How the X-Games Could Pave the Way for Action Sports in the Olympics (Guest Column)
At age 10, skateboarder Nyjah Huston became the youngest X-Games competitor ever; in 2011, he won his first gold medal at the event. In addition to numerous other awards, the 18-year-old is said to have earned more prize money than any other skateboarder in history. Fresh off his second gold medal win at this month's X-Games in Los Angeles -- the last time the city hosts the event before it moves to Austin, Texas, next year -- Huston pens a guest column for The Hollywood Reporter about the future of his sport and how its popularity and growth could pave the way for action sports in the Olympics.
Skateboarding is not what it used to be, and we’re not OK with that.
Only recently has skateboarding shed its reputation as a sport for the disenfranchised: the reckless, the uneducated. The biases of skateboarding date back to its inception, further amplified by the portrayal of the skateboarding community in popular media: trespassing teenagers from low-income neighborhoods occupying alleyways and school grounds after dark, being disrespectful and leaving destruction in their wake. Local law enforcement were seemingly trained to target skateboarders, and while society worked overtime to meet petitions for local skate parks with wild opposition, they overlooked one factor in the skate community— the community.
While the pre-skateboarding generation spent countless hours lobbying to city councils for “safer” neighborhoods for their kids, their kids went out and started to, well, skateboard — a sport that they would find is truly indicative of its own athletes. Skateboarding motivates from within, suggestive in its essence to attempt the impossible, building and cultivating the values we were taught as children: patience, hard work, perseverance, accomplishment. It can take upwards of 50 attempts to land your first kick-flip, the same way you can go to bat 50 times and never hit that home run. You will inevitably experience more mental and physical failures than successes in skateboarding, but such is the par for the course in building character.
With the help of trends in music, fashion, and celebrity, skateboarding built momentum as a grassroots movement, and started making some headway. A sport that was once associated with the graffiti'ed parkways of neglected neighborhoods has become a phenomenon, tendering grand prizes in the six-figures at pro-level competitions while running a laundry list of corporate sponsors that tap into allotments of hundreds of millions of dollars a year to sponsor the next best skateboarder in the game.
Now, action sports is commanding an audience that is not only respectable in size, but can rival traditional sports on their biggest days, boasting ratings in the millions since the inception of the X-Games by ESPN nearly two decades ago. With the X-Games fan engaged to the “extreme,” they are compelled to do more, see more, buy more, share more, changing the landscape of sports in the mainstream. Thriving on community support and holstered by its fan base, skateboarding remains a movement led and perpetuated by its fans — a fandom that encompasses the pillars of sports culture at its finest: camaraderie, belonging, self-worth, triumph, pillars harmoniously reminiscent of the Olympics. And if there’s anything we know about skate fans, it’s that they won’t rest until the Olympic committee goes to a vote.
So, we’re not OK with the future of skateboarding. We’re f---ing stoked.