Park terrain skateboarding will make its Olympic debut at the 2020 Tokyo Games – Here’s what it will look like and how it could change perceptions of the sport

Vans Legacy Skatepark in Montréal, Canada.

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Vans Legacy Skatepark in Montréal, Canada.
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Paul Mackay/Vans Park Series

  • Skateboarding will make its Olympic debut at the 2020 Tokyo Games. The sport will feature two disciplines: park terrain and street.
  • The International Olympic Committee hopes the addition of the sport will draw more millennial viewers.
  • Vans Park Series is serving as the blueprint for the layout of park terrain competitions in Tokyo. Vans began the contest in 2016 as a means of preserving skate culture and growing skateboarding globally.
  • The spread of skaters will include 40 men and 40 women across park terrain and street. Each country is allowed six men and six women, but no more than three of one gender for a discipline.
  • The skateparks used for Tokyo will be open to the public, which is part of the IOC’s commitment to bring sports to the people.

After decades of building a viable ecosystem and persevering through infamy, skateboarding will begin another chapter of its history when it makes its Olympic debut at the 2020 Tokyo Games.

In desperate need of a hook to gain millennial viewership, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced it would add skateboarding as an event, along with surfing, karate, and sports climbing. Skateboarding will be divided into two disciplines: park terrain and street.

Olympic viewership for the summer event dropped from a total audience delivery of 30.3 million viewers in 2012 to 27.5 million viewers in 2016, according to an NBC press release. The Wall Street Journal reported that games also experienced roughly a 30% decrease in viewership from ages 18-34.

“The Olympics needs this youth cool factor in their programming and they’re going to get it with skateboarding in the summer games the way that they got it with snowboarding in the winter games,” skateboarding legend and Vans Park Series commentator Tony Hawk told Business Insider.

Read More: ‘The Olympics needs this youth cool factor’: Tony Hawk sees world stage as only a part of skateboarding’s journey

Skateboarding has developed a platform by utilizing a universal culture, sponsorships, and even a shoe company. The Van Doren Rubber Company, commonly known as Vans, was created in 1966 in California where skateboarding began. The style and sticky sole helped them rise to popularity in the early 1970s and became a staple amongst skateboarders.

Fifty years from its launch, Vans established the Vans Park Series, the first-ever men’s and women’s skateboarding Park Terrain world championship series. The competition has been used to grow the sport globally and preserve the culture that has come with it.

Four years after its inception, it will serve as the blueprint for skateboarding’s park terrain discipline in the 2020 Olympics.

Skateboarding has developed its own ecosystem through prize competitions and sponsorships.

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Skateboarding has developed its own ecosystem through prize competitions and sponsorships.
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Dan Mathieu/Vans Park Series

“From a strategy perspective, we knew that there was a voice. We knew that there was emerging talent, and we wanted to put together a competitive series that would actually elevate the next generation of park skaters in a truly defined competitive series, but it’s also more for providing this passage to grow globally,” Vans Director of Global Marketing for Action Sports Bobby Gascon told Business Insider.

“When the IOC talked about introducing skateboarding in 2020, they saw what we did as the leading brand in skateboarding and catering to this up and coming movement. It was actually really compelling that not only is it for men, but also for women … It was the perfect match for what the IOC was looking at from a structure perspective.”

The sport previously had no linear process to becoming professional. Through Vans’ national, regional, and continental level championships, that path was defined as those who made it to the continental level. Skaters then breached the line of amateur and became more likely to earn sponsorships that would allow them to travel the world.

Changing the stigma

Coming to the forefront on a world stage also involves changing the stigma that still surrounds the sport in some countries across the globe. In China, for example, skateboarding is young, and skaters are still viewed as troublemakers on the road. In Washington DC, it is illegal to skate in certain areas, and the city lacks proper infrastructure.

“Skateboarding was born as, and still is in some cases, a rebellious act, but rebellious in a way where it was built off of no rules,” Gascon said. “It was built on people expressing themselves. The weight skateboarding carries among youth culture is super powerful … Participation is as high as it’s ever been, but the opportunity that the Olympics, for example, will bring is basically legitimizing the act of skateboarding as not so rebellious.”

For skaters Tom Schaar, 19, and Jordyn Barratt, 20, the Olympics pose an opportunity not only to show off their tricks but also show skateboarding for what it is.

“I always thought that skateboarding would make its way to the Olympics or that level of competition, but I honestly didn’t think it would happen this soon, or at least in my lifetime. It’s great,” Schaar told Business Insider.

“The grandpa that lives down my street might stop hating skating and start supporting it. I think it’s going to change a lot of opinions about what people think of skating and what people think of what skaters are.”

However, there’s still a concern that some countries will begin accepting skateboarding solely for competition in the Olympics.

Jordyn Barratt.

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Jordyn Barratt.
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Vans Park Series

“It’s going to take all the people who fell in love with skateboarding for what skateboarding is to show them that that’s not all that skateboarding is,” Barratt told Business Insider. “To keep the culture alive is a key factor and I want to do as much as I can, personally, to be able to help do that, and I know a lot of skaters want to do that as well.”

Schaar and Barratt have already inserted themselves into the history books. Schaar was only 12 years old when he became the first to land a 1080 – a feat many thought would first be accomplished by Shaun White. Barratt became the first woman to compete in skateboarding and surfing during the Vans US Open of Surfing in 2016.

In a skateboarding world where sponsorships are crucial to a self-sustaining career, both have had opportunities open because of their success. Their eyes are now set on the Olympics.

Tom Schaar.

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Tom Schaar.
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Vans Park Series

Same material, different arrangement, all the creativity

The standard of park terrain skateparks that exists today, which will be used in the Olympics, was developed by combining existing elements into a closed bowl-shaped course with steep sides. All materials matter in the development process, from the radius of transitions, concrete mix, and the way it’s flattened to a smooth surface, according to Gascon.

The unique configuration of every park allows for increased creativity in a 40-second run, judged on difficulty, originality, overall flow, timing, stability, and the ability to create the sensation of being suspended in mid-air.

The skateparks used for Vans Park Series were previously temporary courses. However, the company has now put five permanent courses in Malmö (Sweden), São Paulo (Brazil), Montréal (Canada), Paris/Chelles (France), and Salt Lake City (United States). These are all open for use by the public.

“Once you have the infrastructure you can build the talent,” Gascon said. “We’re seeing this in the long run of putting this infrastructure in place to nurture the next generation of skateboarders.”

The Olympic courses that will be built at Aomi Urban Sports Venue in Tokyo will also be open to the public.

“There will be competitions and then, say in the afternoon, people can access and have a go for themselves,” IOC executive John Coates told the Japan Times. “They’re all sports that, as you can see, engage with young people. In terms of our vision and Tokyo 2020’s vision of wanting to bring these sports to the people, I think this is a good location.”

Yndiara Asp performs a frontside air at the Vans Park Series in Paris, France.

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Yndiara Asp performs a frontside air at the Vans Park Series in Paris, France.
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Anthony Acosta/Vans Park Series

Equal qualification opportunities for men and women

For women in the sport, skateboarding has largely welcomed equality, both in opportunity and prize money. While not every competition has an equal prize purse for men and women, all Olympic qualifiers and major events do.

“It’s really amazing how far it has come in quite little time,” Barratt said. “I am so thankful for all the women who have come before, have pushed through, and done so much work to get it where it is now. That took so long, so it is really cool to be a part of.”

Competitions like Vans Park Series have seen participation from women grow exponentially. Once at only 10 participants in 2016, the contest now has between 20 and 30 women at some events.

“I honestly think that the women’s angle will be the biggest story coming out of skateboarding with the Olympic narrative,” Gascon said. “I think continuing to see that growth and seeing that prosper is already in itself something that’s highly needed, but that’s highly impactful for skateboarding.”

The IOC has 80 quota spots for skateboarders at the 2020 Olympics across park terrain and street – 40 for women and 40 for men – split between the two disciplines.

Each country, or National Olympic Committee, is allowed six men and six women for skateboarding. No country is allowed more than three athletes per gender per event, as stated per the World Skate qualification system.

Three athletes will qualify as the highest-ranked skaters in the 2020 Season World Skate World Skateboarding Championship events. Sixteen will be eligible through the Olympic World Skateboarding Rankings as of June 1, 2020. One athlete will also qualify as the allocated host nation slot as the highest-ranked skater in the host nation, which for 2020 is Japan.

The Olympics isn’t the “end-all” to skateboarding

23-year-old Curren Caples competes in the preliminaries and semifinals in Shanghai, China.

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23-year-old Curren Caples competes in the preliminaries and semifinals in Shanghai, China.
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Anthony Acosta/Vans Park Series

Regardless of skateboarding’s success in the Olympics, the consensus from those involved is that skateboarding will continue in its self-created ecosystem.

“If nothing else it’s going to get kids interested in skating from unlikely areas, from unlikely countries,” Hawk said.

As a competition that comes around once every four years, Gascon said the Olympics would be more like an All-Star Game for the sport and not the “end-all.”

It has a universal culture that revolves around fashion, music, and independence, that crosses the boundaries of culture, race, and religion.

“In the case of Olympics where everything is based on country, I sincerely hope that that’s how we can portray skateboarding because that’s exactly what it is. It’s all about camaraderie and supporting each other,” Gascon said.

“The evolution is this constant progress, so all of us have to do our due diligence to continue to evolve because anything stagnant goes against skate culture.”