Directors: Sean Fee and Annika Ranin
Skateboarding is having a moment, perhaps as important as in 1985 when Back to The Future inspired a new interest in the sport. Now an Olympic sport, in a matter of days Gold Medals will be won for skateboarding. However, not everyone in the skateboarding community is happy with this move. Some think that skateboarding has sold out to the corporate world of sponsorship where skateboard stars are used to sell clothes and trainers. Boarders, delayed from last year because of the postponement of the Tokyo Games, follows three British skaters as they prepare for the mainstream.
Sean Fee and Annika Ranin’s film comes hot on the heels of Rom Boys: 40 Years of Rad, a cinematic ode to Essex’s famous skate park. Both films demonstrate that skateboarding is dominated by men but last year’s Woolf’s Women followed a group of female downhill skaters as they travelled across Europe. This new focus on skateboarding is not confined to movies either; one part of the Design Museum’s current exhibition on sneakers, albeit disappointingly unimaginative, charts the design of Van’s, the skateboarders’ favourite shoe. Skateboarding’s current moment is both nostalgic and future driven.
But, as one of the prospective members of Team GB says at the start of Boarders, ‘skateboarding is not just about skateboarding’. It’s about community; it’s a life style. Most of the time skateboarding is not competitive, but now with medals and national pride at stake, as another skater suggests, will ‘the Olympics take the soul out of skating?’ It’s a question that haunts the men as they prepare for the 2020 Games.
Sam Beckett seems the most ready, having lived in California for years where the weather is better and where empty swimming pools loved by skaters are more numerous. He’s also got form in that he has won some trophies already. He comes across as confident and serious until a fall leads to him become more philosophical. He’s joined on the team by Jordan Thackeray who talks about his past behaviour of drinking alcohol while skating. The Olympics, and Skateboard England who offer sport psychology, already seem to have drained the fun out of skating.
But the most interesting story is that of Alex Hallford who lives in his hometown of Nottingham working in a skateboarding shop in order to earn enough money to play his sport. He’s unassuming and appears settled in domesticity if the cat that jumps in for cuddles is anything to go by. A year later everything has changed for him, and this last part of the film, as Beckett and Thackeray also reflect on their injuries, is a documentation of fragile masculinity as much as it is an examination of skateboarding.
While this turn to mental health is fascinating and unexpected it is also a mark of the film’s lack of focus, and it rambles on, not quite a history of skateboarding in the UK, and not quite a journey following the men as they qualify for the Olympics. Indeed, it’s not clear whether the men do qualify and would have gone on to represent Great Britain in 2020 as so little is made of the qualifying competition in Brazil. Another skater is introduced but then is quickly forgotten and five minutes of the film is given to Beckett’s interest in fungi. This aimlessness in the narrative may be symbolic of the men’s lives or a way to compare the grassroots appeal of the sport to the highly structured world of the Olympics, but ultimately the film is too loose and could do with an edit.
With its melancholy unravelling, the film only mentions female skateboarders at its end and suggests that there will be more diversity in the future. It’s shame that the film was completed before the team for this year’s games was announced. Representing Britain are two girls; 13-year-old Sky Brown and 14 -year-old Bombette Martin, proving that the future is already here.
Out now on Bohemia Euphoria.