나는엔 2003, the Royal Bank of Scotland and the Sunday Times selected 20 British under-21s who they believed would be multimillionaires by the year 2020. Some of the names on the “rich list” will be familiar: Keira Knightley or Wayne Rooney, who has earned considerably more than the projected £25m. Others were more of a punt, such as the 19-year-old skateboarder Lucy Adams from Horsham, west Sussex. Adams had won a competition called King of the Streets and there was burgeoning interest in skateboarding thanks to the American legend Tony Hawk’s hit video game Pro Skater. The list estimated that Adams would be worth £10m by 2020.
아담스, who is 37 now and still “shredding” (riding hard) pretty much every day, snorts when I ask if that figure was on the optimistic side. “Yeah, I think you’d be right in saying that,” she sighs. “Definitely don’t even have a million.”
Skateboarding might not have made Adams’s fortune, but she has witnessed it undergo a radical transformation in the past two decades. “Some people maybe feel £10m was a bit wild, but it’s probably not,” says Adams. “If they had just said it about [professional Brazilian skateboarder] Letícia Bufoni, that’s not far off. She’s one of Nike’s most successful athletes and that’s with all the other sponsorship she’s got. So yeah, just a bit wrong with me in this country really!”
이번 달, skateboarding will make its debut at the Tokyo Olympics. Whether you think this development is brilliant or abhorrent – and many skateboarders are ambivalent – it is a major step change for an activity that has often prided itself on being a subculture. Skateboarders are athletes now; some even, whisper it, do dedicated training. So there’s a lot to process for skateboarders right now, not least the question: can skateboarding be both mainstream and also subversive and cool?
No British men qualified to compete in skateboarding in Tokyo. But two women did – very young women, 사실로: Bombette Martin, 늙은 15, and Sky Brown, who turns 13 next week and will become Britain’s youngest-ever Summer Olympian. Both Martin and Brown are in the “park” discipline, which takes place in bowls that resemble – and indeed began life as – empty swimming pools; the other Olympic skateboarding event is “street”: a course of rails, ramps and slopes.
The impact these two breezy, charismatic teenagers will have on skateboarding in the UK could be seismic. 갈색, who is ranked third in the world, has been turning heads since her dad, Stu, posted a video of her aged four from her local skatepark. It was watched 56m times. “She could definitely be one of the best female skaters ever, if not one of the best, well-rounded skaters ever, regardless of gender,” the great Tony Hawk told ESPN last year. “She’s a unicorn.”
Brown has grown up between Japan (her mother’s country of birth) and southern California; she qualifies for Team GB through her father. 남자 이름, who lives in New York City, is also eligible because of her father: Jon “Bomber” Martin, a talented amateur boxer from Birmingham, narrowly missed out on representing Great Britain at the 1996 올림픽.
Darren Pearcy, team manager for Skateboard GB, accepts that many long-time skateboarders are not thrilled about the Olympics, but he is confident that Brown and Martin will win over more open-minded viewers. They will also, he thinks, show that the raw athleticism of skateboarding makes it worthy of a spot in the Games. “If you’re 12 살이에요, and you’re watching Sky Brown fly through the air, you’re probably thinking she’s a superhero,” says Pearcy. “If that doesn’t translate to kids and to everybody else, then I’m not sure what other sports will.”
Lucy Adams is now progression project lead at Skateboard GB with a responsibility for finding and developing young British riders for future Olympics. A key part of her role is improving facilities in the UK: at present, 그녀는 인정, this country doesn’t have a single world-class bowl, such as the ones that Brown and Martin practise on every day in the US. 그러나, with the Olympics, Adams is excited that the focus in Britain will be equally, if not more, concentrated on female skateboarding. For too long, she believes, girls and young women have thought it was not an activity for them.
“With Sky and Bombette and this generation of little rippers we’ve got now, so many people are going to be like, ‘Wow!’” Adams predicts. “What’s even more exciting is boys are going to watch that as well and go, ‘Jesus, look at her flying through the air, doing spins.’ That’s crazy, 아닌가? Seeing your first skateboarding and it’s incredible and it’s done by a girl.”
여alking round a city with a skateboarder is an exercise in imagination and possibility. On a recent midweek morning, 30-year-old Helena Long gave me a tour of her favourite skate spots in central London, starting with the famed Undercroft on the Southbank, home to boarders and riders since the 1970s, then on to dozens of ledges, handrails and bridge supports around the city that are invisible to non-skaters, but make Long’s eyes pop. “I’m never bored on a bus or a train," 그녀는 말한다. “I can just look out the window: ‘Oh, did you see that spot!’”
The Covid age has been a boon for urban skateboarders. “Buckingham Palace has a fountain in front and that used to be emptied maybe once a year to be refilled with fresh water,” says Long. “But in lockdown it was empty the whole time and it’s got these quite natural, almost quarter-pipe-shaped sides.” Word spread quickly in skateboarding circles – even Levi’s shot ads down there. “Police would circle it quite a bit, because it was Buckingham Palace,” Long goes on, “but we worked out that if you see a police van, you just lie flat, and they can’t see you in there. It’s funny, it went from a holy grail spot to like, ‘Ahh, I’m actually bored of it now, it’s been empty for a year.’”
Long, who is smiley and bouncy with corkscrew brown hair, started skateboarding in south-east London when she was 13. She has skated professionally, first for Rogue Skateboards and now for Malmö-based Poetic Collective, and was the first British woman to appear on the cover of a skateboarding magazine, Vague Skate, 에 2019. Long is also consultant curator of a new exhibition on UK skateboarding, No Comply: Skate Culture and Community, which opens at Somerset House in London later this month.
So why did so few girls and young women take to skateboarding in the past? “The only thing I can think of really is that you’re falling on hard concrete, and you might think, ‘Do I really want to do that?’” says Long. “You’re going to get bruises, you’re going to get scabs, and there’s this socially conditioned view that women should be pristine, proper and prim and unscathed, 나는 추측한다. And unfortunately, it’s a given that’s going to happen if you skate.”
안에 notorious 2013 interview with skate magazine Thrasher, Nyjah Huston, a multiple world champion and X Games winner, 말했다, “Some girls can skate but I personally believe that skateboarding is not for girls at all. Not one bit.” After a ruckus, he apologised and qualified his comments. “What I meant was that skateboarding is a gnarly sport, in general, and as someone who knows the wrath of the concrete all too well, I don’t like the thought of girls (like my little sister) getting hurt.” The controversy cannot be said to have hurt Huston: the American is the world’s highest-paid skateboarder, with sponsors including Nike, Mountain Dew and Doritos. He’s ranked world number one and will be a favourite for gold at the Olympics in the men’s street competition.
Lucy Adams shared a sponsor, DC skate shoes, with Huston at the time of that interview, but stopped working with them in part because of his comments. “I’d never back him," 그녀는 말한다. Clearly there has often been a Jackass-style machismo – and sometimes straight-out misogyny – around skateboarding that has been off-putting for girls and young women especially. “There’s been a young, male-dominated aspect of it of being like, ‘Yeah, this is a hard thing to do, chicks dig scars,’” Adams says. “That type of stupidity: ‘We’re tough, we fall over relentlessly on the concrete and get back up.’”
Since its arrival in the UK in the 1970s, skateboarding has been linked with what you might politely call antisocial behaviour. Almost certainly that was part of the appeal for the kids – mainly boys and young men – but it never told the full story, most skateboarders agree. “I used to walk down the street and people would cross the road, because they had this view of who you were,” says Jenna Selby, a skateboarder and film-maker, who set up the first all-female UK skate team, Rogue Skateboards, 에 2005. “People associate skateboarders with drugs and causing trouble, vandalism… And that wasn’t really it. In every element of any subculture, you get a few people like that, but actually the majority of people just wanted to do what they love doing.”
Anecdotally, there has been a massive surge in female participation in skateboarding in recent years (“anecdotally” because official numbers have never been collected). Long believes that the kickstart was social media, and the explosion in role models it created. “Particularly with certain age groups, and also female and LGBTQ+ scenes within the skateboarding community, because people now had a chance to see it," 그녀는 말한다. “When I started, it was pre-YouTube, so there was a very slim amount of exposure, especially females.”
In lockdown, as busy streets and normally crowded spaces emptied out, participation in skateboarding has gone to another level. Perhaps nervous of using public transport, or looking to take advantage of the government-sanctioned hour of exercise, people dug out rollerblades, scooters and skateboards. Long and Adams both heard of skate shops being cleaned out of supplies.
“I used to go to my window every time I heard a skateboard just to see who it was,” says Long. “Because relatively speaking, the scene is quite, 였다 quite small. To a point where if you’d been in the scene for quite a long time, you probably recognise someone from somewhere. Guys, and girls, particularly girls. But it got to a point in lockdown where I stopped going to the window, because I was like, ‘I don’t know who any of these skateboarders are! There’s another skateboarder, oh, cool!’”
ㅏt 5.30am, her time, Sky Brown pops up on Zoom for a brief video call from Huntington Beach, 캘리포니아. She has no fear of an early start: Brown surfs most mornings, and hopes one day to qualify for the Olympics in that, 너무. She comes across as bright, positive and composed, 그러나, endearingly, not in a way that makes you forget her age. In her spare time she does dances for TikTok, and guess what? She’s pretty good, which is no big surprise from the winner of the first (and so far only) series of Dancing With the Stars: Juniors 에 2018.
Brown has faced down some adversity, 너무. While hanging out at Tony Hawk’s place in May last year, she lost control on a 14-foot vertical ramp and smashed to the ground. She was rushed to intensive care and found to have broken her left arm and fingers on her right hand, suffered multiple fractures in her skull and lacerations to her heart and lungs. Brown and her family debated whether they should share footage of the accident – she doesn’t typically post her falls – but she decided that the message that everyone fails sometimes would be valuable to her followers.
“That was a pretty bad accident, I was knocked out for like 12 ...에 16 시간,” Brown says now. “So it was a really tough time, but I recovered really fast. And getting back on the board, I wasn’t scared at all. I just wanted to get back. I felt stronger after that. I actually wanted to do more things after that.”
Bombette Martin, 그 동안에, is wry – maybe what you would expect from a New York kid. She talks about daily trips to the Bullring shopping centre when she’s back in Birmingham, and lightly ribs her dad, to whom she owes her name. “Whenever I’m having trouble with something that has to do with skateboarding, he always uses his boxing analogies, 처럼, ‘Oh, I did this. I did that,’” says Martin, smiling. “It kind of annoys me, but I also listen to him, because he was very good at what he did.”
Martin has noticed more girls and young women becoming interested in skateboarding, and she puts it down to greater visibility, citing as one example the 2018 film Skate Kitchen, a dramatised depiction of a real group of teenage female skateboarders in New York City. (Skate Kitchen, the collective’s name, was derived from comments on their YouTube videos that women “should be in the kitchen making me a sandwich”.)
“Especially after the Olympics, I think it’s just going to boom, the skate community in general is just going to be on fire,” says Martin. “But especially the girls, their confidence will rise and they will be like, ‘Oh, I see those girls can do it. So I guess I can do it too.’”
It feels like a lot of pressure to lump on the shoulders of two teenagers, however preternaturally mature they seem. But Brown, 너무, is well aware of the power of role models. “If I’m the little one in there going big, hopefully all the little girls watching will think ‘Maybe I can do it.’” Before she leaves the Zoom – she has waves to catch – Brown sets out her objectives for the summer. “I’m just excited to skate the new bowl in Tokyo, skate with all my friends again," 그녀는 말한다. 그때, almost an afterthought: “And hopefully inspire people and get gold.”
No Comply: Skate Culture and Community is at Somerset House in London from 19 July to 19 구월