Olympic sport or public nuisance?

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Do you even kickflip? Shawn Henry via Unsplash

Regina skateboarder questions the reasoning for the distinction 

by will spencer, contributor

On July 23, 2021, the 2020 Olympic games began. An aberration in many respects, the games added a number of new sports to entice young viewers to an aging institution. The most salient addition (I am well aware I am biased; my apologies to the other sports) was skateboarding. Here, for the first time, countries around the world watched people compete in an Olympic version of a skateboard contest. 

There were two categories of skating – street and park – each further divided into female and male divisions. Some skater pundits asserted that this would be the end of the baleful treatment of skateboarders, that the Olympics could precipitate change in the eyes of the public. They would finally see skateboarding for what it is – a communal activity that fosters creativity, and physical and mental well-being. I know it is too close to call, not far enough into the past; nor are we far enough into the future for us to see the effects. However, as of now, none of this has happened. 

On November 5, 2021, I opened Instagram to waste time (let’s be honest: it’s a fucking [AD1] waste of time, regardless of how much I/we spend on there). I maneuvered my left thumb to the top of my phone, selecting from the bevy of stories available to me. I noticed a friend who seldom updates had posted a story, so I clicked. It contained a Regina spot infamous for street skateboarding – the basis for the Olympics’ street competition – the BDC building on 12th Avenue. If you have not been there, or have not noticed it, there are granite ledges that line the east and south facets of the building, extending out as a sort of buffer to the actual building. Under blithe observation, you may have noted that the ledges were often smeared with a black substance, a glaze of some foreign material: wax. 

A skateboarder put it there. We (I was one of them) put that wax there so that we might utilize the ledge outside of its original purpose. The BDC building is not beautiful; it is an austere tomb for business. There are columns that line the faces of the building, maybe an attempt to invoke the regal architecture of ancient Greece. Between the columns, a few exiguous windows sit encased in gneiss. As the building extends upward, the floors take on the quality of a prison, the only feature it lacks being bars for its windows. The ledges that abut the building delineate the extent of its reach, containing patches of grass unintended for anything other than the act of viewing. Thus, the ledges are a barrier demarcating the presence of wealth and capital. 

But the ledges have a different, more intrinsic value to us skateboarders. What is the intrinsic value of a thing? It’s something that a thing has by virtue of being that very thing, whereas extrinsic value is a concept assigned atop the actual thing. The ledges then, by virtue of being ledges, may have many intrinsic values. They could be benches, used as a weight, even a projectile if so desired, or they could be a thing to skateboard on.

That’s exactly what we did. We skateboarded on the ledges, performing tricks by sliding and grinding on the edges. By virtue of this act, the ledges and surrounding area transmuted into a communal space with intrinsic value, contingent upon the intrinsic value of the ledges. However, this has been stymied by a decision made by the executive of BDC to remove foot-long sections of the edges of the ledges in the shape of triangular prisms every single foot. Thus, it is impossible to grind or slide for any length. If you look at the ledges now, you will no longer find the aforementioned wax; you will find a desolate space that was vindictively desecrated. 

It was the communal aspect that lent the ledges the most value for me in the way they brought skateboarders together as a space to be and interact communally, but also by being a mere marker of community, because I could see those ledges and have memories cascade through my mind much like Proust when he took a bite of madeleine dipped in tisane. This type of value is wholly incomprehensible to the BDC executive, for it is not quantifiable in dollar signs. If you watched skateboarding in the Olympics, you watched skateboarding detached from its essence. The exchange of intrinsic value for extrinsic value; the quantification of movement into dollar signs. 

Allow me an aside. I recently watched Jagger Eaton (the USA skater who won bronze in street) play a game of skate in a separate competition called “SKATE.” For those that do not know, a game of skate is a direct indication of a skateboarder’s skill, whereby two skaters compete to eliminate the other in a game similar to basketball’s “HORSE.” They take turns, with one skater performing a trick and the other attempting to replicate it. Every missed trick earns you a letter from the word skate, and the first person to earn all five letters loses the game. Eaton won bronze in Tokyo, yet was roundly defeated in the game of SKATE. So, who is good? What does “good” mean? And what does this have to do with a ledge in Regina that has been made unskateable? 

Both events are connected to skateboarding and value, where that value is found, and where that value is made moot. It appears that the activity that I enjoy that propagated a new sport in the Olympics does not belong, as it does not create value in the expected sense and seems to destroy extrinsic value in the process. Actions unquantifiable by dollars will always be misunderstood. Subsequently, the activity that gave rise to a new Olympic sport continues to be seen as vandalism, nonetheless generating tens of thousands of dollars (at least).

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