Regardless of how you feel about skateboarding’s inclusion in the Olympics moving the games has had a massive impact. Skateboarders from all over the world went all-in on pursuing the historical debut for skating on the biggest stage, only to have everything suddenly change direction during a global pandemic. From how to session while sheltering in place, to new questions about the qualification process, to how to stay sane when all you have is a flat bar in your garage for company, it can feel like there are more questions than answers. I talked to five Nike SB athletes and aspiring Olympians about how the postponement has affected their lives and their Olympic aspirations. Despite facing a whole new set of challenges and uncertainties as we all do our part to flatten the curve, these skaters are all staying positive, working on new tricks, and trying to up their game for the future. Words and Interviews: Anthony Pappalardo
AP: How’d you find out that the Olympics were postponed? ORH: My mom told me. AP: How’d you take the news? ORH: At first, I was a little relieved. I don’t know why. The first initial emotion… you can’t fake it. It is what it is. I had to think through how I really felt about it and I figured it doesn’t really change that much. If anything it shows you that nothing is promised and you shouldn’t live you’re life planning ahead too much, thinking you’ll do this next year and then that in four years. You should live your life in the moment. You know what I mean? Skateboarding will always be there. I’ll skate with or without the Olympics. I try to accept things I can’t control. I’m looking forward to what’s coming.
AP: You got to the States right as the pandemic really hit. What happened?
ORH: I got into the States on the 11th of March. I suppose it was kind of right before they announced that it was officially a pandemic. I remember being in Sweden and watching the TV and that's all they talked about even before coming to the States, but it wasn't as gnarly as it is now. Italy was really bad before I left, but then it seemed to get worse everywhere so quickly. I’ve been living in Oceanside, California for a month. I went to Los Angeles to kick it and skate with Ishod and Scuba. I was staying at Scuba’s and I remember looking at the TV and all anyone was talking about was Coronavirus.
AP: So you purely came to the US to skate?
ORH: I came to the US to escape the long-ass winter we have in Malmö (Sweden) where I live. I just wanted to bail and get an early spring, then come back when the weather is nicer. Now I'm heading back early. I'm leaving tomorrow. It's going to be good to come home. The virus isn’t as prevalent in Sweden right now. My family is going to be hyped to see me too.
AP: Lastly, you’ll be skating for Sweden in the Olympics?
ORH: I'm going to represent Sweden, but I just wanted to say, first and foremost, I want to represent skateboarders because that's what matters most in the end. It’s not about representing a country, especially for us. That’s why some people don't like skateboarding even being in the Olympics. They don't want skateboarding to be portrayed in the wrong way.
So many people will see skating for the first time and so many kids will get inspired. It would be sick if that moment can really drive home that skateboarding isn’t just another sport. There’s real love in this shit. It’s not just about swimming to the other side of the pool faster than someone or doing a harder trick. If you can show some real skateboarding on that stage, you can show that love to the world. That’s what I think.
AP: Having ties to both Japan and Great Britain, how’d you decide who you’d represent in the Olympics? SB: I wasn’t actually going to do the Olympics initially. My parents didn't want me to feel too much pressure. Then Lucy Adams from the British Skateboarding Association assured us that there was no pressure and that I should just go out and have fun. That’s how I skate. I want to have fun and want to do my best. After talking to Lucy, I asked my dad literally every day until he said, “Yeah, OK, you can do it.”
AP: How did you find out the Olympics were postponed?
SB: I heard about it from Instagram. People were DMing me asking me if I was going to be OK. I didn’t really know about it.
AP: How did you feel about it being postponed?
SB: At first I was like, “Oh no, my dream is going away!” because my dream was to be Britain’s youngest Olympian and now that probably can’t happen. But now my dream can be even bigger. I can try to be the youngest gold medalist in a new sport in the Olympics. I was sad but I’m doing better and better and getting more excited.
AP: Being so young, having more time could actually be a plus for you.
SB: I definitely feel like it's an advantage. I mean, I'm still growing. I'm getting taller. I feel like now is the time to get better. I’m thinking of so many tricks I could do and that’s really exciting.
AP: Are you able to skate at all right now? Do you have access to any parks?
SB: I do miss going outside every day, going to skate parks and surfing every morning. It definitely sucks, but you gotta think about the elderly and the sick people. So I'm just trying to make the best out of it. I'm trying to spend time with my family and not going on my phone too much. I’m staying active, doing yoga with my brother, cooking with my Mom and eating healthier. It’s been pretty nice, actually. I’ve been trying to skate a little bit in my room but my Mom doesn’t like it because it’s so noisy.
AP: How important is the Olympics for women’s skateboarding?
SB: Yeah, it's actually been really cool. The girls are getting so much better and I feel like the Olympics is, like, pushing them to go bigger and do crazier tricks. I’m seeing a lot more girls skating and so many of them are getting really good. Hopefully, we can show the world that girls can do it too - people think of skating as a boys’ sport, but now girls are coming and we’re going to be in the Olympics. It’s not just for boys, it’s for girls too.
AP: So when the Olympics do happen, you'll be representing Japan, correct? YH: Yes, that’s right. AP: How'd you feel initially when you found out that the Olympics were pushed to 2021? YH: I’m happy it’s next year. I was hurt for a while. I was sick and didn’t skate for an entire month. I was a little bit scared that it was going to be canceled altogether, though, because the Olympics are in Tokyo where I’m from and I was excited. Just the Olympics being in Tokyo is exciting alone, but also having the opportunity to have all my friends watching me compete is cool.
AP: Did anyone communicate how this might impact qualifying?
YH: Well, I competed in the London Street League, Los Angeles, two in Brazil, one in China as well. All those contests are what’s been qualified for. There were smaller contests each country had, but they weren’t able to have them all because of Coronavirus.
Everything is still up in the air, but they’re assuming that there will be more contests next year. There was talk that if the Olympics were just pushed back a few months they would have just taken everyone in the qualifiers, but now it looks like they’ll have more contests next year as they planned. We just have to wait it all out and see.
AP: Last I checked the cases in Australia were relatively low, which is obviously great news, but part of that is because people are following the guidelines carefully. How’s that impacting your day-to-day? HW: Well, at the moment, the only thing that's been majorly impacted is where I skate. And that's obviously not at skateparks, because they've closed them all down. I can still do yoga and exercise at home, but I'm just skating in the garage, which is way different to what I usually skate. When I was younger, that’s where I started out. So it's kind of like I'm just going back to when I was like, 11, 12.
AP: Are you just focusing on flatground or getting in anything you can?
HW: I set up a ledge but that’s about it. I’m thinking of getting a mini ramp. A flat bar is fun and you can do heaps, but you kind of get bored. I need to do something different.
AP: How did you find out the Olympics were postponed?
HW: Well, it was kind of all over the media. I’m pretty sure I got an email, but as soon as they started canceling all the events leading up to the Olympics —it was only just the start of the virus for us—I just assumed that it was going to be postponed. I wasn't super surprised by that.
They’re only trying to look after everyone’s safety and health. I'm not necessarily glad that it got postponed, but if you look at the positive side, you get more time to train. I can see how it’s impacting people coming from the 2016 Rio Olympics more because they’ve already waited four years. For us skaters, we've only been doing this Olympic stuff for two years now, so it’s basically just another year for us.
AP: I think having women represented equally really balances it for everyone, especially those who are seeing skating for the first time. In fact, I think that’s possibly the biggest reason why skateboarding should be in the Olympics.
HW: Exactly, especially for women, having it in the Olympics it’s going to encourage a lot of girls to get into it. It’s starting to happen already. There have always been girls coming up, but since 2015 it has really blown up. It’s crazy to see.
AP: Do you think it will help impose some equality on the skate industry as a whole?
HW: I mean, it’s impossible to know. It definitely has started to happen ever since they announced that skateboarding would be in the Olympics. The prize money is equal in Street League now, which is really cool. Before that, it definitely wasn’t equal.
AP: How you doing Nyjah? NH: I’m doing good. Interesting. Interesting times. AP: I just read your piece for The Players’ Tribune and what really resonated was that you emphasized how we all just need to be patient. NH: For sure. I’ve never really been looking forward to something this much and then have it be fucking shut down. You can’t be mad about it. It is what it is. I mean, it’s the Olympics it’s not a regular contest—there’s so much planning. It’s the biggest event ever. It’s totally understandable.
AP: It feels like you’re really embracing how big this opportunity is. So, can you talk a bit more about how it being postponed feels to you?
NH: I've been really bummed on it because, obviously, I was just looking forward to the event in general. I feel like it's just been a very anticipated moment for us as skaters. I feel like skating should have been in the Olympics a long time ago and it's just really unfortunate.
For me, I love street skating—going out and filming parts, filming clips for Instagram, and just working on things, but I’ve been holding myself back from doing stuff because of the Olympics… it’s so serious. There are things I want to film and try, but I tend to hold myself back to stay safe.
It just sucks because we all need to keep that mindset for another whole year. It also sucks because I’ve been feeling super healthy and my knee injury that I’ve dealt with my entire career finally feels right. I’ve been going to my park and feeling good on my board, and that made me even more excited. Either way, when it happens, I’ll be ready for it.
AP: Do you feel like you’re in your prime and ready for this?
NH: I feel like I've been ready. I would've been ready for this a few years ago. I've obviously had a pretty good contest run so far. At the same time, like I said, this year I've been feeling really good on my board, so it's hard to even say if I’ve had my peak or my prime. At this point, I still feel like I'm progressing in ways.
Skateboarding’s interesting because it's hard to even judge something like that. After skating for so long, you learn new tricks, you lose some of them, they fade away at times, and you relearn them again. Your skating is just constantly changing over the years. I still have some goals I want to reach.
AP: How are you generally taking things day-to-day?
NH: You have to keep it indoors. It sucks not being able to go out and skate, or do whatever you want, you know? I love going and skating other parks and cruising around with kids and haven't done that in a minute. But, I personally can't complain because I got my skate park in San Clemente that I've still been going to. I'll go there and skate with two or three of my friends but we'll all make sure we’re keeping our distance and not spreading this thing. No high fives! I feel that if everyone keeps that mindset, this will get under control soon here. But honestly, my normal life hasn’t changed—not nearly as much as the average person out there. I really feel for people who can't go out and do their normal stuff, or just go to work or their job and make money. I definitely can't complain. I got a gym here at my house. I have my skate park so I'm definitely still keeping myself busy.
AP: Outside of the actual competition, was there anything you were looking forward to about the Olympics?
NH: The opening ceremony. I think that will be one of the coolest experiences of my whole life. I’m looking forward to that. I’m just looking forward to skating the course because it’s going to be similar to a Street League course, but twice as wide, so more options of stuff to skate. It’s going to be tight.
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