So far I’ve been to three pretty serious meetings about the state of skateboarding and the Olympics. By pretty serious I mean that Tony Hawk was in attendance. Koston and Berra were too. Dyrdek showed up. So did Jim Thiebaud, Steve Van Doren, and Paul Rodriguez. Plus a bunch of people you probably never heard of but that run skate contests in Europe, Australia, South America, Japan, China, and on and on and on.
The very mention of some of this stuff is enough to make a lot of people irate and prompt the spread of anti Olympic memes on Instagram. I’ve heard all of the arguments on both sides, and I find myself fully in the camp that includes the people listed above. And I don’t want to speak for them but I think I can say pretty confidently that the general view is this: Skateboarding doesn’t need the Olympics. BUT, the Olympics, in an effort to appeal to a younger audience and boost TV ratings, wants to include skateboarding in it’s programming. And if the Olympics want skateboarding, they’re going to get it. The question then becomes, do we skateboarders try to help steer the process and do what we can to make sure that when skateboarding is in the Olympics that it still represents who we are and actually looks like skateboarding? Or not. And if we decide not, are we better off if we let someone else lead that charge.
This is Tony Hawk. If you were going to put skateboarding in the Olympics, wouldn’t you want him involved?
I guess there are a few key things that are helpful to know about certain groups and who they’re made up of. Currently, the group steering the ship on skateboarding’s behalf is called the International Skateboarding Federation (ISF). It is under the control of three people who are all rad and for whom I have the utmost respect. Gary Ream is the President. He is the human responsible for creating the best skateboard camps in the world. You know them as Woodward. We do Damn Ams there. He’s been down for skateboarding since 1988. No, he doesn’t skate but he loves everything we do and has an ingrained respect for skate culture. Still, that doesn’t mean you can drink alcohol on Woodward property so don’t even think about it. Also, Gary somehow got to be friends with Dave Carnie throughout this whole ordeal, that’s saying a lot. Don’t get me wrong, two people could not be more different but hey, they found some common ground somewhere. Then there is Josh Friedberg; he’s the Executive Director of the ISF. Josh skated for the New Deal in the 90’s and is famous for being a master of the backside heelflip. He also ran 411 Video Magazine for however long it was around. And finally there’s Neal Hendrix. He too skated for New Deal, then Black Label, then Elephant. He’s an OG East Coast vert pro that has been working in skateboarding ever since. Neal won the Masters division at Vert Attack this year, he’s also Woodward’s Brand Manager and you might recognize him from his commentary at the Vans Park Series contests. He’s a busy dude.
This is Gary Ream. He doesn’t LOOK like he’d be friends with Carnie, but he is.
So those are the key figures at the ISF. Their plan is to have as many countries as possible throughout the world establish their own Federations, created and managed by actual skateboarders, and to become active members of the ISF. The ISF itself will also include many of the people that I mentioned that were in attendance at the meetings, people that skateboarders recognize as wanting the best for skateboarding.
Gary Ream has Olympic experience for days because Woodward started as a gymnastics camp, so he understands the process. I’m ad libbing here but basically the story began around 2003 when some key people at the international Olympic Committee in Switzerland called Gary and said, “Allooo Gareeeee, we would like to…how do you say… to have skateboarding make Olympic sport. Perhaps this is possible?”
It turns out that the IOC abides by certain rules, statues, and laws that make it very difficult to get anything done. So things move very slooooooooowly. Which is probably good. But one of the more problematic rules the IOC has is that no new sports can be admitted into the Olympics without representation from a Federation officially recognized by the IOC. That’s all well and good, until you find out how difficult it is for your Federation to gain recognition from the IOC. And then shortly after that you find out that many many years ago, the IOC recognized a group called the Federation of International Roller Sports (FIRS…which phonetically is pronounced “FEARS!”) which once the Olympic Committee started talking about skateboarding all of a sudden started showing their own interest in being in charge of skateboarding events. Now FIRS has been doing roller skating events since forever, racing, rollerblading, what have you. They don’t have anything to do with skateboarding, but that did not stop them from trying to lay claim to skateboarding by saying it falls under their Rollersport’s umbrella. As such, they’d receive all sort of money from governments the world over to help run skateboarding events, create TFs, put on clinics, etc. And when skateboarding finally does show up in the Olympics, they’d be the ones deciding qualification criteria, course designs, judging, etc. Rollersports also includes roller disco. So imagine.
This is Josh Friedberg, he’s down for skateboarders.
So this is where it’s easy to see how the ISF, with Gary, Josh, and Neal at the helm are valuable allies. They essentially said to the IOC, “Do you guys want roller disco to represent skateboarding in what might be the most popular summer Olympics event of all time? Or do you want a group of real live skateboarders, that includes Tony Hawk, Koston and Skatepark of Tampa?”
The people at the Olympics aren’t stupid, but like I said, their rules are more than a little restrictive, so after months of negotiations, back and forth, offers and counteroffers, an agreement was made where the decisions heading in to the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo will be made by the Tokyo 2020 Skate Commission, which will consist of two members of the ISF (Gary and Neal), and one member of FIRS (Roller Disco Sven). Better than nothing. The alternative was handing the keys to the castle over to FIRS, with skaters wiping their collective hands of the matter, and watching the car crash ensue. I think the ISF did the right thing.
This is Neal Hendrix, still RIPPING after all these years. Photo by Brian Fick.
So that’s the background. Here are some other interesting points. At this juncture, skateboarding is only guaranteed to be in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. It’s does not have a permanent spot in future Olympics. The reason for that is because, due to those pesky IOC rules, they would have to kick an established sport out of the Olympics before adding any new ones. And all of the sports that are already in the Olympics want to stay there and simply put, refuse to bow out. So since the IOC was unable to get skateboarding in the old fashioned way, they created a side door by establishing a new rule that allows the Olympic host country to choose a few sports to add to their Olympic program. Japan chose skateboarding to be one of theirs.
All sorts of skate disciplines were on the table. Vert, Mega, bowl. Who knows, slalom might have been mentioned. Racing yeah! But thankfully street and park were chosen. It should be pointed out that all newly admitted Olympic sports must be gender equal, so there will be men’s and women’s street, and men’s and women’s park. 20 skaters for each event, 80 skaters overall, all vying for 12 total Olympic medals.
Some of the biggest questions on the table right now include: how are the 80 skaters going to actually qualify. How many will be taken from which places throughout the world (I’ve already heard that it would be something to the affect of 3 Americans, 2 Canadians, 2 or 3 Brazilians, 2 Australians, 2 or 3 Europeans, 1 African, one from Japan, and a small handful of others). And who is going to be running the events that qualify everyone in. Tampa Pro seems like a good Qualifier right?
Anyway, hopefully this helps in your understanding of how we got to this point and where we’re headed. In the next installment we’re going to get into the pros and cons of skateboarding’s involvement in the Olympics. So start thinking of those memes now and get ready to spout off!