Will skateboarding be the change India needs?

As the skateboarding world gears up for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, where does India stand in this race?
Will skateboarding be the change India needs?
Before the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, skateboarding was part of the Asian Games in 2018. The Bridge Chronicle

We are days away from witnessing a watershed moment in the sporting world as skateboarding will make its debut at the Tokyo Summer Olympics 2020. Back in 2015, skateboarding finally made the cut for the Tokyo Summer Olympics, along with baseball, softball, karate, surfing, and sport climbing. A year later, the Executive Board of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced that they would support the proposal to include all the shortlisted sports in the 2020 Games.

Historically, skateboarding has garnered an identity of being a 'counter-culture movement' led by the outcasts of society. Parents didn't want their children to pick up skateboarding. It was, however, a space that allowed individuals to express themselves.

The skateboarding culture has always been welcoming and any individual who could skate would be a part of the community. It became an escape from the mundaneness of daily life. It gave people the ability to experience their environments differently. Just like any art form, skateboarding translated to self-expression.

Tony Hawk, skateboarding legend, spoke about the importance of the sport and its entry into the Olympics in a 2019 interview.
Tony Hawk, skateboarding legend, spoke about the importance of the sport and its entry into the Olympics in a 2019 interview.The Bridge Chronicle

Origins of the Indian Skateboarding Scene

India, in the past decade, has seen a steady rise in skateboarding. Today, cities like Mumbai, Delhi, Pune, and Bengaluru have skate parks. Several skating collectives are sprouting up all around the country. The sport has also entered rural India and has become a medium of change.

The sport's power to break or at least change social barriers is showcased in the Netflix original film, Skater Girl. The movie is about a young girl from a remote village in Rajasthan who, through her skateboarding talents, manages to break the social, cultural, and economic prejudices and is able to achieve her dreams.

India got its first skate park in 2003. It was created in Assagao, Goa, and was called 'SK8Goa'. A British Skateboarder called Nick Smith built the park. Smith is considered the 'Godfather of Indian skateboarding' for his immense contribution in creating the scene. As time passed, new skate parks were built around the country. The sport is now part of the Roller Skating Federation of India (RSFI). The governing body overlooks all roller skate-related sports like Artistic Skating, Speed Skating, Inline Freestyle, Roller Freestyle, etc.

In 2016 there were about 85 million worldwide skateboarders in the world.

For understanding the intricacies of the Indian Skateboarding scene, The Bridge Chronicle spoke to a few industry insiders, who are playing their part in the growth of the sport in India.

Shubham Surana is one of India's top skateboarders. He is part of the Meteoric Crew, a collective of skateboarders and BMX riders in Mumbai, which started in 2012. He was a fan of skateboarding since his childhood because of a TV show called Zeke and Luther. He then got his board and started practising. Since then, he has taken part in several skateboarding tournaments like the Jam of the Clans and the 2019 World Roller Games in Barcelona, Spain.

His idols in the skateboarding world are Shane O'Neil and Nigel Huston. This year, he will take part in Jugaad, an Indian invitational skateboarding tournament held in December 2021. Subsequently, he will take part in the district, state, and national competitions in India.

Being a professional skateboarder isn't a half-pipe dream anymore for Shubham Surana.
Being a professional skateboarder isn't a half-pipe dream anymore for Shubham Surana.Shubham Surana

With the inclusion of skateboarding in the Olympics, he is optimistic about the future of skateboarding in India. He stresses on the importance of new skate parks in India as it will encourage new talent to take up skateboarding. He currently practices in a makeshift skating park in Pune. His biggest goal is qualifying for Paris Olympics 2024.

Varun Patra, the founder of the youth media company called Homegrown, has been actively involved in the Indian skateboarding scene. With Nick Smith and an Indian skateboard collective called Holy Stoked, Varun was responsible for the first Indian skateboarding tour called Third Eye Tour in 2014.

The tour started in Bengaluru with a competition where 60 skateboarders took part. Then the show was on the road, travelling to places like Hampi and Goa. The goal of the Third Eye Tour was to bring the scattered Indian Skateboarders together and start a movement that will be the foundation of the Indian skateboarding community.

Danish skateboarder, Mathias Hall Laursen reaching new heights at the first Third Eye Tour.
Danish skateboarder, Mathias Hall Laursen reaching new heights at the first Third Eye Tour.Third Eye Tour Facebook

Varun believes in a promising future of skateboarding in India. He feels the skateboarding community in India has grown at a steady rate. With limited resources, the Indian skateboarding community has taken massive strides. In both rural and urban areas, skateboarding has become popular. It is a cost-effective sport as it doesn't require a lot of equipment. Varun feels the construction of new skate parks around the country can help individuals to enter the sport at an early age.

He feels that India could soon compete on the international stage with proper support and funding from sports authorities, governments, and brands. He believes that skateboarding in India needs structure to grow and become a popular and accepted sport. Introducing skateboarding to children in schools can lead to positive results.

Varun Patra was pivotal in the success of the first Third Eye Tour.
Varun Patra was pivotal in the success of the first Third Eye Tour. VarunPatra.com

Varun also stresses on the importance of international exposure for Indian Skateboarders. He feels going to international events and interacting with experienced professionals will help the Indian skateboarders grow. He also talks about how professional Indian skateboarders need to perform internationally to maximize the prime of their careers. Like any other sport, once an athlete has reached the peak of their career, they need ample opportunities to perform their skills and get results.

With the government, sports authorities, and brands, Varun also focuses on the role of media and fans in the growth of skateboarding in India. He believes with Homegrown, he can tell impactful and inspirational stories from this sport. His current dream is to create a national skateboarding tournament in India, something like the IPL and PKL. He feels tournaments like these can create a platform for Indian skateboarders and help them gain valuable experience and improve their skills.

Before the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, skateboarding was part of the  Asian Games in 2018.
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Skateboarding in India has also transformed into a medium of change. Janwaar, a small, distant village near Panna in Madhya Pradesh, has used skateboarding for social change. Ulrike Reinhard, a digital nomad, author, and futurist has transformed Janwaar with skateboarding. Reinhard wanted to create positive change in Janwaar and felt introducing a strong counter-cultural entity, like skateboarding, into a rigid structure will lead to disruption and change in the village.

Ulrike Reinhard believes that transformation change is possible by working with youth.
Ulrike Reinhard believes that transformation change is possible by working with youth.www.ulrikereinhard.com

Ulrike built a skate park in the village. The children were curious, as skateboarding was something completely new and were instantly hooked. Janwaar was like any other rural village in India. Most of the population was below the poverty line, with no proper sanitation, no electricity and Janwaar was divided into two parts based on caste - the Yadavs and the Adivasis. People from these communities never interacted. Women had no rights or education in the village. They could not voice their opinions and were oppressed constantly.

Its a full house at the Janwaar Castle.
Its a full house at the Janwaar Castle.Maninder Singh

The skate park played a crucial role in breaking the taboos of caste and gender in the village. Children from all social groups would come to the skate park. Ulrike had only two rules at the skate park - 'No School, No skateboard' and 'Girls, First'. Ulrike believes like Janwaar; skateboarding can help other villages across India.

She told The Bridge Chronicle that skateboarding will have a positive future in India and Olympics will play a crucial role in the process. She stresses on the part of the sports authorities if India wants to compete on the global stage. She feels India needs structure to develop the sport to close the gap with other countries in this space.

Before the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, skateboarding was part of the  Asian Games in 2018.
Complete list of Indian athletes at the Tokyo Summer Olympics 2020

Skateboarding has garnered a special place in India. With several new skate parks sprouting all around the country, the Indian Skateboarding scene has been prospering. It has become a medium of change. But we have failed to give skateboarding the attention it deserves. We, as audience, need to play our part in the growth of the sport in the country. The audience plays a vital role in the success of any sport. Without fans, other important entities like brands and authorities wouldn't prioritize skateboarding, leading to its demise. So let's support our skaters and push them to make the 2024 Paris Olympics.

Attribution: Tony Hawk's interview with Reuters about skateboarding going to the Olympics.

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