The skateboard has entered the 21st century as a beacon of culture, allowing skaters to set foothold in the world of sports. The 2020 Tokyo Olympics marked the introduction of skateboarding into the ultimate realm of competition.

Skateboarding has been around for decades, with the likes of Tony Hawk and Rodney Mullen being the first few to shred the streets and conquer the competition. The pool of skateboarding was still a shallow one back then, with particular respect to the professional dimension. Skateboarding competitions received little attention and the act of skateboarding was much more seen as an element of counter culture than as a legitimate sport. Plenty has changed since, however, as the skateboarding world would witness a striking curve of development in the decades to come. The turn of the 21st century marked a definitive acceleration of skateboarding as a professional sport, allowing it to flourish into the vivid culture that it currently is. What was once a rather controversial activity, is now a newly appreciated Olympic sport.


Name: Skateboard

3D Model

Creator: Nino Luijpen

Date: 19-01-2022

Place: Brunssum, The Netherlands

Themes: Inclusivity

Captured with Konicka Minolta Dynax 5

Processed with Agisoft Metashape Professional Software run on Windows 10 (32 bit).


Physical Object

Size: 81 x 21 x 5.6 cm

Weight: 2800 g

Material: Wood, metal, polyurethane

Many factors are to be taken into account when examining the development of skateboarding as a competitive sport. Whilst wondering how skateboarding came to be recognized as a competitive sport, it is paramount to consider the definitive transformations of the 21st century. In their research on the “sportification” of skateboarding among popular culture, Batuev & Robinson (2018) mark down a wide range of criteria to be essential in the process, among them being commercialization, equal opportunity to compete and bureaucratic organization. With regards to bureaucratic organization, we have seen serious merit in the introduction of the X-Games (1995). Skateboarding is a central sport in this international extreme sports event, and the two have existed symbiotically ever since the mid-nineties. More organized skateboarding competitions have risen ever since, such as the famous Street League Skateboarding (2010) and the Dew Tour (2005).

Of course, we cannot discuss the “sportification” of skateboarding without mentioning the Olympic movement, as Batuev & Robinson (2018) lay bare the relationship (as well as the contrast) between skateboarding and Olympism. Essentially, the Olympic Games form the ultimate grounds of competition for athletes – it is widely considered to be the greatest form of victory that one can achieve in the world of sports. Respecting the development of skateboarding as a professional sport, it may seem logical that skaters wish to be included at this level of competition. To professional skaters, it would be a door of opportunity in their quest to prove that they are the best, and though this is often the case, Batuev & Robinson (2018) aptly highlight how the values of skateboarding also clash with Olympism:

The Olympics gives one man (or woman) a chance to reign victorious over their peers, and bask in the “joy of victory”, while every other . . . loser gets to suffer through the “agony of defeat.” This is totally contrary to what skateboarding is all about. In skateboarding, you determine your own destiny. You’re not measured against other people. You’re measured against what you’re made of.

(Batuev & Robinson, 2018 citing Stratford, n.d.)

Though we cannot yet say how skateboarding will develop as an Olympic sport, we can explore how the 21st century helped us get there. As mentioned earlier, the introduction of the X-Games was vital to the popularization of competitive skateboarding, but we cannot acknowledge the impact of this event without delving into the values of commercialization, documentation and dissemination (Batuev & Robinson, 2018). Indeed, the rise of skateboarding as a professional sport largely relied on the commercial industry, as athletes would be approached by big sponsors wishing to market their products. The Vans shoes are a quintessential trope of such commercialization, as demand for these shoes skyrocketed in the nineties. What was once a shoe dedicated to the act of skateboarding, is now worn all over the world, by skaters and non-skaters alike. In light of this development, it is also quite easy to see how skateboarding apparel and modern fashion gradually came to be connected, as skater clothing was welcomed by pop culture spheres with open arms.


The commercialization of skateboarding thus created more space for regular skaters to become professional athletes, but the 21st century brought about another development that was crucial: the documentation and dissemination of skateboarding tricks and parts. As Snyder (2012) explains, equal career opportunities for skateboarders boomed with the introduction of an internet that allowed skaters to share their tricks and parts without difficulty. With video cameras and mobile phones improving over-time, whilst also becoming more affordable to the average skater, it was far easier for skaters to record what they could do. Additionally, Snyder (2012) recognizes the sheer value of platforms such as YouTube (2005) in allowing skaters to share their videos. Prior to the 21st century, it was hard for a skater to display their skills to large audiences, let alone be scouted by sponsors or organizations. Professional skateboarder Rayssa Leal might be the most striking example of this development, as her professional career started thanks to Tony Hawk spotting a video of an 8-year-old Rayssa doing a kickflip whilst wearing a fairy costume. The ease of documentation and dissemination of skateboarding videos is what truly facilitated the growth of skateboarding into the globally popular and professional sport that it is now. 

rayssa leal: from princess to pro-skater

2015 vs 2021

The 2020 Tokyo Olympics was a true milestone to the skateboarding world, and despite your opinion on skateboarding as a highly competitive sport, one can hardly deny that the 21st century has granted skaters an endless number of opportunities to make a living out of their greatest passion. Who knows what the realm of competitive sport might experience in the future?

the city is a playground

Whilst briefly turning our backs towards the immense growth of the competitive realm of skateboarding, let us take a moment to appreciate the urban realm instead. Above all, skateboarding ought to be fun, and the design affordances of the modern city has catalyzed a revolutionary surge of skateboarding galore. Street skateboarding, as it is called, refers to the use of urban infrastructure whilst skateboarding. The likes of stairs, rails, benches and curbs were transformed into skate spots, shortly disposing of their boring jobs as passive (infra)structures: “Street skateboarders act upon cities in ways that reveal unintended uses and pleasures. Through fleeting spatial appropriations, skateboarders momentarily transform places designed for capitalist production into impromptu playgrounds” (Vivoni & Folsom-Fraster 2021, p. 311). 

Moreover, such spots have become legendary sites of heritage for global skateboarding culture. Great skaters of the last few decades have accumulated a list of historical skate spots, and perhaps on top of the list, we find the El Toro stairs, claimed to be “the most famous 20 steps in the world of skate”. Located on the El Toro High School property, these stairs have seen a number of mind-boggling tricks and injuries alike. 


Would the constructors responsible for these stairs ever have considered the sheer amount of fame, fear and fun they provided for skaters? Presumably not, but what can be stated is that urban features of the city have been appropriated for the design and construction of skateparks. As Perrin (2012) states, “there has been an ironic rise of skateparks reproducing the traditional public plaza with outdoor furniture once banned to skateboarders, now exclusively built for them”. The average citizen may look at stairs, rails and benches without any second thought, but skateboarding has sparked life into the generally inactive framework of the city.


Batuev, M., & Robinson, L. (2018). What influences organisational evolution of modern sport:
the case of skateboarding. Sport, Business and Management: An International Journal.

Insider. (2016). This 8-year-old is a skateboarding fairy princess. YouTube. Retrieved March 22, 2022, from

Perrin, F. (2012). A parallel history of skateboard and architecture. Le Journal Spéciale’Z, (4), 178

Skateboard News. (2021). Rayssa Leal Silver Medal Skateboarding Olympics 2021. YouTube. Retrieved March 22, 2022, from

Snyder, G. J. (2012). The city and the subculture career: Professional street skateboarding in
LA. Ethnography, 13(3), 306-329.

Vivoni, F., & Folsom-Fraster, J. (2021). Crafting Cities for All: Qualitative Inquiry of the Street
and the Spatial Practice of Skateboarding. Cultural Studies↔ Critical Methodologies,