Qualified

Sky Brown / Stalefish / Photo by Rachel Mummey

I usually refrain from any commentary on the competition scene, it isn’t really my thing. The Olympic Games, however, are the biggest sporting event on the planet, and our humble little activity has been deemed relevant enough to be included. In the spectacle of it all though, something has become incredibly apparent. 

TeamGB offers a great selection of our country’s skateboarders. We have even adopted some American shredders who have British parentage. Sky Brown and Bombette Martin, who both qualified for the Olympic main event, are maybe two of our biggest hopes for a medal in the Women’s Park event. Sky Brown alone has made history as the youngest Olympian ever. 

Looking at the Men’s events, we had Milton Keynes’ Alex Decunha in the street comp, who didn’t qualify. As good as Alex is, the competition to qualify was fierce, with the USA, Japan and Brazil stacking the roster with 3 skaters each. The skaters in this competition feature some big names including Axel Cruysbergh, Jagger Eaton and Nyjah Huston.

On the Park side, we had Sam Beckett, Alex Hallford and Jordan Thackeray. All 3 of these guys are titans of the skatepark and can destroy any transition, they are all unreal to watch skate. However, all 3 of them failed to qualify too. This puts the UK’s hopes for medals on 2 teenagers who call America home to get on the podium for the Women’s Park event. 

Given that women’s skateboarding has massively taken off, it should be no surprise that we managed to get two phenomenal female skaters on our team. The Women’s events are stacked with some amazing skaters – Leticia Bufonu, Aori Nishimura, Alexis Sablone and Lizzie Armanto are all competing in the two competitions – so as much as skateboarding is fighting for recognition and to prove itself at The Games, Women’s Skateboarding is fighting doubly hard for acceptance within our own community. 

I guess my question here is why did Sky Brown and Bombette Martin qualify, but the 4 men on TeamGB didn’t? I don’t think it’s a question of skill, as every single Skater on TeamGB is among the best the country, and the world, has to offer. I think the answer is more institutional of the UK’s approach to skateboarding facilities. 

Sam Beckett / Fastplant

The UK has been playing catch up with the USA, and also many other countries across the globe, in providing decent, large, well designed skateparks since skateboarding first came to these shores. Efforts from park builders like Canvas, Maverick and others have gone some way to rectify this, with the UK recently getting a local branch of Norway’s Betongpark to bring some of that inventive Scandinavian design sensibility to our skateparks, but it’s been an uphill struggle. 

The issue is that councils, and the public, still don’t understand skateparks. They offer awkward, tiny spaces for them. They are unwilling to bring in bigger budgets to create landmark parks that compete with what other countries offer. They treat them as playparks rather than their own, distinct thing. People are beginning to understand what facilities we need to get Olympic hopefuls trained up, and indoor parks especially are pulling a lot of weight in this area, filling the gaps that council approved outdoor parks are yet to. 

I’m hoping that the Olympic skateparks are a lightbulb moment. That councils see these parks and go “Oooh that’s what they want to skate”, and that it leads to bigger budgets and more appropriate space being allocated for skateparks. I’m unsure whether us Brits are likely to register the lack of representation from our shores though. There are still so many people from this country who don’t even think skateboarding should be in the Olympics, and even within our own community we are divided on whether it’s inclusion is a good thing. 

The attitude to the new addition to the Olympics on social media from Brits has been somewhat disappointing, with an overabundance of idiots spouting drivel about the competition looking like “delinquents mucking about in a Tesco car park”, and even Labour MP Andy Burnham disappointingly claiming he thinks it takes less dedication than other, more legitimate sports. You only have to see these comments to get a feeling that the UK is looking at this landmark addition to the Games and scratching its head in confusion as the rest of the world leaves us behind.

I am utterly convinced that there is a throughline between the UK’s attitude toward skateboarding and providing skateparks, and the number of our skaters who qualified. I am utterly convinced that despite the phenomenal skill of our own skateboarders, we were always fighting a losing battle with qualifying for the Olympics. 

Alex Hallford / Loop / Photo by Fabian Reichenbach

Not only because of Covid related travel restrictions, but because our facilities that are big enough, and comparable to the types of park used for Olympic competition, are few and far between in our country. When the places to practice on appropriate terrain comes attached to a 5 hour round trip, is there any surprise that our skaters wouldn’t be able to compete with those from the USA, where fantastic, huge parks are plentiful? Where street spots are smooth and much easier to skate? 

It’s actually a miracle that we even managed to consistently produce skaters who could compete on this level over decades of UK skateboarding’s history. Our penchant for building bare minimum pre-fab cookie cutter parks, or temporary wooden or metal parks (in fear that the “fad” will pass and councils will need to scrap them), has done utterly no favours for our most talented skaters. The minute skatepark builders began producing huge, sprawling parks like Stoke Plaza, there was a marked increase in talented riders. 

So, what’s the point of this guff? Well, I think it’s a bit of a smug “I told you so”, aimed at the sports minded Councils who want to promote sports and active kids, but failed to provide skateparks that were half decent. We aren’t getting Olympians from a tin can funbox and bog standard 6 ft mini with bad coping and vert. That Bendcrete pre-fab park with pebble dash concrete you keep telling kids is “good enough” is going to provide far more obstacles to young Olympic hopefuls than a well designed spray-creted Park from Canvas or Betongpark. 

Thousands of young kids are looking at Sky Brown and discovering skateboarding because of it. I don’t think UK councils understand how much young kids, especially girls, idolise Sky Brown, and the huge influx of new skaters our cities and towns are about to see at their local parks and street spots. This failure to adapt and provide for youth trends will ultimately push us all into cramped, tiny skateparks not designed for a horde of eager, excited young people who want to join in on the fun. 

Tony Hawk / Indy Nosebone at the Tokyo Olympic Park

Councils have left local skate scenes ill equipped, leaving us with less and less space for these kids to learn the basics. This was already proven during the pandemic when hundreds of people took up skateboarding as a way to stay active, and the Olympics will exacerbate a problem councils have caused for decades.

I think the fact that some of our most talented skaters who live on these shores failed to qualify is proof that this country does not provide decent facilities for skateboarders. I think their failure to qualify land’s not on the shoulders of the skaters, who tried their best with what little they have on their doorstep, but on the shoulders of councils who, time and time again, have failed skate scenes with sub-par skateparks. 

I think, if we are to return to the Olympics, councils need to pull their fingers out and collaborate with skatepark campaigns in their area. They can’t keep pretending to ride on the skills of UK skateboarders and then not provide skateparks that are fit for purpose. We can’t be holding SLS in London on one hand, and then hire companies like GBH to build local skateparks. It’s an outdated and frankly silly situation, and skateparks like the one I grew up skating in should have been replaced 10 years ago, before Olympic Skateboarding was even a thing.
That is, quite simply, the issue here. Sky Brown and Bombette Martin have, unknowingly, created a generational shift in UK skateboarding, not only through making history as young Olympians, or through encouraging more women to skate, or through whatever place they come in the first Olympic skateboarding competition, but also through providing firm proof of what access to phenomenal skatepark facilities can do for skateboarders. To me, that’s what Qualification for the Olympics has communicated, and I hope it’s the start of a brighter future for skatepark builders and skateboarders in this country.

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