10 Mar 2020

The rise of skateboarding in New Zealand

From Afternoons, 1:49 pm on 10 March 2020

For the first time skateboarding will be an Olympic sport.

Last Saturday in Wellington, the National Championships took place and one of the winners, Ramon Thackwell, is the president of Skateboarding New Zealand. 

He talked to Jesse Mulligan about what being in the Olympics means for the sport.

Niwa Shewry

Niwa Shewry Photo: David Read

Although there are numerous skateboarding disciplines, in the Olympics they will be focus on two, Thackwell says.

“There’s street skateboarding and park skateboarding.”

Street replicates obstacles you’d find in the street, such as handrails, whereas park skateboarding is more like an enclosed arena of banks and curves.

“Things to pump over and jump over.”

Different in their approaches, street follows the SLS [Street League Skateboarding] format, park will be three or four runs of between 45-60 seconds.

At the national skating competition, Bowlzilla, skaters had four 35 seconds runs, and their best run counted. Thackwell won that event.

“That particular competition is really focused on the use of that entire bowl…it resembles very closely a traditional backyard pool, so the competition regulations stated the judges were going to be looking for skaters that went into all the different parts of the bowl, used the hips - which is a term given to the kind of protrusions that go from one part of the bowl to the next.”

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Photo: David Read

There are so many types of skateboards that the boards themselves aren't restricted during national competitions.

“If a guy wants to jump in with an electric skateboard, more power to him.”

Things probably won’t be so relaxed at the Olympics though.

Bringing the sport into the Olympics was contentious, Thackwell says.

“The skateboarding industry, who’ve run the sport for nearly 50 years, are told that hey skateboarding’s going into the Olympics and now that’s gonna mean x,y and z.”

At the Olympics there will only be 20 male skaters and 20 female skaters in each of the disciplines competing.

“Twenty skaters for all of the skaters in the world is not many skaters.

“I lived in Brazil for a year, there were 10 million registered skateboarders.”

Dave Crabb

Dave Crabb Photo: David Read

There can be up to three skaters per country and the preference is for there to be at least one from each Olympic continent, meaning New Zealand skaters are in competition with Australian skaters to get a spot.

Already a hugely popular sport, skateboarding is also becoming increasingly popular with girls and women.

“It’s incredible…it affords a different sort of relationship at the park. 

“Usually with the young girls that come in, the parents come in as well and they kind of expect an environment of respect and care, which, when I started skateboarding, we were kind of just little so and sos at the park, just policing ourselves…with the girls coming in it’s almost requiring that we sort ourselves out,” Thackwell says.

There’s also a different type of enthusiasm coming in, he says.

“It’s almost like we’ve got a start again point.”

Thackwell’s been skating for over 35 years now.

“Skateboarding is poetry, it’s art, it’s freedom, it’s movement, it’s expression, it’s openness…participation,” he says.