Skateboarding Explained

Skateboarding has been flooding the media as of late after its Olympic debut. For some it was exciting, for others it was anticlimactic. Those who know skateboarding’s past should know that an appearance in the Olympics was uncharacteristic. It didn’t start out as an organized event or even a sport for that matter. Skateboarding has a colorful history and bright future as it continues to develop and grow in popularity.

A History Of Skateboarding

Skateboarding Explained
Rodney Mullen’s part from Almost Round Three originally released in 2004.

The official birth of skateboarding happened around the early 1950’s when surfers put together wheels on a plank of wood and practiced carving on it while the ocean waves were flat. Over the next few decades, it developed into its own culture. Vert skating (characterized by high ramps and arial tricks) took off in the mid 70’s. There was a severe California drought in 1976 which resulted in empty backyard swimming pools. Skateboarders started to ride these pools and sparked a new era of backyard competitions. This went on until the 80’s when actual vert ramps were built for free skating as well as competitions. During the 90’s and 00’s is when street skating (obstacles that emulate what one might find on a public street) took over popularity of vert. The first ever X Games took place in 1995 and started the movement for large-scale skateboarding competitions.

Skateboarding wasn’t originally classified as a sport at all. The crowds that got involved with skate culture were typically against team sports or any organized event. It was an escape from the pressure of rules and regulations and a way for people to express themselves with their own style. Even now that skateboarding has entered the mainstream media via the X Games and Olympics, a large majority of skaters remain on the outskirts of society.

Competition Skating

Skateboarding Explained
Nyjah Huston. Photo Credit: Durso.

What we’ve seen on TV recently only encompasses the surface of skating. Yuto Horigome and Nyjah Huston are often discussed in length when referring to who the “best” skater is. Although they are among the greats without a doubt, the gold medals that they’ve been winning are equally due to their understanding of how competitions are judged.

On the street course at a competition, skaters perform two 45-second runs each and five attempts at the best trick landed. Judges score them all and remove the worst three out of seven to get to add to the final total score. On the park course, skaters attempt three 45-second runs and the best score of three wins. So how do the same skaters keep winning if there are hundreds of others with the same skills? The answer is consistency.

Let’s look at the 360 flip, also called a “Tre” flip. This is one of the most useful tricks in a competition skater’s arsenal. It is just flashy and difficult enough to capture the judges attention but just easy enough to master and land often. Skaters tend to do the same tricks at every contest because they work and provide high scores consistently. While it is still important to be consistent whether you’re competing or not, some of the greatest skaters today are ones that have landed near-impossible tricks even once.

Professional Skating

Skateboarding Explained
Aaron “Jaws” Homoki. If you think this street grab is gnarly, wait ’til you see his socks. By: Ben Karpinski.

This is not to say that competition skating isn’t professional. What I’m talking about now are the skaters that are professional but do not care to be involved with contests or judging. The money earned while being a professional skateboarder who doesn’t compete comes from a couple of places.

The first one is obvious: retail products. This includes skateboard decks, parts, clothing, shoes, and accessories. Companies like Emerica, Zero, Girl, Baker, and many more are based solely around skateboarding and have drafted teams of professionals that rep their brand and promote it. Now that skating has reached the mainstream, even companies like Nike and Adidas have their own skate teams. Sponsored skaters earn money on their products that get sold. A very famous example of this is Stefan Janoski and his Nike SB shoes.

The next and arguably most important source of income is the legendary skate video part. This is the video resume of any professional skateboarder. A video part can be 1 minute or 10 minutes, there are no limits or rules to it. It can be a video debuting only one skater’s tricks throughout it or it can be made by an entire skate team. The brands Girl and Chocolate collaborated in 2012 to create the two-team legendary skate video, Pretty Sweet. This video features about 25 different skaters and is over an hour long in length.

Recreational Skating

Not all skaters make money from participating. In fact, the vast majority of skateboarders only do it for fun for no monetary value. This should be no surprise as relatively every sport has professionals and average players. The difference between skateboarding and other sports is the camaraderie.

Many people noted that during the 2021 (2020) Olympics, the skateboarders did not seem to be taking it seriously. They were seen changing music on their phones and laughing and joking with their competitors. This is due to the way that professional skaters perform their jobs.

Imagine this: many professional-sized baseball/football/soccer fields get built in your city. Your favorite players bounce around from field to field on their off-season and play random pickup games with you and your friends. This is how the world of skateboarding works. You can often find pro skaters at the skate park down the street from your house. They film tricks for their video parts 10 feet away from you and your friends. Although they may not invite you to hangout with them, because they’re working, you both take turns on the same ramp.

This closeness in proximity is the reason you see such a relaxed environment in competitions.

The Future Of Skateboarding

Skateboarding is growing at a rapid pace. By the time the Paris 2024 Olympics are here, we’ll see even more new faces competing. As a result, more people will be inspired and more people will hop on a board for the 2028 Olympics. This is one of many transitions that we’ve seen in skate culture and won’t be last by any means.

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