Is Skateboarding A Sport? A Detailed Analysis Of This Heated Debate

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Skateboarding is a popular activity that requires quite a bit of skill, agility, and fitness, but there’s long been a debate about how to classify skateboarding.

Is skateboarding a sport or a hobby?

In this guide, we will discuss the basics of skateboarding as an activity and weigh in on the hotly contested question, “Is skateboarding a sport?”

More specifically, we will cover: 

  • What Is Skateboarding?
  • A Brief History Of Skateboarding
  • Why Skateboarding Is Not Considered a Sport
  • Why Skateboarding Is a Sport
  • So, Is Skateboarding a Sport Or a Lifestyle?

Let’s get started!

A person skateboarding.

What Is Skateboarding?

So, is skateboarding a sport or a lifestyle? Or is skateboarding a recreational activity?

Before we try to categorize skateboarding as a sport or otherwise, let’s briefly examine what it involves so that we will have a basis upon which we can categorize it.

Skateboarding involves riding and performing tricks on a flat board with four rollers (wheels), which is termed a skateboard.

The rider stands on the deck of the skateboard, which is the actual board, and then there are “trucks” to attach the board to the wheels.

There are dozens of skateboarding tricks (if not more!), with notable examples including the ollie, the grind, and the kickflip, and the types of tricks you can do often depend on the environment you’re skating in (ramp, half pipe, rail, etc.).

You also can be creative and make up your own tricks and combine any number of tricks together.

Landing skateboarding tricks takes skill, expertise, agility, strength, speed, and power.

A person with one foot on a skateboard.

A Brief History Of Skateboarding

Skateboarding began in the late 1940s and early 1950s in the surfing communities in California and Hawaii when avid surfers were seeking a way to mimic the sensation of riding the surf on days when the water was too calm to ride any waves.

Larry Stevenson, a former beach lifeguard in California, is credited as being the main pioneer of the modern-day skateboard, using a surfboard-inspired design.

The original prototype of the skateboard was little more than a board with roller skate wheels, but Stevenson later added an upward tail, known as a kicktail, at the end of the skateboard to facilitate performing tricks.

Modern-day skateboards now have kicktails on both ends of the board.

Over the next decade, commercial skateboards came into production, and the first skateboarding competition was held in 1963 at Hermosa Beach, California.

Although the first skateboarding competitions were in the early- to mid-1960s, competitive skateboarding didn’t really take off until the later 1979s, after introductions of innovative tricks like Alan Gelfand’s ollie.

The ollie is a staple skateboarding maneuver that involves jumping over objects.

People skating and taking photos.

Although skateboarding started to gain international traction, both as a lifestyle and with competitive events, it never exploded to mainstream acceptance, rendering it a counter-culture vibe that it still has.

In the early 1990s, skateboarding diverged into two distinct disciplines: vert ranks, or half pipe, and street skating. There was also an explosion of new skate parks being built in the United States.

The 1990s saw the rise of skateboarding legends like Rodney Mullen, a street skater who invented many notable skateboarding tricks, and Tony Hawk, lauded for his tricks and skills on the board.

At the X Games in 1999, Tony Hawk successfully landed the world’s first 900 trick, which involves completing two and a half revolutions on the board. 

Skaters like Tony Hawk are credited with spurring the rise in popularity of skateboarding among young people, with an increasing number of people in the United States taking up skateboarding in the early 2000s.

During this time, skateboarding also started receiving more global recognition from sports authorities, and skateboarding competitions like the X Games and Street League Skateboarding grew in size and viewership.

However, the relative lack of mainstream acceptance is one of the main reasons people still question, “Is skateboarding a sport?”

A person is skatebaording.

Why Skateboarding Is Not Considered a Sport

People who argue that skateboarding is not a sport say that the lack of having a team nor rules precludes the activity from being considered a sport. 

Arguments against the qualification of skateboarding as a sport include the following points in their argument:

1. Skateboarding was originally designed for transportation and recreation, not competition. 

However, this seems like a weak argument because just because something started a certain way doesn’t mean it has to stay that way. 

Baseball started as a pastime but became competitive.

Biathlon (cross-country skiing and target shooting) grew out of a form of transportation and practical skills.

A person doing a trick on a skateboard.

2. Skateboarding lacks rules. 

Sports like football, tennis, basketball, and volleyball have designated rules, whereas skateboarding doesn’t. 

This is probably the strongest argument against calling skateboarding a sport.

However, in most cases, such as when competing in skateboarding at the Olympics or X Games, there are certain rules that athletes must abide by.

3. Skateboarding doesn’t have teams. 

However, this seems like a weak argument because there are plenty of individual sports, such as running, swimming, and triathlon.

On the other hand, there are arguments to be made that skateboarding is a sport.

It requires tremendous skill and athleticism, and there are contested events in which winners are crowned.

Though the activity may lack rules most of the time, most competitive events do have some rules that athletes must follow.

A child on a skateboard.

Why Skateboarding Is a Sport

A strong argument for skateboarding being considered a sport is that it was officially included in the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games, where it made its Olympic debut. 

There were both men’s and women’s skateboarding competitions in street skateboarding and park skateboarding.

This means there was the competition aspect required to be a sport.

Olympic park skateboarding is a discipline that involves riding in a bowl-shaped environment. Skaters must build up tremendous speed to gain air so they can perform big tricks.

Olympic street skateboarding is a discipline that involves riding over obstacles, stairs, rails, and slopes.

At the 2020 Olympic Games In Tokyo, Japanese skaters dominated the podium, taking three of the four gold medals.

In addition to the two disciplines contested at the 2020 Olympics, there are other skateboarding disciplines, such as freestyle, which involves performing tricks on flat ground; vert skateboarding, which involves riding up and down a large ramp while you do tricks; and longboarding, which is a form of downhill racing.

So, how can we determine if skateboarding is a sport? If we don’t want solely rely on the Olympics Committee, we can look to the dictionary.

A person on a skateboard, jumping.

The dictionary definition of sport is “An activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment.”

Based on this definition, in order to be qualified as a sport, an activity must have three qualities: 

  • Sports must involve physical exertion or some amount of athletic ability. Taking this a step further, you should be able to train for it.
  • Sports require some amount of skill. There should be elements that require honing your ability to get better.
  • Sports have to have a competition with a clear winner.

Looking at this definition, it seems clear that skateboarding is indeed a sport.

Skateboarding definitely requires physical exertion, and you can train to get better; it requires skill (who can just land an ollie on their first try?), and there are definitely skateboarding competitions, as evidenced by the inclusion of skateboarding in the 2020 Olympic Games and the history of competitions spanning back to 1963.

Skateboarding is also classified as a sport in the Encyclopedia Britannica, a trusted resource.

According to their entry, skateboarding is “a form of recreation and sport, popular among youths, in which a person rides standing balanced on a small board mounted on wheels. Considered one of the so-called extreme sports, skateboarding as a professional sport boasts a range of competitions, including vertical and street-style events.”

A child on a skateboard.

So, Is Skateboarding a Sport Or a Lifestyle?

Particularly, since skateboarding was accepted as an official Olympic sport in 2020, it seems like the tides should turn, and the debate may be settled: skateboarding is a sport.

Interestingly, though you might think that all skateboarders would contest that skateboarding is a sport and non-skateboarders would be the ones arguing that skateboarding doesn’t qualify as a sport, there are plenty of avid skateboarders who say that skateboarding is not a sport; it’s a lifestyle.

Furthermore, many of the proponents of the attitude that skateboarding is a lifestyle rather than a sport are happy with that designation, choosing to celebrate the fact that because skateboarding doesn’t have a rulebook for how or where you should or shouldn’t skate, there’s tons of freedom to use your imagination, feel like a kid, and “play,” even as an adult.

Many skateboarders don’t feel a need to have skateboarding universally recognized or classified as a sport, particularly in light of the fact that one of the beauties of the activity is it’s open, creative, freestyle, so it can mean whatever you want it to mean, no matter what you call it.

So, we think skateboarding should be considered a sport, but if you’re a rider and consider it a lifestyle, that’s perfectly awesome, too!

Interested in checking out some other sports chat? We have a great explanation and clarification of cross-country vs. track just for you.

A skater getting ready to skate.
Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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