Catch ‘em really young: Indian skateboarders chase thrills and Olympics

Published on Oct 01, 2022 07:49 PM IST

They are barely 10 and board they carry are bigger than some, but have grabbed the spotlight at the National Games with gravity, and age-defying, tricks in this rapidly growing sport.

The new skate park at the Sabarmati riverfront was buzzing with youthful energy and nervous excitement as the sport made its National Games debut.(HT) PREMIUM
The new skate park at the Sabarmati riverfront was buzzing with youthful energy and nervous excitement as the sport made its National Games debut.(HT)
ByAvishek Roy

“Stay on the board, kid. Stay on the board,” Monisha Charles hollered from the stands to her son Arjun Walia. The 12-year-old boy flipped the skateboard and landed with a bit of a jerk. For the next 60 seconds, Arjun performed his series of acrobatic ‘flips and tricks’. Swinging up and down the bumps, he threw himself in the air and with astonishing ease caught the skates back. Monisha was on the edge throughout.

This is what most parents and trainers, a small and passionate bunch, went through as they watched their 8 and 10-year-old wards go through their routine in the skatepark. The event was highlighted by a five-year-old, Gaurav, who was invited to perform to promote the sport. The young boy, ready with his skateboard, stood holding the railings until his turn came to show his ‘flips’.

The new skate park at the Sabarmati riverfront was buzzing with youthful energy and nervous excitement as the sport made its National Games debut. Two skateboard events – Park and Street – are in the Olympics. Park involves riding bowls, transitions and vert while in Street, skaters perform tricks over rails, ledges, staircases and other obstacles.

Skateboarding has long shaken off its image as an outlaw street adventure sport, falling into the structured stream of professional sport. The Olympic movement, desperate to attract youth, saw the sport a great fit. It is part of Paris 2024, after receiving great response in Tokyo.

Interest in the sport has grown manifold in India too. Come Paris, it won’t be surprising to see an Indian 12-year-old wear the tag of Olympian. The Indian team will be at the Asian Games next year. They are also getting ready for other major events—continental meets to world championships—to get enough points to improve India’s ranking that helps make the cut for an Olympic entry.

“It is fun, a lot of freedom…there are no rules,” a beaming Arjun says. “You don't have to necessarily skate for competitions, all you need to do is cruise around,” says Arjun, rattling off the names of tricks—heal-flip, varial flip, fakie varial flip, the grind, slide. An endless list.

The young ones pick up the skills fast, undeterred by falls. Like many, Arjun learned some initial skills on the internet. It was during the Covid lockdown that he immersed himself in the sport by watching videos.

“He was in Delhi at his uncle’s place when we found an academy in Neb Sarai and took him there. It is an indoor park. Initially he hurt himself badly but within a few days he was doing so well that he participated in a Haryana state championships and won a medal,” says his mother Monisha.

In the same academy trains Shivam Balhara, one of India's top skateboarders who competed in the 2018 World Championships and the 2019 World Roller Games. He was so obsessed with the game that his father Surjeet Kumar built a wooden skate park in his Delhi home that has become a training ground for budding talent.

“I’ve been doing this for seven years. I have multiple gold medals in national events and have also competed internationally. The target is to qualify for Paris and for that we’ve to make points in world events,” says Shivam, 14.

With Shivam, Arjun too made it for the Asian Games and the Street and Park worlds. Though the Asian Games were postponed to 2023, they are eager to represent India next year.

“Being introduced in the Olympics has made a big difference,” says Naresh Sharma, general secretary, Roller Skating Federation of India (RSFI). “You will see participants from across India—Manipur, Assam, Arunachal, Gujarat, Kerala, even Udhampur in Jammu. Around 17 states (57 skateboarders) are participating in a sport so new. It shows how much it can grow.”

RSFI has started a Mission Olympics programme for children aged five, six and seven. “There is great enthusiasm among the kids and we have invited some of them to perform. When people watch five-year-olds perform, they will introduce their children also,” he says.

“We are hopeful of Paris Olympic qualification. We have sent our kids to Australia and Dubai to train. We still don’t have good skateparks, the Ahmedabad one is the best so far.”

Lack of facilities has not dampened enthusiasm. Neither has the scorching heat of Ahmedabad. It was amusing to see Gaurav Dwivedi and Zarah Ann, 7, walk around with skates bigger than them. The audacity with which they did the flip and swing had ‘future Olympian' etched on them.

Zara’s father Chintu Davis, who works in Dubai, was present. “She started when she was five after watching other kids. Now it is difficult to keep her off the park in Dubai. She is just happy to do the tricks and we don’t mind because she is meeting new people and learning so much.”

Recently, Zarah performed at a contest in Sharjah, receiving the most valuable player award from 14-year-old Tokyo Olympic medallist Keegan Palmer.

Gaurav’s father Ashish Dwivedi, a scientist from Baroda, says: “It all started during Covid in 2020; since then no stopping him. He hurt himself during an event in Bangalore that needed six six stitches on his face, but even that didn’t keep him away from skateboarding.”

It is not just in big cities like Mumbai, Pune, Baroda, Bengaluru, New Delhi and Chandigarh that one can find skateparks. Janwaar, a village in Madhya Pradesh, got one of India’s first skate parks in 2015, which was designed by German community activist Ulrike Reinhard.

“You will find many kids coming from a rural background. It’s not much of an investment. You can start initially with something like 6000 for the board and gear. And they can skate anywhere—streets, parks, corners, bends. Give them a board and it's insane what these kids can do,” says Monisha.

One hopes these young skateboarders realise their Olympic dreams soon.

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