Skateboarding to make its debut at Tokyo Olympics: How the sport has transformed

National Sports

Members of the first U.S. Olympic skateboarding team pose for photos with their boards during a news conference in downtown Los Angeles on Monday, June 21, 2021. The team was introduced in Southern California, where the sport was invented roughly 70 years ago. Skateboarding is an Olympic sport for the first time in Tokyo, and the Americans are expected to be a strong team. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel)

Skateboarding was born sometime in the late 1940s when the waves calmed and California surfers needed something to do. It started as “sidewalk surfing,” and the boards were made of square wooden pieces with roller skate wheels attached.

The hobby quickly gained steam and was officially recognized nationally when a few of the athletes were featured on a television show called “Surf’s Up” in 1964.

The first broadcast of an official competition debuted with the 1965 National Skateboarding Championships in Anaheim, California.

The sport gained in popularity enough to be included in the newly-formed XGames, or extreme games, in 1995. Skateboarding is included in every Summer XGames event each year and is hosted on ESPN.

Ray Young has owned Rayzor Tattoos and Steelton Skateshop for over 20 years and has been skating since 1979. He says the hobby became a part of his life early on, and he still skates to this day.

“The biggest things that have changed with the sport are the terrain and the equipment. The sport started on sidewalks and hills, and eventually transitioned to empty pools and skateparks, and shortly after came the backyard ramps. Street skating was always popular, but when it became marketable it gained a lot of popularity and exposure. Every ten years or so saw a new level of terrain for riders to skate,” Young said.

He says that parents who are coming into his shop to look for equipment to skate with their children have become routine.

“What we’re seeing now is a lot of fathers and even mothers skating with their children,” Young said. “These are people who skated in the ’80s or the ’90s now have children who are getting into the sport, and they are riding with them.”

There are a variety of categories that athletes can compete in, and the 2020 Olympics will feature two different categories: Park and Street. They’re pretty self-explanatory, Park meaning that skaters will have an entire skatepark in their arsenal to perform tricks. The Street category is comprised of various obstacles such as rails and boxes that are used to perform.

Both categories are judged similarly, but the styles differ. In both competitions, 20 skaters will compete in four heats, with five skaters competing in each heat. The top eight skaters from each category will move on to the finals.

In each round in the Park category, skaters will have three 45-second rounds to try to perform their best round. Skaters are judged from five judges using a 0-100 point scale, and their best round out of three will be used as their final score.

In Street, skaters are limited to two 45-second rounds and just five tricks, meaning their margin for error is much slimmer. Rounds are judged from five judges using a 0-10 point scale, and the highest and lowest scores for each run are dropped, and the skater’s four highest run or trick scores are added to create the final score.

Skateboarding culture has blossomed for decades, and its inclusion in the Olympic Games is the latest landmark for the sport. The game continues to evolve, and skaters continue to defy the odds, and gravity, on their way to record-breaking tricks.

The Men’s Street final will air on July 24 at 11:25 PM EST, and the Women’s Street final will air the following day, July 25, at 11:25 PM EST on NBC. Famed skater Tony Hawk will act as a correspondent for NBC during the events, giving his decades-long knowledge of the game to the world who may still be unfamiliar with the sport.

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