Skateboarding has been a staple of American counterculture for at least 60 years, carving out a niche as one of the world’s most popular “extreme sports.”
Popularized in Southern California in the 1970s, skateboarding actually originated as a land-based alternative to surfing. It was initially viewed as more of an art form or a cultural centerpiece than a competitive sport; in fact, many skaters still view it that way.
In recent decades, however, skateboarding competitions have become more common, in the U.S. and around the world. And the sport has found new audiences through annual television events like ESPN’s X Games, and the popular video game series Tony Hawk's Pro Skater.
Skateboarding has also seen a boon during the pandemic. According to ActionWatch, which compiles and provides data on the skateboarding industry, there were about 8.87 million skateboarders in the U.S. alone in 2020.
GOING FOR GOLD: Sign up for our Olympics newsletter
BY THE NUMBERS: From youngest to oldest Olympians
Though some might bristle at the notion of skateboarding going “mainstream,” most skaters today see the sport’s inclusion at the Olympics as part of its natural evolution. They’re excited to see skateboarding be given a global platform, and to show the uninitiated what makes the sport unique.
“I think putting on a competition with a high platform, you’re finally meshing the art and the sport,” American skateboarder Bryce Wettstein said. “... It can be an art and a sport together, and I think that’s what makes it such a beautiful thing.”
Dates: July 25-26, Aug. 4-5
Story continues below video:
How it works:
Olympic skateboarding features two disciplines: Street and park.
In street competitions, skaters perform a variety of tricks on a course consisting of rails, benches, ramps, stairs and other features you might encounter on a city street. Olympic-style competition consists of two 45-second runs, and five single-trick attempts. The top four of those seven scores are added to determine the final overall score.
In park, the course more closely resembles a hollowed-out bowl, allowing skaters to ride up the side and perform tricks in mid-air. Skaters have three 45-second runs in which to complete tricks, and only the score from the best run counts.
Both disciplines typically feature a variety of tricks, including board flips and grinds, where skaters slide a part of the board on the edge of a bowl or rail.
Story continues below video:
The path to gold:
There will be a maximum of 20 skaters in each gender and discipline in Tokyo. Typically, eight skaters in each category reach the final round.
Runs are scored on a scale from either 0 to 100 or 0 to 10, depending on the discipline. Judges evaluate skaters on the variety and technical difficulty of the tricks they perform as well as execution, creativity, use of the course and flow, among other considerations. Points are deducted for repeating tricks or wiping out.
The World Skate Federation rulebook also acknowledges the importance of “skateboarding common sense” in the judging process.
U.S. athlete to watch: Nyjah Huston, street.
The 26-year-old Huston is one of the world’s most popular and accomplished skateboarders. A 12-time X Games gold medalist and three-time world champion, he has long been the top-ranked skater in men’s street. And he seems all but certain to add an Olympic gold medal to his résumé this summer.
International athlete to watch: Misugu Okamoto, park, Japan.
Okamoto, 14, burst onto the scene in 2019 and quickly became the most dominant skater in the field. She won all five of the international competitions she entered prior to the pandemic, including the 2019 world championships and 2019 X Games. With the Tokyo Games set to take place about five hours from her hometown of Gifu, Okamoto is likely to blossom into a hometown star in Japan.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Skateboarding among new sports at 2021 Olympics Summer Games