By now, everyone knows about skateboarding. Whether you are a skater yourself or you walk by a skatepark on the way home or you saw it in the Olympics, you have been exposed to it in one way or another.
An important question often arises amongst those who do not skate, and even among us skaters. Is skateboarding a sport?
Since its Olympic debut, skateboarding is officially considered a sport, however many skateboarders consider it a lifestyle or form of art. Skateboarding is more than just a sport, and symbolic of vast, diverse, and immersive culture.
The debate around this question has remained hot and heavy in skateboarding culture, even throughout periods when skating was frowned upon, and not prominent or respected in the public eye.
I find it hard to imagine that skateboarders proposed this question to themselves. I would instead venture to say that the question of sport versus lifestyle arose from the collective mind of curious and bewildered outsiders.
However, despite any conjectures on how the question has entered the cultural zeitgeist, it is important to acknowledge how this topic has become a conceptual bridge (or wall?) between skaters and the general public. And, to answer the question definitively, we must first take a look at skateboarding’s history, and then ask ourselves why this question even matters.
Skateboarding Is a Lifestyle and Not a Sport
I’m going to assume that most of you here reading are skateboarders. Of course, to us, the question of sport or lifestyle matters because it quite literally defines what we do. Language matters, and therefore, how skateboarding is defined will have an impact on how it is viewed.
It could be said that this question dictates the future of skateboarding. It affects how skateboarding may evolve. We are going to break down some key reasons this question matters.
The question of skateboarding being a sport or lifestyle is likely to persist forever, continuously shaping our hobby’s culture. We may never have a true answer, as skateboarding will evolve as time goes on.
As new skate styles or tricks are introduced, fresh fashion senses emerge, and clean-cut facets of skateboarding culture take shape, there will likely be unexplored viewpoints on the question that also materialize.
As presented in skateboarding’s rich history, we have already seen the culture change drastically a number of times. Our four-wheeled planks of wood have evolved from post-war kids’ toys to being symbolic of vast, diverse, and immersive culture.
Whether skateboarding is a sport or lifestyle matters also in part because it affects how non-skaters perceive and define what we do. A reality about any industry is that many of the people funding projects are outside of the community.
The same applies to skateboarding. Although skating is a capable, consolidated group, with many “for skaters, by skaters” brands and ventures, it is undeniable that the outside eyes peering into our culture have perhaps an unfair say on how the culture plays out.
Simply put, the more eyes that twinkle upon skateboarding, the more money and opportunity pour in for skaters. Only if skateboarding is perceived as a worthy activity will skate businesses flourish and see more opportunity in the public sector.
This then means that whether skateboarding is a sport or a lifestyle (or something in between) matters, as those with the powers that be can have an immense effect on culture, business, and opportunities for talented skaters; and they will
Lastly, skateboarding’s status as a sport or lifestyle certainly shapes how we view ourselves and our culture. This question defines our relationship with the hobby we all love so dearly. We all skate for different reasons, and so our answers to the question of sport or lifestyle will surely have an impact on how we go about skating.
It is important to be able to encapsulate what skateboarding means to each of us, as an act of self-awareness. Furthermore, skateboarding culture, of course, is also designed from the inside, by skaters. It is therefore important to be clear on what we want skateboarding to be for ourselves so that outside forces have less influence on our culture.
The Argument For Skateboarding is a Sport
So, let’s get into the meat and potatoes. First, we will discuss how skateboarding could be seen as a sport.
For many, skateboarding is very much a sport. Of course, there is an athletic aspect to skateboarding. Even from the days of kids riding down sidewalks and hills, some level of athletic ability has been required to skate, namely balance, agility and coordination. Skateboarding also activates, quite intensely, the core and lower body.
Those who skate for long periods at a time, or “shred” hard when they skate, will likely compare skating to an intense core and leg day at the gym. Many also enjoy, like myself, the healthy burden put on the cardiovascular system while skateboarding.
As is the case with any sport or athletic endeavor, the regular engagement of these bodily functions serves to increase their tolerance over time.
Skateboarding is an excellent workout that can improve cardio, core functioning, leg strength, agility, flexibility, coordination and many other athletic qualities in humans. Many of us have this somewhere at the top of our minds when we go skating, treating skateboarding as a sport.
Since skateboarding is such an athletic endeavor, one that many of us partake in as though we were going to the gym, it follows that our culture has seen implications that match this perception.
Since the days of skateboards being toys, we have seen the emergence of specific athletic wear for skateboarding, athletic facilities exclusively for pro skateboarders, and competitions for skateboarders to perform as athletes at the highest level of our sport.
This brings us to another point for sport, which is the competitive nature that is sometimes present in skate culture. Of course, at the end of the day, skateboarding in its purest form is one man against physics. However, like other sports, competition is also embedded in skateboarding.
We play games of SKATE (like HORSE in basketball, but for skate tricks) to compete with friends. SKATE eventually was turned into a live contest where the most talented skaters compete for cash with their best flat-ground tricks, called Battle At The Berrics.
Now, there are countless high-profile skate competitions for the best of the best to compete, and for skaters at home to watch. Skateboarding is now even in the Olympics, as of 2020.
It is undeniable that there are at least a few viable arguments for considering skateboarding a sport. At least, the athletic nature and competitive spirit exhibited in the community point towards sport.
The Argument Against Skateboarding as a Sport
Let us now take a look at some arguments for how skateboarding could be a lifestyle. But, first, what is a lifestyle? A lifestyle, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, is the interests, opinions, behaviors, and behavioral orientations of an individual, group, or culture. How does this relate to skateboarding?
Unlike other sports, there are a number of other interests that go allowing with skateboarding. At a local park, you are likely to find a variety of people from various schools, neighboring cities, and of different ages. We tend to bring our passions to the park with us.
Many skaters I know also happen to be incredible visual artists, from graffiti to characters to portraits. Chances are some musician, dancer, fashionista, or writer you love also skates. There’s a wide range of pursuits that dilute skateboarding and some that skaters seem to have in common.
Moreover, skateboarding lends itself to certain mindsets that your average sport doesn’t. Skateboarders, from the beginning, have been winging it. We are creatives above all else. Skaters at the park all have different styles of skateboarding, which means they have a different “setlist” of tricks.
Rather than trying to throw a ball harder, run faster, or swim lengths in a pool quicker, our training could, and very often does, involve creating something completely new (or at least doing something in a completely new way).
Tricks have evolved through the years, from twists and turns to jumps and flips to grinds and slides… you get the idea. Furthermore, on the mindsets within the skateboarding lifestyle, skateparks bring all ages, genders, nations, cultures, and creeds together.
There is an embrace that is like no other in sports. There is no requirement to perform well, or even perform at all at a skatepark. Simply be a good person and you’re in. Spend enough time there, and you have a little community, and sometimes even a big family. Some of the people I love the most at the skatepark can’t even pop shuvit. Skateboarding, surely, is more than a sport.
What Is Skateboarding to You?
The awful truth is this: skateboarding is what it is to you (the skaters). To some, the weekly daily hour or two mingling and pushing around the park is simply an escape. Not to say these skaters don’t shred… they do.
But they aren’t competing with anyone, even themselves. Instead, they are simply existing somewhere they belong, doing tricks they love, with the people they love. For these people, skateboarding is a lifestyle.
To others, skateboarding is a endeavor that they take quite seriously. They want to be good at it. Maybe they want to be pros someday. Or maybe they don’t, but they see it as an activity to put effort into.
They stretch before as soon as they hit the park, they work out specifically to improve their skating, and they think of lines (a number of tricks in a row) in bed. To these, skateboarding is a sport, whether it is also a lifestyle or not.
Of course, many of us, interleaf the two. We take skateboarding as serious athletically as any other sports athlete would. But we also take part in other interests common amongst skaters, as well as the community that skateboarding offers.
The History Of Skateboarding as a Sport
In a somehow fitting way, skateboarding partly has World War II to thank for its conception. As is often the case post-war, the US economy boomed in the 1950s. As a trickling effect, the toy market also saw a surge in production.
In the 1950s a trend emerged of riding a board with wheels, the precursor to which was the rudimentary fruit crate scooter of the 1930s. These original “skateboards” were also quite basic, however, they provided vastly more freedom to ride. Thrill seekers were thrilled. “Look, Mom… No hands!”, they exclaimed.
Of course, toy companies caught wind of the hands-free boards with wheels, and in 1959, the Roller Derby Skateboard was released by The Roller Derby Skate Company. The Roller Derby Skateboard was made with a flat, popsicle-shaped piece of wood and roller-skate wheels.
Then, in the 1960s, skateboarding achieved rapid growth, becoming widely popular, especially on the east and west coasts. Skateboarding became a viable hobby for people of all ages, becoming seen as a sort of athletic endeavor rather than a toy for young kids to roll outside with.
In 1962, Bill Richards and his 3 sons created Val-Surf in North Hollywood, California. Val-Surf was the first ever “skate shop” in the world. In 1963, skateboarding had its first contest at Hermosa Beach, California. After this, companies took notice of talented skateboarders and started offering sponsorships. Then came the first skateboard magazine in 1964, called The Quarterly Skateboarder. However, from the mid to late 60s, skateboarding would see its first
Skateboarding was then revived in the 70s because of two key inventions. First, Larry Stevenson adapted skateboards to include a concaving kicktail in 1969, which allowed skaters to manual on flat, kickturn, or launch off ramps and curbs.
Then the original skateboard-exclusive wheels were invented in 1972 by Frank Nasworthy, who created Cadillac Wheels Company to release these wheels to the skaters of the public. These wheels, made out of polyurethane, were significantly faster and more maneuverable.
These two key inventions brought about a huge increase in skater skill levels and skateboarding popularity, as well as a big change in the actual tricks that skaters were performing.
Creative skaters were soon able to take the sport in completely new directions, inventing new tricks that had never been done before (like the Kickflip, by Rodney Mullen in 1982).
In 1976, the first skatepark was built in Florida, and more began to sprout across America, Europe and Asia. It was around this time that skaters started to ride empty pools, exploring the vertical possibilities for the sport. Pools gave way to the creation of half pipes, and quarter pipes.
In the 1980s, skateboarding attracted an underground following. Skaters were back on the streets, making DIY ramps and half-pipes, and skating what was in their environment. The board size increased and truck construction improved, allowing for more control.
A new skate style began to thrive with widely different tricks than seen before. During this time, skateboarding’s now distinctive subculture began to evolve, the punk rock and baggy clothes style that still had a hold on a majority of street and park skaters alike.
Skateboarding was able to maintain its popularity in the 90s, using TV and digital platforms to promote brands, skaters, and content. In 1995, Tony Hawk took home the first-ever Gold Medal for half-pipe skateboarding in the X-Games.
Tony Hawk is also responsible for the first skateboarding video game ever made in 1999, called Tony Hawk Pro Skater. This game was huge for putting skating on the map.
Now, in the 2000s, skateboarding has remained popular. In 2010 the first international skateboarding contest was made by Rob Dyrdek. At the aptly named “Street League” competitions, the best of the best from across the globe compete at the highest level.