Interest in skateboarding as an Olympic sport ramps up

by Julian Burrell and Alex Cohen | Take Two August 03 2016

USC Professor Neftalie WilliamsUSC

Listen to this story 7 MIN 51 SEC

The Summer Olympics get underway in Rio, Brazil this week, but already, there's interest in the 2020 Tokyo game.

The International Olympics Committee has voted to include a number of new sports in the next Olympiad: Surfing, rock climbing, karate, baseball, softball and... skateboarding  

The inclusion of that last sport is especially exciting to  Neftalie Williams*. He's not just an avid skater,. In 2015 he led the first-ever skateboarding class to be taught at a major university; namely the University of Southern California. 

"[Skateboarding] gives a great space for so much diversity to be involved," Williams told Take Two's Alex Cohen. "So many kids can come from all over the world and simply pick it up very easily, there's a low barrier to entry and it teaches you to re-imagine yourself in the world around you. It helps you build community and it also helps make a better global citizen."

ALLOWING SKATEBOARDING IN SCHOOLS

USC Annenberg is on the look out for progressive ways to reach students. Williams believed  that mentality would be a great match for his studies on skateboarding.

"The class itself is sort of designed to use skateboarding culture as a lens to sort of look at issues of diversity, youth empowerment, the role of public diplomacy and global citizenship."

The class is a mix of the study of skateboarding culture and a look into the business side of the sport.

"Right now there aren't that many text books that are focused on skateboarding culture so we bring in a lot of what's happening in the news itself, some books [from] global scholars on sports engagement,"  Williams says."We also have the heads of multi-national companies like Dwindle Distribution, Steve Van Doren from Vans Footwear ... It sort of gives everyone the ability to look at the business side, but then also look at what goes on in the culture and how it can be used for public diplomacy."

And that actual act of skateboarding itself is not a part of the course... at least not directly. "I do make special time after class for [students] to actually visit one of the skate parks here in LA," Williams says. "So it's not required, but it is good for them to do that."

SKATEBOARDING AND THE OLYMPICS

There's a contingent of skateboarders who are unhappy with the inclusion of their sport in the 2020 Olympic games. This is understandable; after all, skateboarding was built on an anti-establishment sentiment and is centered in urban culture. Joining the Olympics could be the ultimate form of the sport going mainstream.

But Williams believes that this is exciting news. "I think that it could be really great. I believe skateboarding actually has a lot to offer the Olympics," he says. "The benefits of being able to re-imagine yourself, build community, global citizenship... all those things are great traits that the International Olympic Committee (IOC)could pick up on by having skateboarding being involved."

Williams continues, "I've always felt like the best way to actually show how rebellious we are in skate is to get involved in whatever's happening in the main stream... I think that skate going into the Olympics is only going to give them another platform to say, 'Man, maybe we've been running the Olympics wrong this whole time.'"

To hear the full conversation, click the blue player above.

*At the time of this interview, the IOC had not yet voted on whether or not skateboarding would be an official Olympic sport.