Climbing, skateboarding and surfing are this year all included in the Olympics. I can’t say this fact particularly excites me. In fact I felt distinctly underwhelmed. So I had a chat this morning with my boyhood self and asked him what he thought.
He said he started skateboarding in the late 1970’s. At this time skateboarding was rebellious, adults and the police hated it. In a village out of town an older lad had built a halfpipe, he also had a pyramid in the back garden. Like William Burroughs orgone accumulator described in Kerouac’s On the Road.
I can’t remember where they came from but American skateboard mags were the source of all available imagery and cool, one word Dogtown said it all. My boyhood self said that he doubted if watching the olympics on television would inspire him, why would it, skateboarding was counter culture, not the Olympics.
The boy also started climbing, a few years later in the beginning of the 1980’s. It was a slow burn process and in those days entirely typical, starting with hill walking, gritstone, old school brick climbing walls and rubbish equipment. Weekends away dossing in old buildings and caves. Then a few years of teenage independence, adult free, poor diet, near misses, but complete unadulterated fun and freedom, with a dash of the anti social. Would my young self, after watching a bunch of dreary miserable (mainly) athletes (clones), do sport, BLOC (bouldering) and speed, want to start climbing. NO he screams it looks shit and no fun at all, even less fun than skateboarding and they have to wear a sports kit!
A bit older, he started surfing. Skateboard skills helped, the dossing skills acquired in climbing helped. Surf trips demanded intense action followed by complete action. I never ever thought surfing was a sport, I never thought I was an athlete. In the UK it was a complete minority activity. It kept me going decades well into middle age, until it hit mainstream and finding uncrowded surf spots became increasingly difficult. Would he start surfing now after watching the less than perfect Olympic surf in Japan, no he says.
If however I could show my younger self, an uncrowded point break, a cluster of boulders hidden in the mountain forests or one of the perfect skateparks that are all over the place now, then I think I could persuade him to give it a go. I would tell him that none of these things are a sport, they are more than that. A form of creative communication with the physical, bodily world. Something that is entirely lost in their current manifestation in the 2012 Olympic Games.
Edit. I thought to myself, of course this all the sour, bitter moanings of an old git. Which of course it is, but I do really think that climbing, skating and surfing will lose out as an emphasis in media and representation pulls them into mainstream commercially packaged contexts known as sport. What will they lose? Art, creativity, exploration of the exterior and interior world, real community as opposed to social media platform (non)community. Of course there are plenty of men and women, boys and girls who transcend these boundaries and float between the oppositions of art and sport, I just hope they can find their voices to speak out above the olympic bubble and the corporate push and the social media pull.