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Opinion

Is Skateboarding a Sport?

Tackling one of skateboarding's most persistent questions...

Is Skateboarding a Sport?Street League competition, London. Photo: Paulo Macedo
Posted by Neil Chester5 min read
Thursday, April 11, 2019

I’m sure you’ve been asked the question ‘is skateboarding a sport?’ a few times, and we’ve all cringed at the phrases ‘action sport’ or ‘extreme sport’, especially when they’ve been thrown around by people who don’t know skateboarding.

Generally this question arises from people that don’t skate, and who are confused about what it is we do. After all, skateboarding is a physical activity, somewhat team-based and it does have competitions. If only it was this cut and dried. As with many things in skateboarding, it’s not that easy.

The debate has raged for years within skateboarding. Some believing that skateboarding is a sport, purely due to its physicality. But, naturally, there are many skateboarders that think the complete opposite. The very reason these people were attracted to skateboarding is because of its countercultural nature, and its freedom in comparison to rule based sports.

Is skateboarding a sport 1 Basketball courts have long been a playing field for skateboarders. Photo: Neil Chester

Basketball, baseball, football, rugby (depending on where you grew up) and other ‘mainstream’ sports were somewhat forced upon us, through social pressure, popular culture and in school. Many of us can recall the horror of being shepherded onto a freezing playing field to partake in said team sports. Tell your mates you don’t like football at a young age, and odds are, they’ll think you’re weird.

Since I’ve ridden a skateboard for about thirty years, I’ve been asked the question ‘is skateboarding a sport?’ many times over. At least from my side, the outcome has largely bordered on the side of “no, it’s not”. To try and better answer this great skateboarding debate, I'll try and give you some context.

Is skateboarding a sport 3 Brands in skateboarding have dialled up and down the sports connection. Photo: adidas Skateboarding

When you attach a sports tag to something, it automatically needs a winner, a 1st place, a finish and a best. Every mainstream sport has this. A penny for every time a skateboarder has been asked “who’s the best in the world?”. No, Tony Hawk and Rodney Mullen aren't 'the best', they're just the most famous. Are the Harlem Globetrotters the best basketball team in the world?

When faced with this sport question, in an attempt to better explain it all, I’ve often related skateboarding to music, and even dance. Hear me out, I'll start with music. There are many genres of music - hip-hop, rock, classical, and so on. Within these genres are both artists who create the music and fans who listen to it. A fan of classical music is unlikely to listen to techno or hip-hop, even if they appreciate its musical value. Do you see what I’m saying? It’s each to their own, and skateboarders are similar to this, but of course there's always outliers.

Similarly, there are many types of skateboarder performing different styles of skateboarding. Skateboarders generally specialise in a certain type of terrain, transition or vert skaters skate ramps (half-pipes to the layman) or pools. Street skateboarders utilise street furniture, the likes you see in the city: stairs, ledges, blocks, handrails, gaps etc. There are even more niches within street skating, but that's another article.

Professional skateboarders are the artists in this case, the varying styles of skateboarding they exhibit earns them fans because of their approach. A lover of technical street skateboarding is unlikely to care that much for pool skating, and vice-versa. They appreciate it, but it’s not their bag. My point is that it's all subjective. What one likes, others can dislike. Are musicians asked the question ‘who is the best musician in the world’? Is this ever framed in the sense of who has the most sales? Unlikely, and neither should it be in skateboarding.

Is skateboarding a sport 2 Impromptu street contests during CPH Pro . Photo: Neil Chester

Now to my other theory: dance. Every skateboarder is distinct in the physical ways in which their bodies move, no matter what terrain they are skating. This is called ‘style’ and it informs everything about skateboarding. It’s a skateboarders’ biggest calling card, and one of the most defining factors in who is considered the 'best'.

There are different genres within dance, contemporary, ballet, tango and so on. Likewise, there are subtleties to each dancer, I’m sure it's what sets dancers apart. Watch twenty dancers performing the same move and you'll be able to notice differences. Watch twenty skateboarders do a flat ground kickflip, or an air on a ramp, they too will all look different. This is where style comes into play, it informs who is the 'best', who is the 'worst', and in many cases, who is the most bland.

This is why dance is a useful comparison. Watching ballet isn’t a million miles away from watching skateboarding, because your focus is on body movement. The difference is that the skateboarder is also using an instrument, which we refer to as a piece of sporting equipment, the skateboard. So does this justify the sports tag? Whether you agree with my points or not, the jury is still out when it comes to answering ‘is skateboarding a sport?’.

Is skateboarding a sport 5 2018 SLS London winner Jenn Soto. Photo: Neil Chester

Things took an interesting turn on the 3rd August 2016. Skateboarding was officially announced as one of five new Olympic sports to be included in the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

There’s a big backstory to the inclusion of skateboarding in the Olympics, dating back several years, which is littered with pros and cons. Of course, being part of the Olympics is the most authoritative stamp on whether skateboarding is a sport or not. But we’re not sure it’s that simple. When we look closer into how skateboarding operates, the waters get murkier still.

Is skateboarding a sport 4 Brazil and USA Olympic hopefuls Leticia Bufoni & Nyjah Huston. Photo: World Skate

Professional skateboarding, in 2019, is largely split into two camps. Skateboarders on a competitive Olympic path: participating in qualifying events and working with Olympic sanctioned governing bodies. And skateboarders that, quite frankly, wouldn’t touch that shit with a barge pole.

The latter tend to be those who see skateboarding as closer to an art form than a sport. They craft a video part over a few years, placing their focus on representing themselves in their own individual way, and not on a set course to be scored by judges. This is a lot of professional skateboarders we are talking about, and it only further blurs the lines.

Jason Dill made his opinions clear in the 1999 Transworld video 'Feedback', raising valid points about form, technique and what looks good. Highlighting that this question, ‘is skateboarding a sport’, has been around for quite a while.

The history of the word 'sport' is quite interesting to consider. 'Sport' comes from a shortening of 'disport', an archaic term which meant 'diversion from work or serious matters; recreation or amusement.' In Middle English when 'sport' first began being used as a noun, it carried a similar definition - 'any sort of activity done for fun'.

In the context of these old definitions, you can feasibly argue that skateboarding is a sport, but given what the word means now, you also can't. It's quite fitting that the words’ history leaves us with as much to consider as the debate regarding skateboarding itself. Going to the theatre or reading would have once been considered a 'sport' under these old definitions.

Is skateboarding a sport 7 The scoreboards for SLS and Eurovision.

To look at this objectively there is simply no straight answer. Returning to the music comparison, does anybody really think that Netta’s ‘TOY’, the 2018 Eurovision Song Contest winner, was the best song written and produced in that year? Maybe you do, but that’s the point, it’s in the eye of the beholder. So saying that, since it’s not clear cut either way, we’ll side with ‘it’s not a sport'.

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