Skateboarding as a sport: Why classification is a grind

Photo of Nicholas Chacon

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In a similar vein of classifying a hotdog as a sandwich — or simply just a hotdog — there has been speculation over whether or not skateboarding should be classified as a sport.

Although the debate never seems to end, the failure to classify skateboarding as such hinders a community of people looking to push themselves forward into the world of sports. Some hear the sound of wheels and skate decks against the pavement and immediately think of skateboarding in a negative light.

To learn more about the debate, I sat down with Jonathan Napoles, co-founder of the relatively new Cal club Skateboarding At Berkeley. Noted in the conversation is how relatively new skateboarding is.

When taking into account the history of traditional sports — such as football, basketball and baseball — it’s interesting to see how time correlates to community acceptance. This is particularly true on a campus like Cal. If the sport is around long enough, it tends to have more leeway and renown.

Many of these have their own facilities to practice in. Moreover, different teams see thousands of fans filing into their respective areas of play. Bigger events, or “game days,” end up blocking access to multiple streets and cause traffic. And yet, these sports are rarely seen as inconvenient to the community or to the campus.

Since skateboarding took the world by storm in the late 20th century, there have been many factors since then that helped it reach a pedestal akin to other popular sports. But skaters still have a hard time getting there because of how new it is to the world.

“It has now been in the Olympics, X Games, there’s this big event called Street League Skateboarding and, all these events, make it feel as if you watch on ESPN or Fox,” Napoles said. “It makes you feel like … this feels like I’m watching some football game or a soccer game.”

The sport of skateboarding has reached people all over the world, and those participating in these events are considered athletes. Despite skateboarding having similar coverage to the so-called popular sports — and all of the makings of a sport in general — there is still a disconnect at the community level.

Skaters are often prevented from doing what they love, and outside members look down on the sport. On Cal’s campus, anti-skate infrastructure is in place, making it harder for skaters in the area to improve.

In an effort to change this narrative, Napoles is pushing for official recognition of the sport by Cal. His club aims to destigmatize skateboarding and provide a safe space for the sport to be practiced. By bringing together the skateboarding community on campus and within the Bay Area, skaters may be deterred from practicing in public places that are normally frowned upon.

“And that’s basically what it is — we don’t have access to that. So we’re in contact with a lot of people. We have contacts with skateboarding firms, and a lot of people were trying to help us out,” said Napoles. “So that’s our main objective now, just trying to give students more access to skateboarding through the campus.”

Through those many obstacles, skaters like Napoles have found a way to advocate for their sport and continue to hone their craft. Of course, more advanced level skaters shred through the streets of Telegraph and Bancroft as if it’s second nature. However, those looking to start for the first time are often discouraged from the difficult landscape surrounding Cal and the negative stigma surrounding the sport itself.

For those looking to set their feet on the deck for the first time, Napoles has some solid advice.

“If that means you practicing on your own, or, if you have a group, that’s a lot cooler,” Napoles said. “But if it means that you’re practicing on your own, right, you’re putting in hours, just kind of cruising around, doing your thing. You know that’s what it’s all about.”

Nicolas Chacon is a columnist. Contact him at [email protected].