Last month saw a groundbreaking double-header skateboarding event take place over two weekends in the Arabian Gulf. The WST World Championships are big staging posts on skateboarding’s road to the 2024 Paris Olympic Games, and with worldwide Covid restrictions largely lifted, this became the first opportunity to see which countries are taking skateboarding seriously post- Tokyo Olympics of 2020.
460 skaters were registered to enter from 60 nations, which is unheard of and much glossed-over, as was the professionalism and efficiency of the event organisation. This was a huge skateboarding event for the new era of international broadcast, and it was taking place not just in a new venue but a new region for professional skateboarding contests.
As you are doubtless aware, conventional sports such as tennis, golf and Formula 1 motor racing have long since created tour stops in the United Arab Emirates, but until now skateboarding has not, due in no small part to lack of international-standard skate facilities in which to hold one.
Enter the Aljada skatepark complex in Sharjah, next door to Dubai. The skateparks (3 major ones and beginner areas) themselves form the nucleus of a kind of youth entertainment hub around which a vast designed living project is being created. The hub, known as the Madar, is designed by the world-famous Zaha Hadid Architectural practice and also features drive-in movies, dozens of eateries, kids soft play area and so on.
So Amsterdam Am this is not, and given that there were contestants as young as twelve entering, perhaps that is no bad thing. The skateparks themselves are already forming a big regional draw, undermining the salty boy criticism that there is no domestic skate scene in the UAE (really? watch this) with both local dons like Karim Nasser and expat rippers like Germany’s Alex Mizurov leading the charge there.
The other thing which is overlooked of course is that many of the nations represented at these World Championships for the first time were there precisely because unlike Europe or the US they could travel to the Arabian Gulf without needing visas: Jordan, Iran, Uganda, Zambia, India all sent skaters to this World Championship, many of whom had never travelled to a skate contest before. Even in Copenhagen you aren’t meeting too many Indonesian or Thai skaters, let’s be honest. They all loved it.
With the Street contest taking place on the first weekend of two under ambient floodlighting for the broadcast public, Brazil’s Rayssa Leal and France’s Aurelien Giraud became respective World Champions with all attendant bragging rights for the next twelve months, and then a week later in the adjacent mega-bowl (and it really is a whopper) Britain’s Sky Brown and USA’s Jagger Eaton did the same for Park in a couple of high-energy, high stakes finals which went out live globally via the Olympics Youtube, Red Bull TV and World Skate TV.
Given the current near-collapse of conventional mainstream skateboarding sponsorship opportunities, the newly-launched World Skateboarding Tour of which these World Championships form but one leg on the road to Paris 2024 represent both a platform and an opportunity for skateboarders outside the Thrasher bubble to both see a bit of the world and raise their profiles; skateboarding’s nominal ‘core’ is accordingly, privately, paying close attention to how it develops.
Next stop for the Park strand of the world tour is in Argentina this coming May, and Street in Italy come June. We will keep you posted on both!
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