Skateboarding and the Olympics

The Olympics are in full force.  i'll admit, the women's beach volleyball may have caused me to be a little late getting to the shop a few times but other than that i don't end up paying all that much attention to it all.  28 Days Later and Sunshine are a few of my favorite movies yet their legacy could not make up for what i saw of Danny Boyle's opening ceremonies.  The Olympics are supposed to be a giant celebration of the world's cultures yet somehow it always just seems to strip the depth from all that art and humanity and turn everything into some two dimensional characterture.  From the opening ceremonies, to the nations' "marching" outfits, to the sterilized interviews with news anchors shoving microphones into athlete's faces right after complete their exhausting specialties. Inevitably, during the expansive coverage of the Olympics there are mentions of skateboarding someday being in the Olympics.  With the success of the X Games and the Street League, among others, the visibility of world class skateboarders has grown rapidly over the years.  Snowboarding exploded onto the Winter Olympics scene becoming heavily viewed events that have helped to add some new life and excitement to the line-up of other traditional Winter Olympic activities.  This raised the visibility of snowboarding to an audience that was not necessarily privy to the activity.  All that attention also brought a lot of money to the snowboarding industry.  i know that many would like to see that for skateboarding as well.

i, however, am not one of them.  It's not because of some sense on "selling out", we are all just trying to make money to survive.  It is also not because of some sense of "exclusivity".  i didn't invent skateboarding, someone was nice enough to introduce me to it and i'd like to pass that on to anyone i can.

My reasoning is because i do not see skateboarding as a sport... i see skateboarding as ART.  You can't deny the athleticism needed to skateboard but there are many athletic endeavors that are not sport.  For me skateboarding is a means of self expression, an escape from all the judgments of the world.  Unlike swimming or running, skateboarding in the Olympics would be a judged event similar to diving or gymnastics.  In such events i have always questioned the decision making process.  When awards can be separated by tenth's of a point (or smaller sometimes) i question the means.  Points for and deductions against leave a lot of room for human judgement (hence calling them JUDGES) and i have a hard time with the idea that a finite "better" or "worse" can be placed on one trick verses another. A 0.5 point deduction because you didn't land "bolts"?  Is it an automatic deduction of 3 points if someone pushes mongo?

This form of Olympic point judgement, i fear, will also push skateboarding into a robotic, style-less activity with no flow. Here i'd like to enter Exhibit A: women's gymnastics.  Long gone are the days of graceful gymnastics.  Today they bang out trick to trick to trick with no rhythm or feel.  Who did the most technical tricks in the allotted time?  The point system has made all the style superfluous so the top competitors have eliminated it completely so that they can jam more technicality into the routine. i don't want to see skateboarding done as a metallic machine gun blast of tricks devoid of it's soul.  People have expressed this fear with the X Games and Street League but fortunately we have enough Mark Gonzales's and Geoff Rowley's in the world to balance it all out.  Would the olympics be enough to push the balance to the dark side?

i now enter Exhibit B: snowboarding.  Skateboarding's younger brother has made it into the Olympics. i am extremely happy for those who have done well and are now making a healthy living.  They deserve it  and if you can make an honest living doing some you like then you are truly fortunate.  The harm that i feel has been done to snowboarding by it being a part of the Olympics has not been done by the riders.  The harm has come as a result of the forum (not the company, the noun).  The set up of the competition is already driving the events towards arms races of who can do the most spins and who can get the highest air.  The flow and drive to create new styles is already being moved to the background as "what will score more points" becomes the aim of riders training in secret locations.  Skateboarders and snowboarders should always be pushing the limits, my concern is that with the Olympic style of judging these art forms are being artificially pushed in one direction eliminating  the full spectrum of limitless possibilities.

Completely self-serving aside: On a surficial social front i now cringe when i tell someone i snowboard, much like i did in those old days when we were ridiculed and not allowed on ski slopes.  i have developed a Pavlovian reaction to the name Shaun White.  i have nothing against Mr White, in fact i wish i had a mere fraction of the talent that he has on either a skateboard or snowboard.  He also has incredible poise when exposed to the myriad of news dunder-heads as an ambassador of snowboarding.  My condition stems from non-snowboarders.  If it gets brought up that i snowboard the instant reaction is either "like Shaun White" or "like that red haired kid".  My face uncontrollably crinkles and my hand slaps my forehead in an act of pure muscle memory.  They know the name of a snowboarder so now they've got me all figured out.  They have some neat little box in their mind now to file me away in... but i digress. 

These feelings don't come from a sense of "fighting the mainstream" or jealousy, these feelings come from a place of love. i love skateboarding and i love snowboarding.  A bit of my soul was injured the first year snowboarding was in the Olympics, but it was partially nursed back to health when their drug test results where released (i'm not making any commentary on drug use, just that there was still an untamed aspect of snowboarding in tact even in the Olympics).  Many of us have said this over and over again, but it bares repeating: skateboarding (and snowboarding) have saved my life, and they continue to help me as i strive to be a better person. i want to see generation after generation get on boards and find that meditative, creative, individual art form that saves lives.  If they can make a living off of it then all the better, but when we get to a point that kids are picking up boards purely with career aspirations, more than just a bit of my soul will have died.  i have seen little hints of this on the slopes when snowboarding.  Maybe i'm hanging on like some "helicopter" mom hoping to protect the innocence of skateboarding for as long as i can.  Maybe i just need to let it go and let it become whatever it ends up becoming.

The reality is that skateboarding will end up an Olympic sport, and it will do so in my generation's lifetime.  i just hope we can keep it as pure as possible for as long as possible.

-tom