You can feel it already can’t you?
The slow but steady resurgence of something which faded into the background after its coming of age as a sub-culture in the 90’s and early 2000’s. Skateboarding; loved and hated in equal measure depending on your point of view. A physical activity which can’t be easily labelled and which somehow manages to flow simultaneously through the spheres of lifestyle, sport and creative art form.
Peaks and Troughs
As someone who started skating in 1996 at the age of 15 it’s scary to think that I’ll be 40 in just over 2 years time, how the hell did that happen!? There were two types of skater back in the day as I (vaguely) remember; folks who got into it before the release of the first Tony Hawks Pro Skater (THPS) game in 1999, and those who jumped on the bandwagon afterwards.
THPS and its later iterations were great games though, and also partially responsible for the solidification of new identities within the younger skate community. What was your style? A bit gangsta like Kareem Campbell or Chad Muska? A vert skater like Tony Hawk or Bob Burnquist? How about full charge Thrasher-style like Jamie Thomas, a tech-wizard like Rodney Mullen or a smooth operator like Eric Koston? The choices kept on coming, just so long as you owned at least one pair of super baggy trousers and an XXL hoody. (Note: my personal best was a pair of corduroys with a 40 inch waist, 3 sizes bigger than my actual waist at the time, ha ha).
Fast forward to the global economic crisis of 2008 however and the 90s kids were now in their mid to late twenties, worrying more about holding down a job and struggling to get into an increasingly unstable housing market. The pure joys of growing up and learning how to adult eh?
It’s during that period where I kind of lost contact with skateboarding for a while.
Times have changed
It’s 2019. Skateboarding isn’t the new kid on the block anymore, the scooter tribe now hold that unenviable position, and there’s plenty of skateboarders who look down on scooter kids just like society as a whole used to look down on skateboarding; albeit for entirely different reasons.
Skateboarding and skateboarders have still learnt a lot over the last 20 years though. In the USA The Tony Hawk Foundation has helped finance the construction of over 500 skateparks since 2002, whilst ex pro skater Rob Dyrdek has pumped huge amounts of money into the Street League Skateboarding series. And let’s not forget top level international skateboarders like Nyjah Huston who make millions through sponsorship deals and competition prizes.
Skateboarding has even been around long enough that people in my generation who used to skate (including those who still do skate and those trying to get back into it) now hold key positions in government, business and community groups. We’re parents, we’re teachers, we’re CEO’s, bank managers, home owners and entrepreneurs, in short; we’re taking over, we’re making bigger decisions, and we want skateboarding to flourish. End of.
The Renaissance is coming
It’s not just that skateboarding will feature in the upcoming 2020 Olympic Games for the first time in history, although that is pretty major. There’s also been a tonne of work going on behind the scenes all over the globe in recent years. Skate based charities are doing incredible work to help kids enjoy the benefits of skateboarding in countries as far flung as Cambodia, Palestine and Afghanistan. Skateistan, Skate-Aid, Skatepal and Decks for Change are just a few of the organisations blazing that particular philanthropic trail.
But it’s only once you step back and consider all the skate related projects which are happening simultaneously here in the UK right now that you get a real sense that something truly great is happening; like that feeling in the air before an epic lightning storm.
So who are the major players right now and what are they up to?
Skateboard England: The official governing body for skateboarding in England and Wales since 2015. These folks mean business and they’re already running a whole host of events across the UK which aim to promote skateboarding and the development of better skatepark facilities nationwide. They battled to obtain funding from Sport England to send 5 UK skaters to Japan 2020 and they’re also busy setting up a robust Skateboard Instructor training framework amongst many other projects.
Graystone Action Sports: Leading the way as one of the UK’s biggest and most comprehensive action sports training academies, their Manchester location includes large skate street and bowl set ups in addition to foam pits and trampolines for snowboarders and skiers to learn flips and inverted spins. Their cafe and restaurant is also excellent, meaning mums and dads are more likely to wanna take the next generation of little shredders there for epic skate sessions. Graystone also have plans to open similar facilities around the country in the next 5 years.
Long Live South Bank (LLSB): True heroes to the cause, these guys have been fighting to keep the iconic London South Bank skate spot open to the public and out of the hands of greedy developers for years now. A sign of our times, the planning permission submitted by LLSB to redevelop the site as a skate friendly zone “managed to gather the most planning permission objections in British history, which is pretty unreal”. Thankfully planning permission was eventually given and the Mayor of London’s office has even awarded the project a £700,000 grant, as long as LLSB can raise £700,000 in donations and contributions to match the grant. So make sure you visit the LLSB site and contribute any amount possible, imagine if every skater in the UK gave just £5, we’d smash the target of £700,000!
The Skateparks Project: The Skateparks Project provides free impartial advice and resources to councils and communities looking to build great skateparks. The Skateparks Project also maintains the UK’s largest directory of skateparks, helping those looking to find local facilities. Set up 5 years ago by Alex Jordan this website has gone from strength to strength, and is in the process of formalising as an official charity in addition to being officially partnered with Skateboard England. Completely staffed by volunteers these guys are working hard to make sure that communities across the UK have access to the best advice when looking to build and fund new skateparks.
Maverick Skateparks: A skater run business specialising in the design and installation of spray concrete skateparks, they’ve installed some of the best skateparks across the UK and intend to continue pushing the boundaries to improve both design and quality nationwide. I’ve had the pleasure of working with the Maverick team on the 2019 Alton Skatepark project and I can confirm that they are definitely skater run; from Directors to CAD Artists to the groundworks team they all understand things from a skater’s point of view, and they want every park they build to be as epic as possible. Hats off to you folks and thanks for the ‘crete!
Alton Skatepark: This small town in Hampshire is one of the first standalone skatepark projects to have successfully secured National Lottery funding (a whopping £96,500 in 2019). Whilst The National Lottery Community Fund has previously given grants of up to £10,000 for smaller projects, these have only tended to be as part of ‘Multi Use Games Areas’ (think playground with a couple of ramps chucked in the corner). So this success therefore sets a precedent for community skatepark projects up and down the country to submit applications for National Lottery funding and be confident they will be taken seriously. (Please contact The Skateparks Project if your local skatepark build requires advice regarding this aspect of funding).
Surely this all adds up to something bigger…
Each one of these organisations on their own may not seem like anything of major importance, but added together they represent something far greater; concurrent sociocultural forces combining to create a new platform for skateboarding to undergo a modern renaissance (a little wordy and pretentious perhaps, but I like it).
I’m pretty confident that we’ll see UK skateboarding go from strength to strength over the next 3-5 years thanks to the organisations mentioned above, and also due to the passion of the wider UK skate community. Even if you’re not a fan of skateboarding in the Olympics, we’d definitely all love to see more investment in skatepark facilities around the country, imagine the potential if we actually won a medal!
What are your thoughts on the matter?
Do you feel like skateboarding is undergoing a renaissance?
Do you think we’ve got a chance of getting a medal in Japan 2020?
Please leave your comments below.