It’s hard for us to watch as companies outside of skateboarding take what we love and present it as something it’s not, like the first X-Games did in 1995. The X-Games presented skateboarding as an “extreme sport” and even though the event was generally loathed by the skate community, the public ate it up and a phenomenon was born (or reborn if you count the other times the masses embraced skateboarding). We generally don’t care who wins or loses these hokey contests. They’re seen as a novelty; a way for the public to get a bastardized glimpse at what we do. Not to mention a way for the companies involved to make a bunch of money. Fifteen years after the first X-Games, skateboarding has caught on with the masses so much that people have been pushing for the “discipline” to be included in the 2016 Olympic Summer Games, whether we want it to or not. And to be clear about that, we do not. Or so I thought.
When I asked around at my local park about the inclusion of skateboarding in the Olympics, I was surprised at how most of the kids seemed to like the idea. “I think it might be kind of cool to see what skateboarding looks like in Estonia,” my friend Oliver said. The consensus at the park in general was far more receptive to the idea than I had expected. It was slightly refreshing to see that this younger generation was more open minded about the future of skateboarding. But was it open mindedness or naiveté? Perhaps these guys weren’t fully aware of just how hokey and contrived our beloved past time would be portrayed if the Olympics got a hold of it.
I remember a quote from a pro skater from the early 90’s named Jason Jesse, who has become something of a beacon for individuality and creativity within our community, “I love skateboarding so much I want it to die.” I didn’t really understand that when I first heard it, but the more I come to understand how the spirit of skateboarding is changing, the more I have to agree with Jason. I’d rather see skateboarding die than see it become little league.
Don’t these kids know that skateboarding isn’t a sport? Don’t they know that we’re happy to be considered degenerates? Don’t they know that including skateboarding in the Olympics goes against everything skateboarding is supposed to stand for? They don’t. That could be because skateboarding is starting to stand for something else.
Whatever it is that skateboarding is becoming, NBC and the IOC (International Olympic Committee) realize that if they don’t get the attention of a younger demographic, they’re going to lose ratings and revenue. This puts skateboarding in a somewhat awkward yet unique situation. Skateboarding’s most well-known “athlete” Tony Hawk is aware of the position, “As far as the Summer Games go, the Olympics needs skateboarding more than skateboarding needs them — as far as getting a cool factor. It should be in the games immediately.”
Getting a discipline into the Olympics requires applicants to be thoroughly organized and above all structured. Not things skateboarders are known for. True to that form, skateboarding doesn’t have an official governing body and because of that, the IOC started looking to other disciplines with official governing bodies to bring them skateboarding. One of these groups that seemed poised to claim skateboarding as their own was a group of roller skaters called the FIRS (Federation International de Roller sports). Allowing roller skaters to be the official governing body for skateboarding in the Olympics would be a lot like allowing skiers to be the official governing body over snowboarders; which is exactly what happened in the 2008 winter Olympics. Though snowboarding was a great success for the winter games, bringing in a lot of new viewers and huge amounts of revenue, the whole thing was a big mess and created a serious amount of animosity between snowboarders and the IOC. As a result of this, the IOC has re-evaluated exactly who they want to partner up with in bringing skateboarding along in 2016.
Now instead of the roller skaters, we have a group of skateboarders who are in the process of doing what it takes to become our governing body. The list of names on this governing body officially known as the ISF (International Skateboard Federation) is quite impressive. It includes Tony Hawk, Chris Miller, and Tod Swank; all major icons in the industry. There is one name in particular on this list, that gives the ISF some real credibility, and weirdly enough it’s the name of a guy who embodies skateboarding’s anti-mainstream, anti-sport, and probably anti-Olympics spirit more than anyone else I can think of. That name belongs to Dave Carnie.
Carnie has been a counter culture skate icon for years from his work as both a writer and editor of the controversial (and amazing) skateboard magazine Big Brother. Carnie is known for his humor and biting commentary on the state of skateboarding and those who seek to take advantage of it. When cities around America started haphazardly putting up cheap and dangerous modular skate parks, Dave became an outspoken opponent, calling out the companies and politicians who were behind it all. Dave was also one of the first to voice his opposition to skateboarding’s inclusion in the Olympics. And as weird as it seems he was also the guy responsible for getting the ISF together.
“Skateboarding is going to be in the Olympics whether we like it or not.” Carnie said, in an article about skateboarding and the Olympics. “I don’t like it. But NBC and the IOC want it. And they’re going to get it one way or another. If it isn’t done by skateboarders, it will be done by one of a handful of other groups out there claiming to be the official governing body of skateboarding.”
As an avid reader of his now defunct skate magazine, Big Brother, Carnie is one of my favorite journalists and I used to email him now and then when I had a question about a story. So I emailed him about the ISF and asked him a question that had been bugging me since I started researching this paper: Why doesn’t the ISF, once it becomes our official governing body, simply turn down the IOC’s offer to include skateboarding in the Olympics?
In response, Carnie wrote, “We have actually declined. We are in a unique position to be able to say, you want skateboarding? Well you’ll get it, but only on skateboarding’s terms.” However, it’s not that simple. The Olympics is an ancient institution that is going to have a hard time adapting their rigid judging system to something as abstract as skateboarding. It’s going to be interesting to see just how much the IOC is going to be able to change things to accommodate skateboarding on its own terms.
At this point I had some more questions about the motives of some of the non-skateboarders who are at the top of the ISF, in particular the president Gary Ream. Ream is the owner of Camp Woodward, a place where kids go for the summer to participate in activities including skateboarding, bmx, rollerblading, gymnastics, and cheer. I had been reading some articles about Ream and his involvement in the ISF, there was one in particular that had some rather negative things to say about Ream and his motives. The article mentioned that the ISF would receive millions from the IOC to help fund development of the “sport”. The article also mentioned that enrollment in Ream’s summer camp [Woodward] would surely increase. As much as the article came across as slander, it stirred up some skepticism in me.
After speaking to Dave [Carnie] again, I felt much better about Ream’s intentions. “I know Gary [Ream] well enough to say that he’s not in this to rape skateboarding,” Dave told me via email. “He’s been providing the camp and places to skate for kids for years and he’s been doing a really good job at it. I think he looks at a bigger picture: he sees skateboarding and the values that it provides to kids: independence, creativity, and confidence.”
I wanted to ask Ream some questions. Dave was kind enough to arrange a phone conversation and on the phone, Ream brought up some things I hadn’t thought about. In the United States, sports are not typically funded through the government, but in the rest of the world they are. Having skateboarding in the Olympics could be extremely beneficial for skateboarders outside of the United States.
They could get a lot of skate parks built in places like Estonia with the money they’d receive from the Olympics. Ream also proved that even though he was not a skateboarder himself he was very protective over the creative nature of what we do. He told me that one of his main concerns about skateboarding in the Olympics is that it might be creatively stifled by the traditionally rigid and bureaucratic method of judging, the same way figure skating and gymnastics have been. He went on to tell me that he made sure the Olympic committee would judge skateboarding by the standards other skate contests are judged by and not the way gymnastics and ice skating are judged. Details like this, Ream explained, are what he along with others in the ISF hope will keep skateboardings creative spirit somewhat intact amidst the “you win I lose” mentality of the Olympics.
As long as there’s money to be made there are going to be people out there looking to take skateboarding, package it and sell the shit out of it. And there’s no doubt that the Olympics will get hold of skateboarding at some point, whether that’s 2016, 2024 or later. It sucks. But I feel a little better about it, knowing we’ve got people, like Dave Carnie or Tony Hawk looking after it who are trying to ensure that the damage done is minimal. Maybe there’s hope for us after all.