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Leisure Management - The power of skateboarding


The power of skateboarding

Once part of a rebellious subculture, skateboarding is now a recognised sport, confirmed for inclusion in the 2020 Olympics. Kath Hudson takes a look at its evolution and how it’s being used for social good

Kath Hudson
Streetmekka parks are designed to attract young people from all backgrounds
Four One Four’s Trevor Johnson has seen skateboarding evolve into a sport
Skateistan works with many girls from low-income families photo © skateistan
The Urban Sports Centre in Folkestone will have multiple storeys
Scootering provides an accessible introduction to skateboarding
In Afghanistan, it’s considered inappropriate for girls to ride bikes, but skateboarding does not have the same stigma photo © Hamdullah Hamdard
Skateboarding is seen by many as an art form, rather than a sport
UK skateboarding champion Lucy Adams trains young women in the She Shredders programme

Most Saturdays I now find myself hanging out at a repurposed warehouse, while my nine-year-old son spends three hours riding his skateboard around bowls and halfpipes. Sonny didn’t take to traditional team sports, but has found his niche at the skate park.

According to Trevor Johnson, designer at BMX and skate park design company Four One Four, this is not unusual. “Skateboarding can pull in a different crowd because it’s all about doing what you like,” he says. “There are no dads or teachers on the sideline telling you what to do, and there are no rules or uniform. The freaks, geeks and whoever else all mix in together in skateboarding.”

Danish charity GAME has been founded on this premise. With its street sport concept, Streetmekka, its mission is to create the perfect place for young people, from all backgrounds, to hang out, practise street sports and express themselves.

Founder Simon Prahm says the idea for Streetmekka came about when he realised Copenhagen’s immigrant youths were not engaging with traditional sports. “In 2002, I was chair of one of Denmark’s biggest basketball clubs, but noticed there were hardly any non-white faces, even though a quarter of Copenhagen’s youths are immigrants,” he says. “I wanted to mix street sports and urban music in a venue that’s accessible for everyone, in terms of location and price.”

Prahm explains the reason for this: in Denmark people only tend to join sports clubs if their families are members, and in Lebanon – where GAME has now created 10 outdoor skateparks – it’s prohibitively expensive to join a sports club, so few do.

So far, GAME is doing well in achieving its engagement objectives. At the first site in Copenhagen, 30 per cent of the users are immigrants or refugees, in Esbjerg this figure is 16 per cent. Now two more Danish sites are in the pipeline and Prahm is looking for more opportunities to develop globally.

Skateboarding’s ability to break down barriers between people and to tackle inactivity has been noticed by another charity, Skateistan, which uses the sport as a tool to empower, activate and educate young people. The charity is working with 1,800 youths, aged five to 17, in five locations in Afghanistan, Cambodia and South Africa. More than half are female and the majority are from low-income backgrounds, with many working on the street. The charity also works with internally displaced youths and children with disabilities.

“Thanks to skateboarding, youths are exposed to people of different ethnicities, genders and beliefs,” says founder Oliver Percovich. “In Afghanistan, it’s considered inappropriate for girls to ride bikes, but there is no stigma attached to skateboarding. In the skate park, youths from different backgrounds are able to form strong friendships, and the novelty of skateboarding, compared to mainstream sports, has been especially enticing.”

The UK market
With most towns and even some villages in the UK having some form of skate park or ramp, opportunities to get involved in the sport are growing. According to Statista, in September 2016 around 53,500 adults were skateboarding on a monthly basis in England, a statistic that has remained steady for the past nine years. The number of children participating in the sport is increasing. Inclusion in the 2020 Olympics and the fact that the organisation Sk8 Safe is now offering the first-ever skateboard coaching qualification are expected to further drive interest and participation.

Skateparks are becoming more innovative and ambitious. The Source is an underground skate and BMX park, converted from a former Victorian swimming bath complex in Hastings. The £1.25m project received backing from the local borough and county councils, as well as the Regional Growth Fund. With capacity for 600 spectators across two balconies, the plan is to host major events, such as Olympic qualifiers.

Charitable objectives are behind the creation of an ambitious project in Folkestone to create the world’s first multi-storey skate park. Slated to open in spring next year, it is being financed by the Shepway Sports Trust, a charity set up by Saga founder Roger De Haan, who wants to give back to his hometown.

The Urban Sports Centre will have three storeys for skateboarding – a bowl, a flow floor and a street floor – as well as a multi-sports space for classes, a boxing gym and a climbing and bouldering centre. “We’re hoping there will be a cross pollination of people doing different activities,” says Dan Hulme, who is leading the project.

“This centre will bring skateboarding more into the mainstream. What we discovered in our research was that skateboarders don’t want to be stuck out in old factories on industrial estates, but that’s where the facilities are currently,” he says. “We established there was a market for this type of facility, particularly with skateboarding and climbing being included in the next Olympics. The demand for this type of facility is predicted to grow – even sports minister Tracey Crouch has talked about these sports becoming more popular.”

Skater girls
Scootering has recently come along as a gateway sport, helping to make skateboarding more accessible. Johnson says another factor driving participation is a combination of YouTube videos and better facilities, both of which make it easier to learn the sport. “In the 90s, skateparks were designed by ‘suits’ and we took what we were given, but we’ve gone from modular, linear, unjoined ramps to seamless ramps that flow from one to the other.

“For example, Mount Hawke is a flowy indoor park where riders can go round and round. This makes it easier to learn to ride, so kids are nailing tricks faster,” he says. “The fact that kids can now access content on YouTube and go to lessons is also fuelling the sport.”

All these factors are also encouraging more girls to take up what has traditionally been a male-dominated sport. Building on this, She Shredders is a programme set up in 2013 by Brighton and Hove City Council’s sports development project and Brighton Youth Centre. Its aim is to help teenage girls and young women gain confidence and develop riding skills. The group meets weekly and is trained by UK skateboarding champion Lucy Adams. Johnson predicts it won’t be long before male and female competitions merge at elite level, as the female riders are improving their skills hugely.

Going mainstream
Generally, the inclusion of skateboarding, along with other street sports like BMX and parkour, in the Olympics has been welcomed. Prahm says: “Immigrants tend to be less active and there are many reasons for them to feel marginalised. So if the sports they do aren’t recognised, this doesn’t help matters. It’s much more inclusive if they see them at major championships.”
Johnson agrees that it’s good for the profile of the sport and welcomes the fact that it could bring in more funders and investors. However, for a sport that started out on the streets and is generally considered to be edgy and raw, there are bound to be some in the community who don’t like these attempts to take their sport mainstream.

“Some people like the sub-cultural identity and are resistant about the Olympics,” says Prahm. “Skateboarders are more interested in doing things in style, not time.”

The core of the skateboarding community will hate it, says Johnson. “They say it’s not a sport. There are no rules, no managers, no team. It’s an art form, not a discipline. It’s all about freedom of expression.”

Purpose-built indoor skate parks and Olympic classification are creating more momentum around what is already a growing sport, one which is proven to engage hard-to-reach groups. Currently, charities and passionate entrepreneurial individuals are the driving force behind the sport, creating more opportunities for people to take part, while safeguarding its integrity. As the sport moves forward, let’s hope that it retains its spirit and continues to provide a home for those kids who are turned off by football drills.

Originally published in Sports Management Nov Dec 2017 issue 134
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