The Tokyo Olympics welcome skateboarding’s wow factor, but the sport’s rising popularity is built on community

The Tokyo Olympics welcome skateboarding’s wow factor, but the sport’s rising popularity is built on community
“When you look at it, it doesn’t really make sense,” said Sharp, now brand and events manager at Canada Skateboard.

The difficulty of skateboarding — people out there trying something that could make them fall on their faces more times than they stick the landing — garners respect and builds camaraderie among skaters. And the improbability of the skills, the wow factor when a trick seemingly defies logic, is what the International Olympic Committee likely hopes will draw in viewers when the sport debuts at the Olympics with two events — park and street — this weekend, as the Games bid to stay relevant with younger audiences.

What audiences will see at first — featuring Canadians Matt Berger and Micky Papa in the street event, and Andy Anderson in the park portion — is only the tip of the iceberg.

“What will be on display in Tokyo is the sport that is skateboarding, but behind all that … there’s a community,” said Everett Maclean, founder of Skateloft, one of two indoor skate parks in Toronto and Mississauga and a member of the Toronto Skateboarding Committee.

“Skateboarding can be so many different things to so many different people.”

Skateboarding has ridden waves of mainstream popularity since it first arrived on the scene in 1950s California. Booms in the early 1970s, the 1980s and the early 2000s were followed by declines. Skateboarding is seeing another revival of late, in part because of its accessibility and individual nature, which many people took to during the COVID-19 pandemic .

There are currently more than 500,000 skateboarders in Canada.

“It doesn’t matter who you are, what age you are, what gender you are,” Sharp said. “Skateboarding is for all … even if you’re not super, super skilled, you still have fun, you have a community and you create lifelong friends.”

To see skateboarding get to where it is today, with some skaters making a career out of it and on the verge of an Olympic debut, is something Sharp never considered growing up. Back then, skateboarders were outcasts, turning derelict parking lots or other neglected spaces into places to hone their skills.

Canada Skateboard, a small and largely volunteer-run national organization, was born around the time skateboarding at the Olympics became a conversation, Sharp said. The goal was to protect the interests and image of the sport’s Canadian community, while creating opportunities for skaters who want pathways to professional pursuits and the Games.

“That’s exactly what skateboarding is ... it’s a personal choice and it’s a preference,” Sharp said. “And that’s what makes it so fun. Five skaters are going to do the exact same trick, maybe a 360 flip, but they’re all going to look completely different because they all put their own style and creativity on that. It’s more like looking at art.”

Yash Presswalla, founder of Impact Skateboard Club, a non-profit organization in Toronto focused on inclusion and personal development through skateboarding, said it can be an art form, sport, pastime and bridge to connecting people.

“There’s not really prerequisites except for the fact that you have to be determined to make it work and not give up too easily,” he said.

“People who might have only been exposed to the stereotypes … might see this different side of it and be like, ‘Wow this is an athletic pursuit, there’s precision, there’s discipline involved,’” Presswalla said. “I think we’re all expecting this new contingent of society to open up to skateboarding and actually want to try it.”

That contingent of society won’t be limited to teenage boys. In recent years, many groups have pushed the boundaries of what a stereotypical skater looks like. Female, mom and queer skateboard groups are among them. One of the faces of Canadian skateboarding right now is Fay DiFazio Ebert, an 11-year-old girl from Toronto.
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