After years of being dismissed as just a hobby for “rebels,” skateboarding made its Olympic debut this year in Tokyo — and the cherished Southern California pastime is quickly turning into a popular phenomenon wowing the world.
“You were kind of looked down upon being a skateboarder, you were kind of an outcast,” Jim Palmer told NBC 7 at Encinitas’ Skate Park Thursday. “So it’s kind of cool that now you can say you’re an Olympic athlete.”
San Diego’s skateboarding culture has been on full display throughout the Olympic games – a long-awaited moment for the area’s skateboarding community.
Team USA sent a dozen athletes to skateboard in Tokyo — over half of them have ties to San Diego’s North County and their success is putting the area on the map.
Keegan Palmer, 18, a San Diego native who moved to Australia as a child, claimed the first Olympic men’s park skateboarding gold medal in history for the country Wednesday. Cory Juneau, 21, also born in San Diego, worked his way up from the eighth and final spot in qualifying to snag bronze in the men’s park final, and Arizona native turned San Diego resident Jagger Eaton made history Saturday, winning the first bronze medal in the inaugural Street Skateboarding competition.
Three skaters from North County made up the U.S.’s women’s team– 22-year-old Jordyn Barratt, of Oceanside, and 17-year-olds Brighton Zeuner and Bryce Wettstein, both of Encinitas.
Wettstein made history Tuesday night after completing the Olympics’ first-ever Women’s Skateboard event.
Thirteen-year-old skateboarder Sky Brown of Great Britain won bronze in women’s park skateboarding. Team USA’s Bryce Wettstein finished in sixth place.
For many, this moment is long overdue.
Skateboarding’s humble roots date back more than 50 years to Southern California — and after battling a controversial reputation for decades, the sport that celebrates culture as much as competition now has a promising future on the world’s biggest stage.
“It definitely takes discipline and a lot of heart because you’re falling down a lot,” said Palmer. “You just do it for the fun of it, the love of it…it’s kind of a lifestyle.”
The sport’s successful run in Tokyo is inspiring a new generation of San Diego’s skateboarders to pave their own paths to a chance at gold.
“I think that would be really cool if I could become an Olympian. I’m just practicing and getting better, so we’ll see where that takes me,” said 13-year-old skater Riley Alexander. “It makes me proud that skateboarding started here.”
The International Olympic Committee has confirmed that skateboarding will be included in the 2024 Paris Olympic Games.
Listen/Subscribe to NBC 7’s Olympic Dreams: San Diego to Tokyo podcast wherever you enjoy listening to podcasts. On each episode, NBC 7 News Today anchor Steven Luke will sit down with athletes in their prime, each with their sights set on one thing: representing Team USA in Tokyo this summer. How will they achieve their Olympic dreams?