Skateboarding has been a symbol of counter-cultural rebellion for 70 years. The sport has been symbolically associated with independence, disobedience and sticking it to the man.
The stereotype of young, baggy-clothed delinquents tearing up parking lots and stairways only to be kicked out by security is the typical image conjured by the thought of skateboarding.
Skateboarding itself is inherently linked to the idea of freedom. Mounting a skateboard opens up endless avenues of movement across the concrete ocean. The ground is a wave, free for anyone to coast along however he or she pleases.
Throughout the years, skateboarding culture has crossed paths with music genres like hip-hop, grunge and ska-punk. Songs about skateboarding thematically revolve around youthful rowdiness and liberation.
On a more socially active front, skateboarding has been present alongside countless political protests and graffiti jobs. Though causes being supported have ranged widely, one thing has been consistent: skateboarders stirring up trouble.
Obviously, illegal activity is wrong on both a societal level and an eternal one. Catholic skaters should never participate in any behavior or support any cause contrary to human dignity or to the teachings of the Catholic Church.
I am not here to encourage breaking the law. I am here to express my disgust over the commercial, advertiser-friendly retail-takeover that has invaded skateboarding.
With all this in mind, why is skateboarding an Olympic sport?
This year at Tokyo’s 2020 Summer Olympics, skateboarding was featured as an Olympic sport for the first time ever. The many countries of the world were well-represented in the preliminary rounds with contestants hailing from Denmark to South Africa.
However, it seems contrary to the sport’s own nature to be featured front and center in such an international, advertiser-driven blowout event. How could the skateboarding community let this happen?
An unfortunate reality of skateboarding is its increased commercialization over the years. This has been a trend long-coming and predictably so.
One need only look at the superstar popularity of certain famous skaters. Shaun White, Rob Dyrdek and Tony Hawk are all legends in their own right apart from their place in the skateboarding community.
Individuals like these became household names for average Americans, Hawk more so than the others. It was the marketability of these skaters that led corporations to begin sponsoring skateboarding as a traditional sport.
Competitions became broadcasted events with high-quality cameras and banner ads rather than spur-of-the-moment challenges between neighborhood friends. Skateboarding quickly made its way into video games and energy drink commercials.
What do skaters need? They need decks, special clothes, helmets and wheels to name a few. All of these can be monetized, analyzed by a board of experts to figure out how much teens, or their parents more accurately, are willing to spend on them.
When Walmart, one of the biggest proponents of mindless American capitalism, starts selling skateboards (which are dreadful at best), it’s obvious that something is wrong. A personal note from me: never purchase a fully-made skateboard from Walmart unless you need firewood.
Though counter-cultural skateboarding persists in some disparate corners of the world, the heyday of do-it-yourself, independent, defiant skateboarding has come to an end. As much as skaters hate to admit it, skateboarding doesn’t hold as much cultural oomph as it used to.
Gone are the days when one could hit up a skate shop and watch a VHS tape of some random kids carving a Huntington Bank doorstep. Gone are the days of skaters sneaking into swimming pools overnight to ride the dips and bowls.
Today’s heroes of skateboarding include Nyjah Huston or Yuto Horigome, both Olympic athletes. Though both men are complacent in the commercial takeover of skateboarding, it is interesting to witness that stark contrast between them and traditional Olympic athletes.
Skinny, long-haired and occasionally tattooed, skaters retain some level of comedic inappropriateness when compared to more put-together athletes. This represents a final bastion of skateboarding’s noncompliant nature. I dread the day when the average skater on television is a flawless, chiseled Instagram model.
If indeed skateboarding is approaching total commercialization on the world stage, then either the sport is on its deathbed or the Olympics are. On one hand, skateboarding needs the Olympics to experience a renewed interest by the public, and the Olympics needs skateboarding because literally no one cares about the Olympics.
Perhaps it is in skateboarding and its community’s best interest to let the sport become more commercialized. Skateboarding’s increased popularity resulting from the Olympic coverage may encourage new kids to enter the sport.
It is the duty of veteran skateboarders to remind newcomers that skateboarding is more than just buying parts you don’t need, wearing expensive clothes and drinking Red Bull. Skateboarding is a mindset, one that encourages participants to think freely, apart from what corporations want them to think, and to live radically.