Catch them very young: Indian skateboarders are chasing thrills and Olympics

“Stay on the board, boy. Stay on the board,” Monisha Charles yelled from the stands to her son Arjun Walia. The 12-year-old boy knocked over the skateboard and landed with a jerk. Over the next 60 seconds, Arjun performed his series of acrobatic flips and tricks. He swung up and down over the bumps, flung himself into the air and caught the skates back with astonishing ease. Monisha was on the edge the whole time.

This is what most parents and trainers, a small and passionate couple, went through as they watched their 8- and 10-year-old wards go about their skate park routine. The event was highlighted by a five-year-old, Gaurav, who was invited to perform to promote the sport. The young boy, finished with his skateboard, continued to hold the railing until it was his turn to show his ‘flips’.

The new skate park on the Sabarmati River buzzed with youthful energy and nervous excitement as the sport made its debut at the National Games. Two skateboarding events – Park and Street – feature in the Olympics. Park includes riding bowls, transitions and vert while in Street skaters perform tricks over rails, ledges, stairs and other obstacles.

Skateboarding has long shed its image as an outlaw street adventure sport and is falling into the structured stream of professional sports. The Olympic movement, desperate for young people, saw the sport as a good match. It is part of Paris 2024, after much response in Tokyo.

Interest in the sport has also grown much in India. Come to Paris, it won’t be a surprise to see an Indian 12-year-old wearing Olympian’s label. The Indian team will be at the Asian Games next year. They also prepare for other major events – from continental meets to world championships – to get enough points to improve India’s rankings, helping make the cut for an Olympic entry.

“It’s fun, a lot of freedom… there are no rules,” says a beaming Arjun. “You don’t necessarily have to skate for competitions, you just have to cruise around,” Arjun says, chanting the names of the tricks: heel-flip, varial-flip, fakie-varial-flip, grind, slide. An endless list.

The youngsters pick up the skills quickly, undeterred by falls. Like many, Arjun learned some first skills on the Internet. It was during the Covid lockdown that he immersed himself in the sport by watching videos.

“He was in Delhi with his uncle when we found an academy in Neb Sarai and took him there. It is an indoor park. Initially he injured himself badly, but within a few days he did so well that he took part in a state championship in Haryana and won a medal,” said his mother Monisha.

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

“I’ve been doing this for seven years. I have multiple gold medals at national events and have competed internationally as well. The goal is to qualify for Paris and for that we need to score points in world events,” said Shivam, 14.

With Shivam, Arjun also made it to the Asian Games and the Street and Park worlds. Although the Asian Games have been postponed to 2023, they are eager to represent India next year.

“The introduction to the Olympics has made a big difference,” said Naresh Sharma, general secretary of the Roller Skating Federation of India (RSFI). “You will see participants from all over India – Manipur, Assam, Arunachal, Gujarat, Kerala, even Udhampur in Jammu. About 17 states (57 skateboarders) are participating in a sport that is so new. It shows how much it can grow.”

RSFI has started a Mission Olympics program for children ages five, six and seven. “The enthusiasm among the children is great and we have invited a number of them to perform. When people see five-year-olds perform, they will introduce their children too,” he says.

“We are hopeful for qualifying for the Olympic Games in Paris. We have sent our children to Australia and Dubai to train. We still don’t have any good skate parks, the one in Ahmedabad is the best so far.”

The lack of facilities has not dampened the enthusiasm. Neither has the scorching heat of Ahmedabad. It was funny to see Gaurav Dwivedi and Zarah Ann, 7, walking around with skates bigger than them. The brutality with which they did the somersault and swing had “future Olympian” etched on them.

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

Most recently, Zarah performed at a competition in Sharjah, where she received the most valuable player award from Tokyo 14-year-old Olympic medalist Keegan Palmer.

Gaurav’s father Ashish Dwivedi, a scientist from Baroda, says: “It all started during Covid in 2020; he hasn’t stopped him since. He injured himself at an event in Bangalore that required six stitches to his face, but even that didn’t stop him from skateboarding.”

Skate parks are not only found in big cities like Mumbai, Pune, Baroda, Bengaluru, New Delhi and Chandigarh. Janwaar, a village in Madhya Pradesh, was given one of India’s first skate parks in 2015, designed by German community activist Ulrike Reinhard.

“You will find many children from the countryside. It’s not such a big investment. You can initially start with something like 6000 for the board and equipment. And they can skate anywhere: streets, parks, corners, curves. Give them a plate and it’s insane what these kids can do,” says Monisha.

It is hoped that these young skateboarders will soon realize their Olympic dreams.

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