever you’re skating damage. Every moment on a board is a potential risk to the possibility of never skating again. You can play any traditional sport solo with very little, if any risk involved.
9. No two boards, ramps, obstacles or parks skate the same. Even the pre-fabricated, mass-produced obstacles skate differently depending on how they’re sessioned over time. There is no regulation-sized/textured anything.
10. Careers can be lived out anywhere one so desires that actually has something skateable. Reynolds could move to Saskatchewan and still maintain his status as an influential professional, partially because…
11. …There is no set standard to the status of “professional” in skateboarding. It’s determined by and large democratically by board sponsors, and once someone’s seen fit to turn you pro, you’ve got that title for life if you want it. Once you’re done in basketball, you’re “retired”. You only retire in skateboarding if you choose to and even so, it’s hard to retire that title from your persona. Ex. Heath Kirchart.
12. If you don’t get along with the team/crew, you’re out. Doesn’t matter how good you are in skateboarding. Whereas in major sports, if that person is cocky and doesn’t get along with anyone on the team, they’ll stay on so long as their keeping their stats up. If that were the case in skateboarding, Forrest Edwards would still have a pro board under his feet today and Chad Fernandez might still have a career. Credibility is a fickle thing with indeterminate variables, as far as skateboarding goes.
13. In most traditional sports, these athletes must be tamed professionals and there is hardly room for any alternative ways in participating in their respective activities. By this account, if skateboarding were to be considered a sport, then there’d be no room for Richie Jackson, or Rodney Mullen in our world.
14. Influence matters more than tricks. Tom Penny will matter for years to come, regardless of his random and subpar output. He influenced an entire generation, creating a mystique around himself that no amount of flip-in-flip-out shit will ever undo. Everyone who skates knows Tom Penny’s name, regardless of when they started. Anyone with that much influence in organized sports had to put in years of heavily documented work. Tom Penny did it with a couple minutes of footage 20+ years ago.
15. For a sport to truly thrive, competition needs to exist. Competition in skateboarding tends to be anything but that. If there’s a moment where a person’s competitive nature seeps out in skateboarding, they’ll either be ridiculed by their fellow peers or realize they’re kooking it. No skateboarder to this day was sympathetic towards Nyjah’s needs when he was found crying after a loss and no skateboarder ever will be.
16. The biggest names in skateboarding aren’t untouchable. You can run into them at spots, parks, etc. We can’t tell you how many pros we’ve run into at random spots and you can skate the same spots as the pros. Pretty sure it’s tough to play baseball at Wrigley Field if you’re not a Cub or their opponent.
17. You can start your own shit. A company, shop, contest, whatever – you can start it and literally become a legit part of the industry. Yeah, you. Not so much the case elsewhere.
18. There is no “season”. Skateboarding happens when it happens.
19. Think of the tools you’d use if you decided to play a traditional, let’s say non-motorized sport – a ball, stick, bat, gloves, skates, etc. Are any of these particularly difficult to utilize? Is it tough to swing a bat or throw a ball? You probably figured that part out pretty quick – maybe you weren’t great at it, but you could still do it. The most basic elements of skateboarding are incredibly difficult to learn. Have you ever tried to teach someone who’s never stood on a board how to skate? You really realize how much time and effort it takes just to get the part where you push, ride and turn down. And you will fall, a lot, just getting to the point where you can start learning tricks.
20. Careers are measured entirely differently. If you haven’t earned legend status, you can’t coast. Board companies decide who’s pro for how long, and guess what? You can start your own company (see reason 17) and keep yourself pro as fuck if no one else will. And no one can argue with you. MLB decides who’s professional and who isn’t, as does every other “sport”. In skateboarding, you can be a non-participatory recluse and still maintain your status.
21. There is no governing body. Skateboarding is everyone at once. It’s decided entirely through the democracy of individual opinion. No company decided that benihanas weren’t cool anymore, body varials are “in” or street grabs are “out” – that’s us. We made and make those calls.
22. We see literally everything in terms of skateboarding and potentially skateability. Every shoe, bench, curb cut, set of stairs, bank, hill, roof, etc. This creative outlook keeps it from not only being, but feeling like a sport.
23. Skateboarding started as a means of having fun. No one ever picked up a skateboard and thought of immediately challenging another individual as a means of competing.
24. Anyone can do an NBD. They happen every day. Skateboarding progresses and is only limited by gravity. You can break your high school record for most points in a basketball game, but it doesn’t count in the NBA. You do an NBD, it counts and is recognized in the whole of skateboarding.
25. Skateboarding is international with no ties to any one country. There are homebases everywhere, with whole countries maintaining self-sufficiency and importance to the whole. Union Skateboards in Russia can affect SoCal skating as much as vice-versa.
26. Skateboarding can’t keep up with itself. With most “sports”, there are games, matches and other competitions as the sole measure of what is able to legitimately happen. Legitimate skateboarding happens every second of every day. Our tricks by ourselves drunk at 3AM on a curb can matter just as much as Nyjah’s contest runs, depending on what they are, what we do with them and can have an effect on anyone else.
27. We get to use our imagination to dream up tricks. Our imagination. We get to muse about different ways to make a skateboard do things and then try to make it happen. Imagination – sorely lacking in traditional sports.
28. There are no positions. The closest we come is labeling someone a “street” skater versus maybe “vert”, “park”, etc., and that terminology is going away pretty quick. Skateboarding is only getting better rounded. Ex. Ishod, Cory Kennedy, etc…
29. There are no uniforms.
30. We don’t “play” skateboarding.
Does correlation equal causation? Is skateboarding not a sport because it doesn’t correlate with the majority of the common factors?
The above list isn’t any type of definitive answer and is certainly incomplete, but through this process we learned that if skateboarding can technically be construed to be a “sport”, that’s barely scratching the surface of what it really is, from only one of countless angles. It’s the equivalent of calling Blink 182 a punk band – if you reeeeally stretch the definition until it’s on the verge of snapping, you might be able to come up with semi-valid points if you’re willing to discard the abundance of reasoning to the contrary.
We don’t buy that skateboarding is inherently an art or a lifestyle or a culture by definition, because anything can be any of those if approached and respected as such, and skateboarding can definitely not be those things – although it usually is. We do know that skateboarding is the freedom to take a piece of wood with wheels anywhere and do anything with it and it fucking counts. Good luck applying a scoring system to that.
For our part… well, we happen to respect skateboarding and all its history and facets too much to undermine them by relegating it to dumbed-down terminology like “sport”. Just try to remember how much shit skateboarding has and will go through before you belittle it into a box.